Obama foe and retired Marine Corps Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis will be the nation’s new Secretary of Defense if President-elect Donald Trump gets his way.
“I will not tell you that one of our great, great generals — don’t let it outside of this room,” an impish Trump told a Cincinnati audience last night. “We are going to appoint ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as our secretary of defense … but we are not announcing it until Monday, so don’t tell anyone. He’s great.”
“They say he’s the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have and it’s about time.”
The president-elect previously praised Mattis. On Nov. 20 he tweeted, “General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!”
James Norman Mattis was born Sept. 8, 1950 in Pullman, Washington. He is a political Independent. In addition to the “Mad Dog” moniker, the nickname “Warrior Monk” has been applied to him. His reported radio call sign was “Chaos.” Mattis co-wrote the military’s counterinsurgency manual along with retired Army Gen. David Petraeus who is also under consideration for a post in Trump’s cabinet.
Eminently quotable, he is known for his many “Mattis-isms.” Among them are “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet,” and “I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) hailed the cabinet selection, describing Mattis as “without a doubt one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops.”
Mattis “has a clear understanding of the many challenges facing the Department of Defense, the U.S. military, and our national security,” and the nation “will be fortunate to have General Mattis in its service once again.”
Mattis seems unlikely to be a yes-man in Trump’s cabinet. He repeatedly criticized Trump during the recent election campaign.
Mattis said Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigration makes U.S. allies think “we have lost faith in reason.”
“They think we’ve completely lost it,” he said. “This kind of thing is causing us great damage right now, and it’s sending shock waves through this international system.”
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But Mattis has also suggested that “political Islam” needs to be combatted. He said last year that Islamic State’s strategy rests on the belief that “the Americans will not ask one fundamental question: … Is political Islam in the best interest of the United States?” He continued: “I suggest the answer is no, but we need to have the discussion. If we won’t even ask the question, how do we even recognize our side in this fight?”
Mattis is somewhat of a contrarian. He questions the current organization of the country’s nuclear arsenal, which now consists of submarines, bombers, and land-based missiles. “Is it time to reduce the Triad to a Diad, removing the land‐based missiles?” he said at a congressional hearing last year.
The selection of the distinguished 66-year-old veteran delighted conservatives and defense wonks but some Democratic lawmakers don’t like him. Obama gave Mattis the boot as head of Central Command and the general has been an outspoken critic of the president ever since.
The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Personnel, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, vowed yesterday to fight the nomination.
“While I deeply respect General Mattis’s service, I will oppose a waiver,” she said, referring to a law that prevents commissioned officers in the U.S. military from taking the top Pentagon post less than seven years after leaving the service.
“Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”
Always the moral poseurs, Democrats could don convenient moral garments by pretending they oppose Mattis because they suddenly care about civilian control of the military.
Gillibrand’s hostility to the Mattis pick could be a signal to the Left and foreshadow confirmation problems for the general. Critics says Gillibrand is a “mini-me” to apparent incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, also from New York, and follows him in lock-step.
So does this mean Schumer is planning to rain on the Mattis parade? We’ll find out soon enough.
But with all the electoral shellacking Democrats have received in the last few national elections, early in the new year the Left may need a confidence boost. Who better to vilify than a deadly serious career soldier, the kind of man Daily Kos readers hold in contempt because he actually wants America to win wars?
And while Trump may liken Mattis to Patton, he may also be the closest thing to a comic book super-villain in the new president’s cabinet for legions of perpetually outraged Democrats who would prefer that U.S. soldiers function as social workers. They may want to take out Mattis as a nominee or make his life difficult to help MoveOn and boost the coffers of the DNC and Democrat fundraising shops.
The “waiver” to which Gillibrand referred is needed because Mattis faces an unusual statutory hurdle on the road to the Pentagon: he hasn’t been away from military service long enough.
The National Security Act of 1947, which reorganized the military and intelligence agencies in the wake of the Second World War, forbade anyone from becoming secretary who in the preceding 10 years had been on active duty as a commissioned officer in the armed forces. The thinking at the time was apparently that it was important to guarantee civilian control over the military, a longtime cornerstone of American governance.
The statute was amended in 1950 to allow Army General George C. Marshall to become defense secretary. The legislative language was changed again in 2008. Section 903(a) of the National Defense Authorization Act reduced the waiting period to seven years.
Mattis, who is very popular in military circles, only left the service three-and-a-half years ago in May 2013 after serving as commander at U.S. Central Command, which covers the Middle East.
CNN spoke to Arnold Punaro, a former staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who helped write the current law. He said that a waiver from both houses of Congress shouldn’t be a problem.
“He would not in any way undermine or erode civilian control of the military, and it would be hard to find someone who would be less likely to be pushed around by the military and he is now a civilian and would be firmly in charge,” said Punaro, adding Mattis was a “stellar choice.”
Another retired general seemed to agree with Punaro.
“Waivers are waivers,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, who was senior U.S. military adviser in Iraq until last year. “In the case of Jim Mattis, that would not be too contentious. The real issue is his views and perspectives.”
If Senate Democrats believe fighting the Mattis nomination will benefit the Left, history suggests they’ll do it and make excuses up for their behavior as they go along.