Presidential candidate Donald Trump reiterated over and over during the campaign that his kind of military would not provide the enemy with advanced information concerning America’s military intentions. He cited past generals MacArthur and Patton as men who would never divulge their plans to the enemy.
On Friday he fulfilled that promise by nominating retired Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis as his secretary of defense, a career Marine Corps officer. Trump’s choice sends a clear message to America’s adversaries around the world including North Korea, Iran, Russia and ISIS.
President-elect Trump promised to rebuild the nation’s military strength and Mattis is the very symbol of that promise. A tough talking Marine Corps veteran of four decades, Gen. Mattis once said, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
The highly respected general may not be liberal America’s idea of a secretary of defense; traditionally a civilian taking on a military-type position of power, but he may just be the perfect man for the times we live in.
Gen. Mattis would be the first such career military officer to run the Pentagon since retired WWII hero General George Marshall did so under the Truman administration in 1950. Since Mattis has not been out of uniform for the allotted time to take such a government job, he will need a waiver from Congress to do so.
The fighting Marine general comes to the position as a veteran commander from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He is the most revered figure in the Marines, winning a legion of fans for his blunt and colorful quotes, strategic thinking and warrior ethos. As Vietnam war hero Sen. John McCain says, “He is 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 was praised from both sides of the aisle, including current Defense Secretary Ash Carter. In his statement, Carter said of Mattis, “I have known General Jim Mattis for many years and hold him in the highest regard,” adding that he would work to facilitate a “seamless transition.” Strong words from Barack Obama’s secretary of defense.
The general is deeply respected among defense leaders on the Hill, who are expected to lead support for the waiver. Furthermore, Sen. McCain himself has said he’ll write the bill that gives Mattis a pass. It is expected Mattis will meet light resistance in his confirmation hearings.
A gleeful Trump on a tour of states he won in the general election said of Mattis, in Ohio, “They say he’s the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have, and it’s about time.” Time will tell for a general who in 2001, a then-one-star general who led an amphibious task force of more than 1,000 Marines on a mission in Kandahar province in Afghanistan, captured the airport there and established one of the first coalition command centers in the country in the wake of 9/11.
Mattis again came to the forefront in 2003. Under his leadership during the Iraq War, he commanded a division of Marines during the invasion of that country and returned in 2004 to lead the brutal urban combat in Fallujah. He advised his men to “engage your brain before you engage your weapon. On your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind.”
Mattis, who is now a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, most recently served as the head of the U.S. Central Command, the geographic combatant command that is in charge of U.S. wars in the Middle East.
Some of Mattis’ more memorable quotes include, “The Iranian regime, in my mind, is the single most enduring threat to peace and stability in the Mideast.” Mattis said this at an April conference. He also said, “Actually it’s quite fun to fight them the Taliban), you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”
Another admirer of the general is Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), a retired Navy SEAL, fondly recalled serving alongside Mattis in Fallujah in 2004. “My experience serving with General Mattis in Iraq was one of the most formidable times in my 23 year service with the U.S. Navy SEALs,” Zinke said in a statement. “I learned a lot from the ‘Warrior Monk’ and can think of no other man or woman who is as well-equipped to serve as the next secretary of Defense at this point in time.”