“We are going to appoint ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Donald Trump said of retired Marine Gen. James Mattis Thursday. | AP Photo
Mattis would be only the second retired general to become the civilian leader of the military.
President-elect Donald Trump has picked retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to be his secretary of defense, tapping yet another outspoken ex-military leader who butted heads with the Obama administration to shape and carry out his national security strategy.
If confirmed, the highly decorated battlefield commander would be only the second retired general to become defense secretary — and would require a special waiver from Congress in the form of separate legislation.
“I will not tell you that one of our great, great generals — don’t let it outside of this room,” Trump teased a rally in Cincinnati Thursday night, playing up the drama. “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,” he added, referring to the impolitic and aggressive battlefield commander in World War II. “It’s about time.”
Hours earlier, Trump’s transition team had denied that he had settled on a defense secretary despite a report in The Washington Post that Mattis was the choice. “No decision has been made yet with regard to Secretary of Defense,” spokesman Jason Miller tweeted at 4:40 p.m.
Mattis, 66, so nicknamed for his salty language and obsessive dedication to the military, was the top U.S. commander in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013. He had earlier co-authored a counterinsurgency strategy manual credited with helping to halt some of the worst sectarian violence in Iraq before the U.S. military withdrawal in December 2011.
But as head of the U.S. Central Command he also clashed with President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, particularly over Iran, which Mattis has called “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”
It’s a view that aligns more closely with Trump and his pick for White House national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, whom the Obama administration had removed as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. Both Trump and Flynn have advocated pulling out of an agreement reached with Iran last year to curtail its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions and eventually removing the arms embargo.
Yet not all of Mattis’ views are so in sync with Trump and Flynn, who have made friendly gestures to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mattis has expressed deep wariness of Russia’s intentions, saying it wants “to break NATO apart.”
During the campaign Mattis did not hold back in criticizing Trump and some of his rhetoric, including the president-elect’s comments that NATO was obsolete and that its members don’t pay their fair share.
“Some of those allies have lost more troops per capita in Afghanistan than we have,’’ Mattis, who also served as NATO’s supreme allied commander for transformation, told POLITICO in July. “Some of them are spending 20 percent of their national budget on defense.”