Retired Marine General James Mattis, 66, whom President-elect Donald Trump has picked as his secretary of defense, is famous for his rough-and-tough stance toward America’s adversaries. From 2010 to 2013, Gen. Mattis was head of the Central Command that oversees US military operations across the Middle East, replacing Gen. David Petraeus (now one of the candidates for secretary of state).
He earned the “Mad Dog Mattis” handle as a battlefield commander in Iraq when he said: “If you f-k with me, I’ll kill you all.”
So no one expects the incoming defense secretary to be a desk warrior. Reputed to be the most brilliant and influential military strategic thinker America has produced since WWII, Mattis was also popular with the officers and men who fought under his command.
No yes-man, he has been described by a former Pentagon official as “a warrior, scholar and straight shooter who would certainly speak the truth to the new commander in chief.”
It will be interesting to see how they get along. .
Mattis is only the second former general to step into a cabinet post in the 68 years since President Truman appointed Gen. George C. Marshall as secretary of state. He is seen as reaching the pinnacle of a career that covered more than four decades in the Marine Corps.
Sometimes criticized as overly aggressive, Mattis is also reputed for encouraging his subordinate officers to stretch their minds and think outside the box. A voracious book-reader himself, stories are told about him handing out book lists to his officers in Afghanistan and Iraq and making sure they were read.
The incoming president believes he has picked the right man to oversee the discharge of his campaign pledge to rebuild American armed forces, which his White House predecessors “depleted” – with special reference to the air force and navy. Mattis will have a multibillion dollar budget to administer and funds he will no doubt spend on innovations in the various corps and novel combat methods and weaponry.
The Marine stamp on the new administration is further accentuated by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford hailing from the same celebrated unit.
Mattis left a strong impression on the Middle East during his stint as chief of CENTCOM up until three years ago. His tough, straight-shooting style did not always go with the temperament and nature of the generals he worked with in the region, including some Israeli officers.
Mattis was sometimes at odds with Israeli leaders when he criticized their settlement policy and conduct in the region. But since his name came up as the leading nominee for defense, some of his friends have made an effort to present Mattis as essentially a friend of Israel.
Most recently, Mattis commented that responding to “political Islam” is the main security issue facing America. He has also called the Iranian regime as “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”