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Mattis, Trump, and Iran

Former Marine Gen. James Mattis keeps being mentioned [1] as a possible nominee for Secretary of Defense:

The clearest consensus inside the transition team is for Gen. Mattis, a former war commander who has long voiced concerns about the security threat posed by Iran.

Choosing Mattis would be fairly unusual and I believe it would be the first time in decades that a recently retired general was named to the position. Doing that would require [2] a special bill to permit a recently retired military officer to serve as Defense Secretary. This was the same issue that cropped up when Flynn’s name was being mentioned in connection with the job. The law prohibits a newly retired officer from taking the job for seven years, and Mattis retired in 2013, so there would need to be an exemption passed by Congress:

If precedent holds, Congress would have to pass a law to exempt him from the requirement.

That’s what Congress did in 1950, when President Harry Truman nominated Gen. George C. Marshall for defense secretary. At the time, officers had to be out of active duty for at least 10 years before heading the Department of Defense.

Assuming this hurdle could be overcome, picking Mattis would continue the pattern of filling top national security posts with people fixated on and hostile to Iran. Mattis identified [3] Iran as “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East” in a speech in April. He also asserted that “Iran is not an enemy of ISIS,” which would come as news to both. He went on say this:

I would just point out one question for you to look into. What is the one country in the Middle East that has not been attacked by ISIS? One. And it’s Iran. That is just more than happenstance, I’m sure.

That happens to be false [4], but even if the claim were true it is a bizarre, conspiratorial sort of reasoning to use. If a country isn’t being attacked by a terrorist group, that doesn’t mean that its government is somehow in league with them or on the same side, and it doesn’t say much for Mattis that he thinks there is something significant about this “fact” that happens to be wrong. Iran hawks often seem determined not to accept that Iran is opposed to and actively fighting against [5] ISIS and other jihadist groups like them, and so they will try to explain away the obvious antagonism between them. It doesn’t bode well for U.S. policy towards Iran and the region as a whole if Trump picks Mattis.

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12 Comments To "Mattis, Trump, and Iran"

#1 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On November 22, 2016 @ 5:58 pm

Completely predictable- the fools who voted for this buffoon will have much to answer for……

#2 Comment By SteveM On November 22, 2016 @ 5:59 pm

Mattis is a 4-Star Jarhead with stereotypical war-monger “beer muscles”. E.g., “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

Having that fox Mad Dog guard the 5-sided Hen House is nuts.

And having the hyper-militarist triad of Flynn, Pompeo and Mattis filtering information and providing advice to Trump is concerning, bordering on scary.

P.S. Defense contractor stocks are booming from anticipatory delight.

#3 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On November 22, 2016 @ 6:32 pm

Sometimes these types understand war, and will hesitate before starting one.

Lord have mercy.

#4 Comment By a spencer On November 22, 2016 @ 7:27 pm

Cynicism. Contempt. Ignorance. Apart from being on war profiteering payrolls, these are the only explanations for hawkish kind of thinking.

Why is Hizb’allah fighting in Syria on behalf of Assad if ISIS or any of the Sunni militias weren’t mortal enemies of Shia Iran?

#5 Comment By Kurzleg On November 22, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

This is interesting. Thomas Ricks didn’t even mention the 10-year retirement period in his Foreign Policy blog on Mattis. Nor did he mention Mattis’s pretty lazy “they haven’t been attacked by X so they’re allies of X” assessment. In fact, Ricks credits Mattis as being unusually strategic in his thinking and voracious in his reading. What Ricks attributes to Mattis doesn’t square with his ISIS/Iran connection.

#6 Comment By a spencer On November 22, 2016 @ 8:27 pm

Kurzleg, all due respect to Ricks,

If Mattis is saying that its not “happenstance” that ISIS doesn’t attack Iran because, as with the Shia and Christian militias in Lebanon, Shia in Iran simply wouldn’t allow it, that’s fairly uncontroversial.

Of course, Mattis is wrong that Iran is the only country IS hasn’t attacked in the ME. I can think of another that starts with I. Is that beyond “happenstance” as well?

As far as “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East”, I’m reminded of SteveM’s post script above.

#7 Comment By Neal On November 23, 2016 @ 8:46 am

I can’t imagine Trump will be well served having the next few years consumed by war and endless confrontation all over the world.

I’m sure the rest of aren’t.

#8 Comment By Joe F On November 23, 2016 @ 8:54 am

The shallowness of Trump’s understanding of international affairs is manifesting itself with his consideration for military, intelligence and foreign posts. I suspect he doesn’t know and hasn’t taken the time to explore the beliefs of those he will put in critical posts. Bolton for Sec State? Couldn’t be more opposite to his proclaimed distain for foreign entanglements

#9 Comment By Slugger On November 23, 2016 @ 10:48 am

Have there been any actual attacks by ISIS on the US? I mean planned and carried out by their operatives. I know that the San Bernardino murderers claimed some affinities with ISIS, but their schemes, weapons, and actions were self produced.
Nothing in my comments should be construed as signs that I deviate from the American policy of being terrified, panicked, and fearful of the whole world.

#10 Comment By JLF On November 23, 2016 @ 10:53 am

Why is anyone surprised? As long as the only “facts” that matter are the ones that support your argument, as long as “truth” can be manufactured when necessary to support your argument, as long as “right” is in your exclusive possession, this is the only kind of appointment that makes sense.

Historians will not look back on 2016, the years before and following, and wonder how Trump won and Clinton lost. They will be much more puzzled by how half an entire nation could become so self-deluded as to believe that their make-believe, fantasy world was the real world.

#11 Comment By REMant On November 23, 2016 @ 11:30 am

I’m not liking this idea either, nor that of Romney. But surely it conflicts with the appts of Bannon and Flynn.

#12 Comment By rayray On November 23, 2016 @ 8:27 pm

I voted for Clinton. Not a fan of Mattis, or indeed any obvious war instigator. I think Trump is surrounding himself with people with bad ideas because, as i’ve said before in these comment pages, he has no ideas of his own. So it’s hard for him to discern.

I will say this for Mattis, apparently he told Trump that he could get more out of an interrogation with a couple beers and a pack of cigarettes than any amount of waterboarding. After Trump’s vocal and unspeakably vile support of the practice during the campaign it’s nice to hear that someone he’s listening to is working against it.