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Home/Daniel Larison/Report: Trump Is Choosing Mattis for Secretary of Defense

Report: Trump Is Choosing Mattis for Secretary of Defense

Trump will nominate retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to be Secretary of Defense:

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis to be secretary of defense, nominating a former senior military officer who led operations across the Middle East to run the Pentagon less than four years after he hung up his uniform, according to people familiar with the decision.

To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. Congress has granted a similar exception just once, when Gen. George C. Marshall was appointed to the job in 1950.

Mattis was the most frequently mentioned candidate for the position and was considered the favorite, so this isn’t all that surprising, but it is still quite unusual. As the report says, there will need to be a special bill passed to permit Mattis to serve as Defense Secretary because of his recent retirement from the military, which makes the selection remarkable in itself. The possibility of choosing a former general to run the Pentagon has also caused concern about the effect this would have on civilian-military relations. It is also a somewhat odd choice because Mattis seems to some observers to be a poor fit for the role that he will be asked to fill. Erin Simpson, a Mattis admirer, explained why a few days ago:

The point is not that Mattis is unqualified. Rather, the point is that he hates this shit. Budgets, white papers, and service rivalries, not to mention the interagency meetings and White House meddling — these tasks are not what you go to Jim Mattis for. Not only does the role of secretary of defense not play to Mattis’ strengths, but success in that role would compromise much that we admire most in him: his bluntness, clarity, and single-minded focus on warfighting. The secretary’s job is by necessity much more political than all that. You can’t run the Pentagon like the First Marine Division.

The choice also fits what is becoming a pattern of embracing officers that were forced out under Obama for one reason or another. In Mattis’ case, he was reportedly pushed out because of disagreements with the administration on Iran. Like all of Trump’s other national security appointments thus far, Mattis is extremely hawkish on Iran, and his selection bodes ill for the future of U.S. policy towards that country. Insofar as Mattis could act as a brake on Trump’s impulsiveness and offers a corrective to his ignorance, his presence in the Cabinet could be a good thing. However, he will be joining a chorus of Iran hawks in the administration, and that reinforces much of what was already going to be wrong with Trump’s foreign policy.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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