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Defense Decisions: Why General Mattis's Nomination Stands Out
01/13/2017 Cabinet Positions Andrew S
keywords: Mattis Defense Secretary

As Donald Trump tries to make up for lost time on nominations, many of his appointees have shocked voters and officials. His Attorney General pick, Jeff Sessions, has garnered accusations of prejudice, while Rex Tillerson, his choice for Secretary of State, is seen as too friendly to Russia. Perhaps the most surprising nominee, however, is paradoxically the most mainstream one: General James Mattis, whom Trump has appointed as Secretary of Defense.

Guide To The General

As a retired Marine Corps general, Mattis has an impressive résumé. He enlisted as a marine in 1969, and by 1972 had already achieved the rank of second lieutenant. As he rose through the ranks, he commanded troops in the Persian Gulf War, the US invasion of Afghanistan, and the US invasion of Iraq. He has also served as the Supreme Allied Commander of Transformation for NATO, the Commander of the US Joint Forces Command, and most recently, the Commander of the US Central Command. Mattis commands bipartisan respect, having served faithfully under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Taking On Trump

Though Mattis would be an obvious choice in any other administration, he seems a strange pick for Trump given that he disagrees with the President-Elect on:

  • Russia- The general sees Russia as the main enemy of the United States, undermining Trump’s call for closer Russo-American relations.
  • NATO- Mattis describes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as “the most successful alliance in modern history.” This contrasts with the President-Elect’s suggestion that he will not defend NATO allies without compensation.
  • Iran- The general has promised to uphold the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a 2015 agreement to eliminate Iran’s uranium supplies. Trump has threatened to back out of this agreement.
  • Israel- Mattis does not support Trump’s plan to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Both Democrats and mainstream Republicans disagree sharply with Trump’s foreign policy preferences, and have expressed skepticism about some of his more radical nominees, such as Tillerson. They are thus likely to confirm Mattis, viewing him as a necessary check on a potentially dangerous administration. It remains to be seen, however, if the general will be able to do his job under an administration that he sharply disagrees with. If Trump orders Mattis to ignore Russian aggression or abandon NATO allies, will the new secretary follow his conscience or his Commander-in-Chief? Whatever the final result, the next few years are likely to be marked by conflict between the president and one of his most important advisers.

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