Raising the Standard.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis: A Review

Marines pose with General James Mattis, Commanding General, CENTCOM, at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, May 8, 2011. (S.K. Vemmer/Department of State).

Newly inaugurated President Donald Trump has undeniably built quite the name for himself—beyond the expectations even of his own heightened self-image. But alas, against all odds, it has happened. Moreover, he will transform the nation for decades to come. And all of that starts with his Cabinet nominations. Trump has already begun that process, and to nobody’s surprise, his nominations have been about as out-of-the-box as his election was. The Arch Conservative has covered Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s unusual nomination, for example, and will continue to review other nominees over the course of the semester.

Whereas our current Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, had plenty of experience in the pentagon before his nomination to President Obama’s cabinet, Trump’s nominee is unsurprisingly a different story. James Mattis has no political experience whatsoever, but what he does provide is leadership skills and powerful insight into the world of our military.

Mattis’ most recent occupation was serving as the Commander of the United States Central Command as appointed by Obama. He has also served as the Commander of the United States Joint Forces Command and as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation. Needless to say, when it comes to defending our nation, James Mattis has an impressive résumé.

Though it took some Congressional legislation to bypass the federal law that states defense secretaries cannot serve the position if they have been active in the past seven years, the House voted 268-151 in favor of giving Mattis the waiver, as did the Senate after his confirmation hearing. Detractors point to his lack of actual political experience and the legality of his nomination due to his active duty in recent years, but it is simply impossible to deny his qualifications for the position he has been nominated for. The prospect of Mattis not getting confirmed, however, was always next to impossible. His soon-to-be companions in the Cabinet have many, more worthwhile conflicts of interest and therefore drew more attention both from the media and from the Senate.

His lack of political experience relative to his predecessors does not, however, mean he is without opinion on the duties of the position. Outside of his résumé, Mattis’ opinions on our global affairs, especially in the Islamic state, are no secret. Mattis is quite different from the typical policy-maker in that he has a comparatively pro-combat attitude. He has said on numerous occasions that he believes we are lacking an overall strategy in the Middle East. He claims we tend to “solve our problems” one-by-one instead of looking at the big picture to be effective.  In 2015 at the Heritage Foundation, Mattis spoke in reference to the differences between the Islamic state and Iranian-backed terrorism. He stresses the possible role political institutions in the Middle-East play with/against terrorism, saying “I suggest the answer is no, but we need to have the discussion. If we won’t even ask the question, how do we even recognize which is our side in a fight?”

It might not offer the clearest picture as to his specific goals in the Middle East, but the decision will not be his to make alone. Perhaps he will use the Intelligence Community and its expertise as a resource (as it is intended but too often overlooked) to great effect rather than making a decision based on the political gains or losses of the President he serves.

With the rest of the Cabinet in the process of confirmation by the Senate, the picture of Donald Trump’s America slowly emerges. Some nominees have received more skepticism than others. Rest assured, Washington clearly has faith in the retired general in serving our country well, as should the rest of the nation.

 

— TJ Collins is Business Manager of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE

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