I’m by no means a fan of most of the people that Donald Trump has surrounded himself with. Picks range from questionable to somewhat unnerving, as was the case with his decision to make Steve Bannon his Chief Strategist. That being said, I believe Trump’s pick of the Marine Corps General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense is a solid choice and someone that may be able to calm the nerves of those who are dreading January 20th.
First, let’s define what exactly the Secretary of Defense is and why it is such a critical role in a President’s administration. The Secretary of Defense is the second most powerful figure in the United States’ military right behind the President, (yes Donald Trump will soon be the leader of our military). Despite the President being technically above the Secretary of Defense, one has to remember that the President’s job is incredibly busy so the Secretary of Defense does most of the actual running of military operations and procedure. When Donald Trump goes on a twitter rant at 3 a.m. Mattis will have the crucial job of managing the most powerful military in the world.
Mattis’ exemplary career in the military would take a long time to sum up in full, but I will do my best to condense it down into a quick bio. Mattis served in the Marines from 1969 to 2013 during which he earned the following medals: Defense Distinguished Service Medal (twice), Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star (with Valor), and the Meritorious Service Medal (thrice). He has been involved with three major U.S. wars: Persian Gulf War, Invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. Mattis was nominated by Obama and then confirmed as the Commander of the United States Central Command. Mattis is also popular with the troops as shown during a Washington Post interview with Marine Lance Corporal Andrew Gitto who was shot by a Taliban sniper. Mattis visited Gitto in the hospital. “He didn’t treat me like a guy who’s been shot,” Gitto told the Washington Post. “He talked to me like we’ve known each other for years. He shook my hand, looked me in the eye and told me heal back up and head back. And that’s what I did.”
Mattis’ political opinions are also very moderate and very reasonable. While not supporting the Iran nuclear deal, Mattis is hesitant to go back on it, telling the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t think that we can take advantage of some new president’s [arrival] and say we’re not going to live up to our word on this agreement. I believe we would be alone if we did, and unilateral economic sanctions from us would not have near the impact of an allied approach.” Mattis has also stood up to Trump in regards to torture telling him, “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I’ll do better.” Furthermore, when Trump called for the ban on Muslims entering the country Mattis rebuked him saying that such actions would damage U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Mattis also is well know for his pro-civilian views in United States’ engagements in the Middle East telling his soldiers that, “Every time you wave at an Iraqi civilian, al-Qaeda rolls over in its grave.”
Now let’s address the many valid concerns people may have over Mattis. Some see his quotes like, “It’s fun to shoot some people,” and, “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet,” as indicative of a brash and violent temperament. Rather these quotes are often the musings of a General looking to lift morale of his troops. When Mattis says to have a plan to kill everybody you meet he obviously is not saying that literally, but rather is using it to speak to the “hoo-rah” attitude the Marine Corps represents. His statement about it being fun to shoot people may have crossed the line, but he later made a sincere apology for the words he used. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words and Mattis’ action indicate a competent man who can serve as a nice balance to the seemingly unstable mentality Trump has brought to the Whitehouse.
The one real concern people may have over Mattis is that his appointment violates the law that a military officer cannot be Secretary of Defense until seven years after their retirement. The law is meant to ensure that we keep civilian control over the military to prevent a military takeover of the government. The law can be waived, though, and has been once before in 1950 with the appointment of the legendary General George C. Marshall to Secretary of Defense. Marshall’s appointment did not lead to a military takeover and I doubt Mattis’ appointment will either. Furthermore, I believe that any Democrat who is looking to disqualify Mattis based on this caveat is not thinking ahead. Democrats, and this country, have been given a more that exceptional candidate for a crucial cabinet position and to reject him just because of the previously noted law would be grossly irresponsible. Fine, tear him down and reject him, but don’t complain when Trump nominates a vastly under qualified Secretary of Defense in Mattis’ place.