Meet Trump’s ‘mad dog’ for the Pentagon

Meet Trump’s ‘mad dog’ for the Pentagon
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Retired Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis once explained his life philosophy to fellow Marines as: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” 

The general is now poised to take that mantra to the top ranks of the Pentagon as President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg on Mueller report: 'Politically, I'm not sure it will change much' Sarah Sanders addresses false statements detailed in Mueller report: 'A slip of the tongue' Trump to visit Japan in May to meet with Abe, new emperor MORE’s secretary of Defense.

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Mattis emerged from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as one of the most revered figures in the Marines, winning a legion of fans for his blunt and colorful quotes, strategic thinking and warrior ethos.

“He is without a doubt one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops,” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Democrats need a 'celebrity' candidate — and it's not Biden or Sanders Juan Williams: The high price of working for Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) said in a statement Friday. “Gen. Mattis has a clear understanding of the many challenges facing the Department of Defense, the U.S. military and our national security. America will be fortunate to have Gen. Mattis in its service once again.”

Current Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in his own statement: "I have known General Jim Mattis for many years and hold him in the highest regard," adding that he would work to facilitate a "seamless transition."

Mattis’s path to lead the Pentagon won’t be without its difficulties. 

With just three years of retirement under his belt, he’ll need Congress to approve a waiver exempting him from a law that mandates the Defense secretary must be out of uniform for at least seven years. 

But Mattis is deeply respected among defense leaders on the Hill, who are expected to lead support for the waiver. McCain has said he’ll write the bill that gives Mattis a pass. 

“Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain is committed to marking up legislation to grant Gen. Mattis a waiver as soon as possible,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller told reporters Friday. 

Trump made the surprise announcement naming Mattis as his choice for Defense secretary at a “thank you” rally Thursday in Ohio, telling the crowd: “They say he’s the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have, and it’s about time.” 

Mattis rose to national prominence in 2001 as the then-one-star general who led an amphibious task force of more than 1,000 Marines on a mission in Kandahar province in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, capturing the airport there and establishing one of the first coalition command centers in the country.  

In 2003, he commanded a division of Marines during the invasion of Iraq and returned in 2004 to lead the brutal urban combat in Fallujah. 

As the Marines he commanded were about to charge into Iraq in 2003, he advised them to “engage your brain before you engage your weapon” and told them, “On your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind.”

Mattis, who is now a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, most recently served as the head of the U.S. Central Command, the geographic combatant command that is in charge of U.S. wars in the Middle East.

He was commander of Centcom from 2010 to 2013, a time that saw the drawdown of forces in Iraq, a surge of forces in Afghanistan and the start of the Syrian civil war.  

Toward the end of his tenure, Mattis clashed with the Obama administration over the Iran nuclear deal. Reports at the time of his retirement speculated the White House pushed him out over disputes on Iran strategy; the administration has denied the claims. 

More recently, Mattis has said that negotiation with Iran over its nuclear program “was not without some merit” and said scrapping the deal now is not an option “absent a clear violation.” But he warned that Iran is still a threat.

“The Iranian regime, in my mind, is the single most enduring threat to peace and stability in the Mideast," Mattis said at an April conference. 

Just prior to his retirement, Mattis urged Congress to fund diplomacy, saying, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition, ultimately.” 

Mattis has also been critical of Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), telling Time magazine in August that the current fight is “unguided by a sustained policy or sound strategy [and is] replete with half-measures.”

But Mattis also has his differences with the incoming president.

The general has a harder view on Russia than the president-elect, who repeatedly defended his praise of Vladimir Putin throughout the campaign. Mattis, whose career also included a stint as NATO’s supreme allied commander for transition, has warned that the Russian president is trying to “break NATO apart."  

And Trump recently suggested that Mattis is making him take a second look his support for torture.

Trump has said he wants to bring back waterboarding and "a hell of a lot worse." But he told the New York Times that he was surprised when Mattis told him he preferred to gather intel with "a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers.” Trump said he wasn’t necessarily changing his mind on the issue but was “impressed” with Mattis’s take. 

Though Mattis’s salty quotes have earned him a following, they’ve gotten him in trouble, as well. He earned rebuke from his superiors in 2005 when he talked about enjoying killing the enemy. 

“Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot," Mattis said. "It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." 

He was also admonished for saying in 2001 that “the Marines have landed, and we now own a piece of Afghanistan.” 

Mattis has said the quote was taken out of context and that he followed that statement by saying the Marines will give it back to the Afghans. 

Still, Mattis’s rise survived the rows, and those who served with him sing his praises.

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), a retired Navy SEAL, fondly recalled serving alongside Mattis in Fallujah in 2004. 

“My experience serving with General Mattis in Iraq was one of the most formidable times in my 23 year service with the U.S. Navy SEALs,” Zinke said in a statement. “I learned a lot from the ‘Warrior Monk’ and can think of no other man or woman who is as well-equipped to serve as the next secretary of Defense at this point in time.”  

Democrats have also praised Mattis, but they have some reservations about passing a waiver for him to serve in the administration. Such legislation would need to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate.

The 1947 law that sets the cooling-off period for Defense secretaries is meant to maintain civilian control of the military that is seen as a key democratic component. The law has been waived once, for Gen. George Marshall in 1950. 

At the time, Congress made clear it did not want to set a precedent with a report accompanying the legislation specifying that “the authority granted by this act is not to be construed as approval by the Congress of continuing appointments of military men to the office of secretary of Defense in the future.” 

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandButtigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration 2020 Dems call on Mueller to testify about redacted report 2020 Dems blast Barr's defense of Trump before Mueller report's release MORE (D-N.Y.) expressly said she would not vote for Mattis’s waiver over concerns about civilian control of the military. 

Other Democrats have not ruled out passing a waiver, but said the issue deserves a close look. 

The top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump team spurns Adam Smith with its trade stance Top Armed Services Republican: 'I don't think anybody is satisfied' with Space Force proposal Overnight Defense: House votes to condemn transgender military ban | 5 Republicans vote against ban | Senate bill would block Turkey getting F-35s over Russia deal MORE (D-Wash.), said Mattis’s nomination raises “serious questions” that need “full review.” 

“General Mattis has served the United States tirelessly, with admirable distinction,” he said in a statement Friday. “However, the unusual circumstances of his nomination raise serious questions about fundamental principles of our Constitutional order.

“Civilian control of the military is not something to be casually cast aside. So while I like and respect General Mattis a great deal, the House of Representatives would have to perform a full review, including hearings by the Armed Services Committee, if it were to consider overriding the statutory prohibition on recent military officers serving as the secretary of Defense.” 

Arnold Punaro, a former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has been involved in the confirmation of 10 Defense secretaries, said Trump made an “inspired pick” in Mattis.

Punaro said he is not worried granting Mattis an exception to the law would erode civilian control of the military, because Mattis is an “independent, objective” person.

For example, when Punaro chaired a Defense Business Board task force in 2010 that recommended the elimination of the Joint Forces Command while Mattis was its commander, Punaro said Mattis took a thoughtful look at the recommendation. 

“Gen. Mattis is not someone who jumped up and said the world is going to come to end, and typically that’s case when you recommend eliminating a combatant command,” Punaro said. “That’s just not Jim Mattis.”