Report: Trump chooses Mattis as Defense Secretary

Sources say President-elect has chosen retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis to be Secretary of Defense. Announcement expected next week.

Ben Ariel ,

Mattis and Trump
Mattis and Trump

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis to be Secretary of Defense, people familiar with the decision told The Washington Post on Thursday.

To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law stating that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years.

An announcement is likely by early next week, according to the people familiar with the choice.

Mattis, 66, retired as the chief of U.S. Central Command in spring 2013 after serving more than four decades in the Marine Corps. He is considered one of the most influential military leaders of his generation, serving as a strategic thinker while occasionally drawing rebukes for his aggressive talk.

Since retiring, he has served as a consultant and as a visiting fellow with the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University.

Like Trump, Mattis favors a tougher stance against U.S. adversaries abroad, especially Iran. The general, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in April, said that while security discussions often focus on terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) or Al-Qaeda, the Iranian regime is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”

He added the next president “is going to inherit a mess” and argued that the nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration last year may slow Iran’s ambitions to get a nuclear weapon but will not stop them.

“In terms of strengthening America’s global standing among European and Mideastern nations alike, the sense is that America has become somewhat irrelevant in the Middle East, and we certainly have the least influence in 40 years,” Mattis said.

In 2013, Mattis warned that the sanctions and diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities were not working.

In addition to the comments on Iran, Mattis also has a history of troubling statements vis-à-vis Israel.

Speaking at a gathering of the Aspen Institute in 2013, Mattis gave his emphatic backing for Secretary of State John Kerry’s “valiant” efforts to reach a two-state solution, saying that the foundation of a Palestinian state was of paramount importance for not only Israel but the United States.

In addition, Mattis slammed Israeli control of Judea and Samaria as “unsustainable”, warning that Jewish “settlements” were liable to turn Israel into an “Apartheid” state.

At the same time, The Washington Post noted that during his time in the military, Mattis made a concerted effort to reach out to his Israeli military counterparts.

Steven Simon, who worked with Mattis when he served on Obama’s National Security Council, said Mattis made frequent stops in Israel during trips to the region, part of an effort to encourage the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors to work together to counter Iranian influence.

“They respected Mattis because they saw him as a straight shooter and a good listener,” Simon said of the Israelis and Arabs.