Retired Marine General James Mattis appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier today. He was questioned on a wide variety of topics over the span of three hours, after which the members of the committee took little time to deliberate before voting to approve a waiver required to allow Mattis to serve as the Secretary of Defense, despite not waiting the legally mandated seven years since his most recent service on active duty.
During the questioning, Mattis weighed on a myriad of issues facing the United States using concise and deliberate language in what has become a trademark of the man commonly referred to as the “Warrior Monk.” Among the most prominent issues addressed were U.S. efforts against ISIS, Russia as a threat, and the role of women in America’s combat operations.
Mattis was clear that he felt current strategies regarding combat operations against ISIS were falling short of having what he believes is the necessary effect in order to discourage the terrorist organization’s expansion throughout the world. He went on to say that he believes the current methodology employed needs to be reviewed and “energized on a more aggressive timeline.”
Despite President Elect Trump’s seemingly friendly demeanor toward Russian president Vladimir Putin (with accompanying scandals) and an international expectation that the Trump administration will have more success in reducing ongoing political and military tension between the two nations, Mattis pulled no punches in his assessment of Russia as one of America’s largest threats.
“Since Yalta, we have a long list of times that we’ve tried to engage positively with Russia,” Mattis said. “We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard.” He went on to posit that Russia intends to break up the international alliance known as NATO and that he expects little in the way of improved American-Russian relations.
“I have very modest expectations about areas of cooperation with Mr. Putin,” he said.
When questioned by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat out of New York, regarding his stance on women’s role in combat operations, Mattis made clear that he takes no issue with females in the military. “I have no plan to oppose women in any aspect of our military. In 2003, I had hundreds of Marines who happened to be women serving in my 23,000 person division … I put them right on the front lines with everyone else,” Mattis stated.
He also assuaged concerns that, under Mattis, the role of gays in the military could once again come into question. When asked if he would work to repeal recent legislation allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces, he responded plainly, “Frankly, senator, I’ve never cared much about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with.”
He was pressed further regarding the role of gays and women, with one senator going so far as to ask if he felt that there was anything “innate” to either group that could reduce their ability to serve in combat roles. Mattis responded quite simply, “no.”
“The standards are the standards and when people meet the standards, that’s the end of discussion on that,” Mattis said. “The reason we’re able to maintain an all-volunteer force with very, very high recruiting standards is because we go to males and females. … Where they can best serve, that’s where they go.”
Mattis was met with strong support at the conclusion of the hearing, as members of the committee voted 24-3 in favor of the waiver required to permit Mattis’ appointment as Defense Secretary. Only three Democrats voted against the measure.
“Current law would bar him from serving as secretary of defense for three more years. While I strongly support retaining the law, I also believe that our nation needs Gen. Mattis’ service more than ever,” said Republican Senator John McCain.
Mattis still faces confirmation, though the bipartisan support he was met with from the Senate Armed Services Committee may indicate that said confirmation will be easy to come by.
Image courtesy of USA Today