Donald Trump is expected to make a formal announcement early next week regarding his appointment of retired Marine General James Mattis as the Secretary of Defense for the United States of America.
Mattis met with Trump in his New Jersey golf course home a few weeks ago to discuss the possibility of serving in the coveted position. During the meeting, the President Elect discussed the challenges facing the American military and, among other things, the role water boarding and other forms of advanced interrogation techniques may play in U.S. operations going forward.
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump touted water boarding as a useful and necessary tool in the war on terror. Critics, including Republican Senator John McCain, have publicly denounced the idea, calling it torture due to the way the technique simulates drowning in the mind of the suspect. Congress passed legislation last year banning the practice and limiting interrogation methods to those listed in the Army Field Manual, a move Trump hoped to change once in office.
Mattis’s stance on water boarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques surprised Trump during their meeting, suggesting “give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture,’” according to the incoming President.
Mattis will need Congress to pass new legislation that bypasses existing federal law in order to accept the appointment. Currently, there is a required seven-year waiting period that must elapse before anyone can take on the role of Defense Secretary after serving on active duty. Mattis retired less than four years ago. A similar exception has been granted once before in 1950, when Gen. George C. Marshall was given the job by President Harry S. Truman.
James Mattis, aged 66, enlisted into the Marine Corps in 1969 before commissioning as an officer in 1972. He has been regarded as a “warrior scholar” by his peers and is widely respected by the military and veteran community. His highest appointment on active duty was that of Commander of the United States’ Central Command, wherein he supervised operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the region that includes Iran and Syria.
Mattis also served as the supreme allied commander over transformations for NATO, an alliance Trump has been critical of in the recent past. Many European leaders who are concerned over the incoming president’s stance on the treaty organization may feel a slight sense of relief following this appointment. Mattis was critical of Barrack Obama’s statements about NATO allies failing to meet their financial requirements this past March, a sentiment echoed in Trump’s statements about the organization while on the campaign trail.
One former senior Pentagon official who asked to remain anonymous, believes appointing Mattis is a sound strategic move for the businessman turned president: “The President-elect is smart to think about putting someone as respected as Jim Mattis in this role,” he told the Washington Post. “He’s a warrior, scholar, and straight shooter — literally and figuratively. He speaks truth to everyone, and would certainly speak truth to this new commander-in-chief.”
Mattis’s reputation as a war fighter and a scholar has earned him nicknames like “Mad Dog” and the “Warrior Monk” and he’s become a bit of a cult icon among the modern generation of veterans, who respect his tenacity, wisdom, and perhaps most of all, his characteristic lack of political polish. He’s made headlines in the past for speaking frankly about killing insurgents being “fun” – a move that earned him the ire of political officials and senior leadership within the Marines. Many believe his prompt retirement from active duty was the result of internal conflict between Mattis and the Obama administration, though Mattis has never formally indicated that to be the truth.
With tensions on the rise again with Russia and China, as well as continued operations in the Middle East, Mattis may have his work cut out for him, but the appointment of such a strong military leader can certainly be seen as a statement to the world that the United States does not intend to give up its position as the leading military power on the planet.
Image courtesy of AFP