Will Obama’s Mattis Be Trump’s Mattis?
President-elect Donald Trump’s unconventional choice for secretary of defense, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, deserves praise, in a presidential transition that has defied convention, mostly in disturbing ways – from its early morning tweets to the reality-show spectacle of wannabe cabinet officials on parade.
With Mattis, the Pentagon will be led by an astute, respected, battle-hardened leader – one who will bring intense focus on the fights the U.S. is already waging (especially a piece of real estate he knows so well, Iraq and Syria), prepare for the fights that it might get in, work hard to strengthen our most important military partnerships around the world, and keep morale high inside a jittery Pentagon.
Mattis has many admirers among those who served with him in the Defense Department during the Obama years. I was the assistant secretary with the Middle East portfolio at the same time he commanded U.S. forces in the region. Although famously known as “Mad Dog,” a moniker the president-elect clearly likes, Mattis is not simply a leatherneck tough guy. In my experience, he always understood the proper role that defense policy should play alongside the other instruments of American power, championing the importance of diplomacy and development.
He was an attentive and trusted colleague for his Pentagon civilian counterparts. I and my team liked working with him, and during his tenure we had a good relationship with his team at U.S.Central Command, or CENTCOM, in Tampa. (This is not always the case). He had great respect for diplomats and worked to establish close relationships with his American ambassadorial counterparts.