Trump’s Military Trump: U.S. Secretary of Defense James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis

On January 20, the American Senate approved with a 98-1 vote the American President Trump’s pick for the post of Secretary of Defense: in that moment, the former Marines General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis became the 26th Secretary of Defense of the United States.

Since the position within U.S. government of the Secretary of Defense is critical from a military point of view, it is important to understand who is the new Secretary of Defense and what are his positions on questions that will be crucial for United States foreign and defense policy in the following years, especially if these questions will be seen through the lenses of what President Trump has already said during the Presidential Campaign and during the first days in the White House.

Jim Mattis’ military career

About the new Secretary of Defense biography, it can be said that his life has been dominated by the military commitment to the Marine Corps as he enlisted at the age of 19; during the Gulf War in 1990-1991 he commanded the first Battalion of the 7th Marines Regiment with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel; ten years after, Mattis commanded with the rank of Brigadier General the Task Force 58 – a naval unit – during the NATO invasion of Afghanistan. Reached the rank of Major General, Mattis conducted operations during the Second Gulf War in 2003 commanding the 1st Marine Division. After the Second Gulf War, Mattis has been assigned to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, then to the U.S. Joint Forces Command in 2007; at the same time, he became NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, post that he would hold for 2 years. In 2010 Mattis has been assigned to post of Commander of U.S. Central Command, one of the 6 U.S. Unified Combatant Commands that covers the Middle-East area and notably Syria and Iraq. Finally, his military career ended after 44 years in 2013 with his retirement from the Marine Corps, only to begin a civil career.

Towards the Defense Department

During the four years between his retirement and the nominations to the Defense Department, Mattis held positions in non-profit organizations as well as in defense-oriented companies such General Dynamics corporation and in the biotech company Theranos.

On November, 20th 2016 the President-elect Donald Trump had a meeting with the former Marine General; soon after the encounter, Trump tweeted that Mattis had been picked for the post of Secretary of Defense in Trump’s future administration. On January, 12th 2017 the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee heard Mattis to confirm him as the next Secretary of Defense; during the hearing, Mattis offered his views on several aspects of foreign and military policies that the U.S. should consider in future scenarios: he stated that it is necessary to implement a more aggressive military policy against ISIS, that Russia should be considered as the major threat for U.S. interests and a menace to the NATO allies; finally, he considered that the nuclear deal with Iran should be left intact, although he did not approve it in its entirety.

The first weeks of the new Secretary of Defense

James Mattis first statements after being put in charge of the Defense Department can be considered as quite controverted, especially taking into consideration what Donald Trump stated during the Presidential campaign and during the first weeks as President of the U.S.. Mattis offered his point of view on several foreign policy and military problems in different occasions. First, he apparently strengthened American commitment to NATO alliance on late January, talking to NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg about the American ‘unshakable commitment to NATO’; furthermore, during a meeting between defense ministers of NATO countries held in February, 2017 in Brussels Mattis called the Atlantic alliance ‘my second home’, remembering the time spent as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation; however, during that conference he reasserted the words that Donald Trump has said during the Presidential campaign, in which he said that if NATO countries will not pay more for the expenses of the Alliance, the U.S. will loosen their military commitment in Europe. Second, during that conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels he considered impossible any military collaboration with Russia, being Russian foreign policy ‘aggressive’ and ‘destabilizing’, reiterating his point of view on Russia already affirmed in front of U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and assuming a contradictory position on Russia in comparison with Trump’s attitude towards that country. Finally, Mattis pointed his finger at Iran, considered as the ‘world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism’.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Photo by  U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr / CC BY 2.0

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Stefano Loi

Research Assistant at CEI-IUL.

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