James Mattis America’s New Warrior in Chief?

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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As president-elect, Donald Trump is currently going through the exercise of creating the key components of his administration, nominating a selection of men and women for the key cabinet positions, all of which require Senate confirmation.  One of his more interesting nominees, James Mattis, who has been nominated for the post of Secretary of Defense, has an interesting past and has made some interesting comments about the War on Terror.

As background, James Mattis joined the Marine Corps in 1969 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1972, after earning his Bachelor’s degree at Central Washington University.  After a series of promotions, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield, commanding the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, leading the charge into Kuwait.  At this time, he also served as the Executive Secretary to the Department of Defense.  After being promoted to Brigadier General, he served as the Senator Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense and commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.  During the early part of the Iraq War, he was promoted to major general, commanding the Marine Corps’ longest sustained overland advance.  In August 2010, he replaced U.S. Army General David Petraeus as head of Central Command, holding that position until he retired in March 2013.      

Thanks to The Intercept, we now have a bit of insight into the mind of this career military man.  Here is the content of a speech given by James Mattis at conference held for security professionals by ASIS International in 2015:


Here is the key section of his nearly hour-long speech:


“...ladies and gentlemen we will probably look back on the invasion of Iraq as a mistake, as a strategic mistake.  We removed a terrible guy, you could make no moral argument for keeping Saddam Hussein in power with the level of murder he was conducting on his people.”


Obviously, despite his service in the War on Terror, James Mattis has a realistic viewpoint of the success/failure of the mission.

It is important to note that, according to U.S. Code Title 10, Subtitle 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Section 13, the following applies:

There is a Secretary of Defense, who is the head of the Department of Defense, appointed from civilian life by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. A person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.”

Since James Mattis retired in 2013, he obviously is not qualified to serve as Secretary of Defense according to the letter of the law.  However, he could be granted a waiver by Congress; the last time this was done was in 1950 when President Harry S. Truman appointed General George Marshall to the position of Secretary of Defense five years after he retired from the Army. 

With a nominee for Secretary of Defense that actually has “boots on the ground” experience and a thorough knowledge of war and its repercussions, Secretary of Defense Mattis may bring a fresh and more honest approach to a Washington that has become more concerned with political appearance and cozying up to lobbyists than it is with leadership by those who have a proven track record of leading American men and women.  His military experience is a sharp contrast to that of his war-mongering predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld who had very limited, non-combat-related experience and yet, his views on the War on Terror have led us to the current lengthy unstable situation in key parts of the Middle East. 

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