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By Monique M. Maldonado, Ph.D.
Contributor, In Homeland Security
On December 1, President-elect Donald Trump nominated General James Mattis as the next Secretary of Defense. Knowing Mattis’ extensive biography and very impressive military and government background, I know America’s defense is in great hands.
A large majority of the American public is concerned with Trump’s ability to govern the United States as Commander-in-Chief, since Trump has no significant experience in government, politics or national defense.
Additionally, Trump has not served in any official capacity that enables him to make complex decisions required to protect the United States nationally and abroad. Understanding the importance and responsibility of this position is crucial to maintaining global superiority and protecting the homeland.
General Mattis’ military career extends over 44 years. He is one of the most successful military officers, exudes a Marine’s competence and is an erudite academician. According to the Flag Officers’ website, modern military historians chronicle Mattis as one of America’s great soldier-scholars.
I had the opportunity to meet General Mattis when he served as the 11th Commander of United States Central Command, overseeing Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as well as countering terrorism activities in Iran and Pakistan. He is a straightforward individual and well respected throughout all service branches.
Mattis Has a History of High-Level Command Positions
In addition to commanding CENTCOM, General Mattis has previously served as commander of the United States Joint Forces Command (2007-2010), as NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (2007-2009), I Marine Expeditionary Force and 1st Marine Division during the inception of the Iraqi War.
General Mattis initially enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969. He earned his B.A. in history in 1971 from Central Washington University three years later, while a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1972.
As a young officer, Mattis served as an infantry officer and acted as a task force ripper assault battalion commander in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He began his time as a general officer, serving as the Senior Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Rudy De Leon.
The general’s extensive career not only includes expertise in shaping the Marine Corps, but also global policies, especially in the Middle East. Trump understands that General Mattis’ decades of experience and competence in complex matters is an excellent fit for Secretary of Defense. As Trump said while announcing his selection of Mattis for the position on December 1, “They say he [Mattis] is the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have.”
Waiver Requirement Could Hamper and Delay Mattis’ Appointment
Although there is much excitement over Trump’s nomination, Mattis still faces a hard reality that could hamper his opportunity to join the Trump Cabinet. Federal law requires that individuals appointed to Cabinet level or executive positions must be retired from the military at least seven years.
Mattis has been retired from military service for a little more than three years. Congress must approve a waiver status for Mattis to enable him to serve in a civilian “Chief Executive Officer” position.
According to The Hill newspaper, some Democrat policymakers have openly expressed their disapproval of granting the waiver. That would block Mattis’ confirmation as Secretary of Defense. As Representative Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) stated:
“As a fellow Marine, I greatly admire General James Mattis’ dedication and leadership. We should be incredibly grateful for his many years of service to our nation. As a veteran, I believe strongly in the principle of civilian leadership of the military. Current law requires that a military officer be out of active duty for at least seven years before taking the job of defense secretary. I do not believe this long-standing check should be cast aside, and I will oppose a waiver of this rule, even for some as exceptionally qualified as General Mattis.”
But there is a good chance that Mattis’ waiver will be approved because he is a highly qualified Marine and scholar.
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) of the House Intelligence Committee agreed. Schiff noted that even though the waiver will be an issue, he does not doubt that Mattis will be confirmed.
Schiff told CNN on December 1: “I don’t ultimately think it will be a bar because I think he is so well thought of that he can overcome peoples’ reservations of that. My guess is because his reputation is so strong and, frankly, because there’s enough concern among Democrats about some of the President-elect’s other choices, there’ll be a desire to amend the statute if that’s what necessary and I believe it would be necessary.”
Mattis is a Strong, Competent Leader Tough on Combating Terrorism
Major changes are coming soon with the new presidential administration. The Defense Department needs a strong, competent individual to fill the shoes of current SECDEF, Dr. Ashton Carter.
General Mattis is the man for the job. It is no secret that he is a defender of this nation and has a tough stance on combating terrorism. As the officer responsible for the establishment of Counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, Mattis is needed to stabilize a major defense transition and crack down on global adversaries to deter threats against the United States.