Trump's Cabinet

Retired US Marine Corps general adds moderate voice to Trump cabinet as secretary of defense

Moriah Ratner | Staff Photographer

Retired General James Mattis has diverged from President Donald Trump's opinions on different issues, including climate change.

James Mattis has earned a slew of nicknames — “Mad Dog,” “Warrior Monk,” “Chaos” — during his career in the Marine Corps. Now, he bears an important title: United States secretary of defense.

Mattis, who retired from leading U.S. Central Command in 2013, is one of two former generals serving in President Donald Trump’s cabinet. While he does have a reputation for making sometimes crude remarks, Mattis is well-liked in Washington, evidenced by a 98 to 1 Senate vote on his confirmation. He also is known to be well read and highly knowledgeable about history and strategy, leading many to see him as a moderate voice in the White House.

He has already made a splash in his new role. Mattis was named to Time’s 100 Most Influential People list for 2017. On Thursday, Trump gave him the power to set troop numbers in Iraq and Syria, per Military.com.

But before he could be confirmed as defense secretary, Congress had to grant Mattis a waiver to circumvent the law. Legally, an officer has to be out of uniform for at least seven years before they can serve as secretary of defense, according to the BBC.

Mattis received a waiver with relative ease from the Senate by a vote of 81 to 17, per Talking Points Memo. The only other officer to receive such a waiver was Army General George Marshall, who served as President Harry Truman’s defense secretary in 1950.

While this drew criticism for violating the concept of civilian control of the military, Mattis still had wide support from both parties because of his reputation as a warrior-scholar, per the BBC. Mattis has a library of 7,000 books on history and war, and he has said he prefers solving problems with diplomacy before violence, according to Slate.

The general also has extensive combat experience. Mattis led an assault battalion during the first Gulf War in 1991 and led Marines into Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, per the BBC. He was appointed to lead Central Command in 2010.

His leadership of the Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, was cut short by the Obama administration because Mattis was seen as too aggressive towards Iran, according to The New York Times.

Iran has always been a part of Mattis’s agenda. He once said Iran is the “single most enduring threat” in the Middle East and was strongly opposed to the Iran nuclear deal, although he now thinks there is no way to change it now, according to the BBC.

Mattis diverges from Trump’s opinions in key ways, putting him in a position to utilize his vast experience to moderate the White House. While Trump has said he would be interested in leaving NATO, Mattis has supported alliances. Mattis was NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation till 2009, which some have reported may have helped sway Trump to embrace the organization, per NPR.

On the environment, Mattis has also differed from Trump. In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he identified climate change as a threat to national security, per Huffpost. Mattis said changes in water routes and drought in already unstable areas could worsen already strained situations, causing problems for U.S. foreign interests.

Mattis has also refused to be sympathetic to Russia and its aggressions against its neighbors. He does not advocate for the effectiveness of torture methods like waterboarding, which Trump has said he could support, according to The New York Times.

But like Trump, Mattis is not known for careful speaking. He once said, according to the BBC, “The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot.”

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