Amidst an ecstatic crowd in a battleground state he won, President-elect Donald Trump announced his choice for Defense Secretary: retired four-star General James Mattis.
Predictably, that proclamation of Trump’s newest Cabinet appointee was demurred by the mainstream media. In fairness to them, having the nickname “Mad Dog Mattis” makes you an easy target.
What screams of hypocrisy, however is that Gen. Mattis was an appointee of the Obama administration. In 2010, Mattis was confirmed as the new commander of the U.S. Central Command – replacing Gen. David Petraeus.
In an article from Slate.com, John Dickerson says Mattis “is known for his intellect.” Adding that, “he is well-read in history and military strategy but has also studied innovation and adaptation techniques.”
In the Scientific American, John Horgan says General Mattis “is smart, earnest and reflective, if a bit scatterbrained.” The article also praised the general for calling the Iraq War intervention, “a mistake”.
The significance of these quotations is that both publications have been highly critical of the Trump presidency.
Along with majority of the mainstream media, they have also scrutinized the President-elect’s choice of Cabinet appointees as well.
The gist of the opprobrium that General James “Mad Dog” Mattis is getting is that he is a war hawk. The Ezra Klein-run Vox.com ran a headling describing him as an “Iran hawk“, most likely due to Mattis’ view that Iran is “the biggest threat to Middle East peace.”
The article also cites that “the next Secretary of Defense really, really hates Iran” and even going as far as scaremongering about a looming war with the Middle Eastern country.
What that viewpoint misses is that Mattis accepts the reality of the Iran Nuclear Deal that the Obama administration negotiated. While he may not be a fan of it, the desginated Defense secretary conceded that it may be “the best we could come up with.”
This view is consistent with that of mainstream observers, who agreed with President Obama when he said, upon signing the deal in 2015 that: “it is our [US] best bet to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.”
These statements by Gen. Mattis sound pragmatic rather than “hawkish”.
Another charge hurled at the newly-minted Pentagon appointee is that he is too “establishment-type“, according to The Guardian. This despite the fact that Trump campaigned on a staunchly anti-establishment platform.
However, the publication may be hard-pressed to uphold that statement in light of the General’s views on the biggest establishment project so far this millennium.
.In a leaked audio from a speech Mattis gave to a conference, the General can be heard calling the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a “mistake”. As a major general in the United States Marine Corps, he played a vital role in winning major battles during that war.
On torture, Gen. Mattis also differs from the establishment circles as well as even President-elect Trump himself. While Trump is openly in favour of torturing prisoners-of-war, Mattis “does not think waterboarding is useful.”
While the orthodox position on the Israel-Palestine conflict in American political circles is a generally more favourable view towards the former, Mattis differs from that norm by voicing his doubts over the Zionist state.
He called the current state of Israel-Palestine as “unsustainable”, citing that America is losing the support of moderate Arab states because of their “biased” position on the conflict. Gen. Mattis also warned that Jewish settlements harmed any prospects for peace in the region.
While opponents of his appointment as Defense secretary may argue that he is a trigger-happy war hawk, the evidence proves the contrary. Gen. Mattis has not only demonstrated a nuanced approach to battle, but he has also shown that he is not afraid to deviate from the mainstream – an independent thinker who holds his principles dearly.
Above all, General Mattis’ appointment is laudable because as a military commander he garnered so much respect from his colleagues. He is seen as a legendary figure among military circles, “a deep, strategic thinker” as well as a “well-read history buff.”
Detractors of the Trump transition have been critical of the lack of experience among several of his appointees, rightly so I may add. But in the case of Trump’s pick for Defense chief, such a complaint holds no weight.
What you get instead with General Mattis is a veteran soldier, a well-respected leader and an intellectual strategist. That can only be a good thing.