President-elect Donald Trump has picked retired Marine General James Mattis to run the Pentagon as Secretary of Defense.
The official announcement of the appointment is expected early next week according to the Washington Post, who first reported on the matter, citing an anonymous source familiar with the decision.
Jason Miller, the Trump transition team spokesperson, posted a tweet denying the report. “No decision has been made yet with regard to Secretary of Defense.”
No decision has been made yet with regard to Secretary of Defense. #TrumpTransition
— Jason Miller (@JasonMillerinDC) December 1, 2016
Spokesperson Sean Spicer told reporters on Wednesday that there would be no more Cabinet announcements for the rest of the week.
Mattis, the former chief of the U.S. Central Command, is known for his being particularly hawkish when it comes to Iran, recently calling it “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle east” and arguing that the nation is a bigger long-term threat than either Al Qaeda or ISIS.
Not surprisingly, he has been a vocal critic of the Iran deal, though unlike Trump, he has not advocated reneging on the deal, instead saying in April, “We are just going to have to recognize that we have an imperfect arms control agreement. Second, that what we achieved is a nuclear pause, not a nuclear halt.”
The retired general is very familiar with the Middle East, having served in Iraq twice, and having payed a key role in the fight to take back Fallujah from Al Qaeda. He also served as a Marine colonel in Afghanistan, and as supreme allied commander of transformation of the NATO. He does not share the future Commander in Chief’s view that other countries are not paying enough to support the organization.
In 2005, he made comments regarding the war in Afghanistan that drew a public rebuke from his commander, but that give a glimpse as to Mattis’ perspective:
“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”
In fact, Mattis, who has been nicknamed “Mad Dog” and “Warrior Monk,” became a highly respected leader during his time in the military, known for his blunt and colorful quotes.
The former general has been seen as a top contender for Secretary of Defense since he met with Trump earlier this month. After the meeting, Trump heaped praise on Mattis, calling him the “real deal” and a “brilliant, wonderful man.” Also, in his interview with The New York Times, he suggested that the military leader may have changed his views on waterboarding.
If nominated, Mattis still has an uphill climb as Congress will need to pass a waiver to circumvent a law that requires the Defense Secretary to be off active duty for at least seven years before assuming the job. The law was meant to assure that there is civilian control of the military which is seen as vital in a democracy. Congress has only waived the law one time in U.S. history. That was in 1950 when General George Marshal was nominated for the post.
However, leaders in Capitol Hill have respect Mattis and are expected to push for the waiver. Arizona Senator John McCain has said that he would write the bill.