Many of President Trump’s top cabinet picks have been controversial. Arguably, the least so is Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis. A highly respected general in the U.S. Marine Corps, Mattis earned a reputation as a strong, capable leader and a force to be reckoned with. He was confirmed as Secretary of Defense on January 20 in a 98-1 Senate vote.
General Mattis is a lifelong military man. He enlisted in the Marines in 1969 as a reservist – while studying history at Central Washington University – and in 1972 was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Mattis steadily climbed in the ranks, serving in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the war in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. Following his promotion to lieutenant general in 2005, Mattis assumed command of the corps’ Combat Development Division and later the I Marine Expeditionary Force. Later that year, President Bush promoted him to the rank of general, and he was given command of the United States Joint Forces headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. Mattis was promoted to four-star general in 2007, and in 2010 President Obama named him as commander of the United States Central Command (the armed forces in the Middle East and neighboring countries). Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in 2013.
His appointment and confirmation as defense secretary were met with tremendous approval in both the Department of Defense and the military. “Knowing General Mattis, I thought he would be a great choice,” said retired Col. Mark Cancian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who served under General Mattis from 2006 to 2007. “He relishes that role, the Warrior Monk, he thinks of himself that way, as the warrior but also the monk -- the contemplative, the thoughtful.” Many suspect that General Mattis will counterbalance Trump’s unpredictability, and that his military expertise will provide the administration with more of the experience it lacks in that area.
Military members on Twitter and other social media erupted in cheers and praise when Mattis was confirmed. A Marine who earned the respect of everyone he served with, he had a favorable reputation for getting down and dirty with even the lowest-ranking soldiers in the trenches. “General Mattis is an expert and scholar in warfare—he’s a “Marine[‘]s, Marine” —aggressive, but astute. He leads by example—this is what people idolize about him,” stated Marine Corps special operations command operator Sean Conner in an article in the Independent Journal Review.
“Mattis is a scholar, a humanist, and a venerated Warrior who has successfully led our nation’s most elite forces within some of our most arduously precarious battles, and won,” wrote retired Marine Capt. Eric Kirsch.
Throughout his military career, General Mattis was known for his intellectual persona and cool, contemplative, but never soft demeanor. Those around him saw his deep thought in action, as well as an unwavering drive when it was called for. Though he is sometimes criticized as being too blunt, Mattis’s supporters argue that this attitude is what strikes fear in his enemies. When commanding his troops in Iraq, he told them: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”
Despite the seemingly overwhelming support for Mattis, some opponents argued that he had not been retired from the military long enough to head the Pentagon, due to our country’s constitutional and cultural tradition of civilian control of the armed forces. Federal law says that retired military members cannot be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years of their retirement. General Mattis has been retired for just four. In order to confirm him, Congress voted to make an exception, for Mattis, to the law mandating the retirement period.
Some have expressed mixed emotions over the appointment. In a conversation with one of our staff writers, a Department of Defense insider said: “I think Mattis will eliminate the PC culture. It does not have a place in the military. The military believes he is a strong leader, so there will be a morale boost with his appointment. I believe he will establish a more dominant presence with our military. I think we may be quicker to escalate situations where diplomacy was needed, though. He’s called ‘Mad Dog’ for a reason. His tact may be a little too harsh for the position he’s in.”
Despite a few concerns, the general consensus seems to be that Mattis will make an excellent Secretary of Defense. His experience demonstrates extensive knowledge, and his resilience will allow him to balance Trump’s headstrong tendencies, providing stable guidance for the military and other Defense Department operations. “America's enemies weep,” stated Army Sgt. Steven Hildreth, “and all I can do is smile.” People are going mad for “Mad Dog.”