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Get to Know General Mattis, Trump’s Secretary of Defense Nominee

by Countable | 12.22.16

On December 1, President-elect Donald Trump nominated retired Marine Corps General James Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense. Trump said that Mattis is a "true General’s General" who is “the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have.”

Who is Gen. James Mattis?

Mattis, 66, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969 and served as the leader of an infantry platoon before being promoted to company commander. In the Persian Gulf War, he commanded a battalion of Marines and was promoted to brigadier general in the early stages of the War in Afghanistan. He received another promotion to major general and led the 1st Marine Division during the Iraq War. He became known for his willingness to remove underperforming commanders beneath him and earned the respect of the troops under his command by going to the front and personally checking on his soldiers.

In 2007, Mattis became a four-star general and in 2010 he was chosen to lead U.S. Central Command, a role in which he oversaw the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in addition to a region which included security threats in Iran, Syria, and Yemen. He retired from the Marine Corps in 2013.

Mattis is a native of Pullman, Washington who graduated from Central Washington University, where he participated in the ROTC program and earned a history degree in 1972. He is nicknamed "The Warrior Monk" because of his intellectual interest in military history (his personal library has over 7,000 books) and the fact that he is a lifelong bachelor. Mattis is also nicknamed "Mad Dog" and his Marine Corps call sign was "Chaos."

What’s the outlook for his confirmation?

Mattis will face a particularly tricky confirmation process because he will need a Congressional waiver before he can serve as Secretary of Defense. That’s because he only retired three years ago, and federal law prohibits former military personnel from serving in that role for seven years after leaving the service. The incoming Congress will have to pass legislation granting him an exemption that has only been granted once before, to Gen. George Marshall during the Truman administration just three years after the prohibition was enacted.

The odds of the incoming Congress approving such a waiver got a boost when lawmakers cut a deal to keep the government funded through April 28, 2017 by including a provision that limits debate in the Senate on the matter to 10 hours. Democrats objected to the concept of speeding up the confirmation process and have also raised concerns over waiving a law that was designed to ensure civilian control of the military, but ultimately the proposal passed along with the stopgap spending package. Mattis’s nomination hasn’t yet proven as contentious as some of Trump’s other appointments, so that taken with Congress approving the fast-track for his waiver bodes well for him in the confirmation process.

What does the Department of Defense do?

The Dept. of Defense (DOD) coordinates and supervises the national security activities of the U.S. Armed Forces. It is the world’s largest employer with 2.87 million personnel under its supervision in 2015, which included 1.3 million active duty servicemen and women, 826,000 members of the National Guard and military reserve, plus 742,000 civilians. The DOD’s base budget for fiscal year 2016 was $534.3 billion, with $130 billion in additional funding for overseas contingency operations.

Use the "Take Action" button to tell your senators how they should vote on Mattis's confirmation.

— Eric Revell

(Photo by Cherie Cullen / Public Domain)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(74)
  • Scott
    12/24/2016
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    These are absolutely impeccable credentials if we are planning on going to war. Are we planning on going to war?

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  • Kevin
    01/15/2017
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    I am a Liberal who voted for Bernie in the primary. I opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I believe Jim Mattis would make an excellent SecDef. He understands the importance of civilian oversight of the military, and he understands the high cost of military action. He is strong enough to oppose unnecessary intervention and would not shy away from speaking truth to power. Jim Mattis is an historian and a philosopher who carried Marcus Aurelius' MEDITATIONS with him on deployment. We desperately need a thoughtful man like him to provide some wisdom to a Trump team filled with bluster and inexperience. I urge all fellow Liberals to reconsider their objection to Jim Mattis as Secretary of Defense.

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  • wsdraperv
    12/23/2016
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    I'd hire this "Patton" to be President right after 8 years of Trump.

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  • James
    12/24/2016
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    Great choice as long as he agrees to never run for president and put country first, even if that means refusing orders if Donald's judgement is impaired.

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  • Saruh
    01/24/2017
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    General Mattis has made disturbing comments that indicate he takes joy in killing Muslims. This is a dangerous precedent to set and uphold. We need someone in charge of our military who will be level headed.

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  • Agerhard
    12/26/2016
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    Waivers should absolutely not be granted when it comes to leadership of the DoD. There is a serious reason the preventative legislation was passed and it should not be undermined.

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  • Andrew
    12/26/2016
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    Although someone with the call sign of "Chaos" doesn't exactly fill me with joy over his nomination, I respect his service and believe he is a more than capable nominee. What troubles me is that they are having to sneak in waivers to allow his consideration. These protocols and prohibitions are in place for a reason. Does anyone remember the feud between Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Harry Truman? Or for that matter, Patton and Eisenhower. Once you start blurring the lines between civilian leadership and the military, bad things happen.

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  • MojoJojo
    12/22/2016
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    You hire Patton to stand on top of a tank and order the troops into battle; not to man a desk job that requires skillful political maneuvering and personell management.

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  • Troy
    12/23/2016
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    We must avoid fights but,,,,if we find ourselves in a fight I want a hawk, not a dove.

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  • Marines1994
    12/23/2016
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    Greatest Cabinet choice in history.

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  • David
    12/26/2016
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    Aren't there many other choices for this office that don't need a waiver for just the reason it was set up? By sound minded folks that recognized a need.

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  • Cole
    12/24/2016
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    What happened to all the talk that he hasn't been retired long enough??? We've only had the law come up twice and twice its been waivered? I don't get it.

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  • Dianne
    01/26/2017
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    Vote yes - he at least has relevant experience and has shown competence in his field.

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  • Markie
    01/04/2017
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    Do not confirm General Mathis

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  • Kristi
    12/23/2016
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    No exceptions regarding Mattis. If he is good enough for the job, someone else can nominate him once he meets the required timeframe to be retired. There are other qualified candidates. It seems like PEOTUS is just looking to agitate our enemies & looking for a fight instead of diplomacy.

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  • jameslj
    12/24/2016
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    I'm a total peacenik. I'd much prefer to see a Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich at the helm for DoD. But we aren't going to get that from Trump. We certainly wouldn't have gotten it from Hillary, who would've undoubtedly continued the Clinton/Bush/Obama foreign policy of bombing everything and everyone who needed a good regime change. Other than his insanity on Iran, which seems to be more of a personal vendetta than anything, Mattis seems to be a great choice for defense. And I think if we do cozy up with Russia, they'll keep us in check on Iran (and China for that matter). Plus he's already convinced Trump to walk back his position on torture, which was the main reason I couldn't vote for Trump. The "civilian control of the military" thing was a huge hurdle for me, but after hearing analyses from lots of people I trust, Mattis seems like a perfectly acceptable choice. I hope he gets confirmed.

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  • David
    12/23/2016
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    An outstanding choice who will restore moral and rebuild capability that has been damaged over the last eight years by Obama.

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  • Btbrown94
    12/23/2016
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    @JayinNC do your due diligence before you open your mouth hole. A legitimate 4 second google search does a better job. But here, since your incapable of doing so, here it is. "He initially enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1969.He later earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Central Washington University and was commissioned a second lieutenant through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps on January 1, 1972. During his service years, Mattis was considered to be an intellectual among the upper ranks, with a personal library that once contained thousands of books. Robert H. Scales, a retired United States Army major general, described him as "... one of the most urbane and polished men I have known." Reinforcing this intellectual persona was the fact he carried his own personal copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius throughout his deployments. As a lieutenant, Mattis served as a rifle and weapons platoon commander in the 3rd Marine Division. As a captain, he was assigned as the Naval Academy Preparatory School's Battalion Officer (composed of Enlisted Midshipman Candidates and its Company Officers and Enlisted Staff), commanded Rifle and Weapons Companies in the 1st Marine Regiment, then Recruiting Station Portland, Oregon, as a major. Persian Gulf War Upon promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel, Mattis commanded 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, which was one of Task Force Ripper's assault battalions during the Persian Gulf War." So as you can see, 18 years to rise to Lt Col. pretty damn good actually, outside of a war.

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  • Jacqueline
    12/23/2016
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    The troublesome detail is that they are not allowing the 7 years rule to keep its place. There is a 7 year rule for a reason. Also troublesome is the parallel between this happening under Trump and prior, under Truman. I do like that he is an intelligent and dedicated man. I hope he is clear thinking and moral. Not over zealous. If Trump couldn't pick him, who would be next in line?

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  • Jolene
    12/23/2016
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    Great choice....maybe he can teach trump how to read in his spare time and keep him from tweeting things he knows nothing about.

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