November 22, 2016

Possible Secretary of Defense nominee Jim Mattis - finally, a wartime consigliere

President-elect Trump and General James Mattis, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret) 

President-elect Trump may soon nominate James "Mad Dog" Mattis to be the next Secretary of Defense. Mattis is a 66-year old retired U.S. Marine Corps general who has served multiple combat tours - including the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq - in a variety of command positions, including the 7th Marine Regiment, the 1st Marine Division, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, U.S. Joint Forces Command and finally the United States Central Command.

General Mattis retired in May 2013. Current law requires that there be a seven-year window between military service and assuming duties as the Secretary of Defense. It is possible for Congress to waive that requirement - it was last done in 1950 for General of the Army George Marshall.

General Mattis has a stellar reputation in the U.S. defense community, often being cited as one of the premier military leaders and thinkers of his generation. As evidenced by his plain and often colorful remarks about the nature of warfare and the role of the armed forces in national policy, he may be a controversial selection to some of those on the Democratic side of the aisle.

If nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by the Senate - as I expect to happen - he will be a stark contrast to current Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Secretary Carter has gotten high marks for his management of the Department of Defense and the armed forces, but he has been unable to convince President Obama to make needed policy changes in the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Mr. Carter was named to his current position after the Administration forced out Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in late 2014. I wrote an article then, The new Secretary of Defense - we need a "wartime consigliere."

In that piece, I said, "What we need, to paraphrase Michael Corleone in the movie The Godfather, is a wartime consigliere. The Secretary of Defense is not merely an administrator, but an active participant in the command and control of military operations. Since the passage of the Goldwater–Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, the military chain of command goes directly from the President/Commander in Chief to the Secretary of Defense to the combatant commander."

I still think that we need a wartime consigliere. We need a wartime leader to guide the President in the redirection of the war in Afghanistan, the defeat of ISIS, and to direct and oversee the rebuilding of the American military after eight years of atrophy.

Secretary Carter, from all accounts, has been a successful bureaucrat and manager. He has served with distinction in a variety of positions in the Department of Defense, as well as experienced in academia and consulting.

However, Mr. Carter is not a wartime consigliere. If nominated and confirmed, General Mattis will be.