President-elect Donald Trump said on Sunday he is considering retired General James Mattis for U.S. defense secretary, a day after meeting with him in New Jersey.
Trump said in Twitter that Mattis, a retired U.S. Marine Corps general who previously headed U.S. Central Command, “was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!”
I’m not sure what I think about this.
On the one hand, if there is anyone who can undo the near decade of moral rot and utter flaccidity that has characterized the Pentagon in the age of Obama it is Mattis. You can bet that Ashton Carter’s using the military as a petri dish for his various social engineering fetishes will not only be ended but it will be rolled back. Mattis has served as commander of US Central Command and, as such, has not only overseen combat operations throughout the Middle East and is intimately familiar with ISIS and Iran. In short, he has the knowledge and temperament the nation desperately needs to be present in the Pentagon on the first day of the Trump administration.
On the other hand, Mattis, right now, is not eligible to be Secretary of Defense. The law requires that seven years have elapsed between serving as an active duty commissioned officer and being appointed as Secretary of Defense. The only exception to this was General George C. Marshall who served for exactly one year in 1950-51. And then Congress only begrudgingly allowed Truman to have his way. The law proscribed recently retired and serving military officers from becoming Secretary of Defense for a very good reason: to maintain unambiguous civilian control of the military. From an atmospherics standpoint I think it starts us down a very dangerous path because once one ex-general becomes SecDef, you know there will be another. And another.
For Mattis to get confirmation Congress must first amend Title 10 to make an exception for Mattis. That is not going to happen without hearings and grandstanding. The question for Trump is does he really want to let Defense drift while this process sorts itself out.
Another alternative is that this is simply another of the myriad head fakes Trump is throwing to create and maintain buzz around his cabinet selections. This whole rumor might have the same value as your degree from Trump University.