Trump Picks Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense

Move Raises Concern About Waning Civilian Control Over the Military

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Gen. James Mattis, a former Centcom commander, as his new Secretary of Defense, a move which had been spoken of a few times in the past few weeks, as the new president-elect continues to nail down his cabinet choices.

Gen. Mattis had a history of controversial remarks, and in 2013 decclared that he has a “rather dim view of Iranians,” insisting that the US should not engage in diplomacy with them and that the goal of American policy was to “bring Iran to its knees.”

Mattis also has garnered some opposition from Israeli officials, as in 2013 he warned that the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion was “unsustainable,” and that he thought it incompatible with Israel’s insistence of remaining a Jewish and democratic state, saying it would either end the Jewish majority or turn Israel into an apartheid state.

Even beyond hearings that will doubtless pour over his history of statements with a fine tooth comb, Gen. Mattis faces another obstacle in that a 1947 law has expressed the sentiment that no military commanders should be appointed to the defense secretary post unless they have been off active duty for a decade. The 10-year limit was reduced to seven in 2008, but either way Mattis is just over three years removed from Centcom.

The purpose of this law was to ensure that the US retained civilian control of the military, and while it’s not clear how seriously a 2017 Congress will view that risk, Trump’s appointment of very recent military commanders in high-ranking security positions is likely to raise a few eyebrows, and will doubtless force a debate.

On the positive side, Mattis was recently credited as having talked Trump out of his pledge to bring back torture of detainees, arguing that the tactic was ineffective, and that in his experience it was better to try to establish a rapport with prisoners to get information out of them.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of