United States’ President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday during his ‘thank you’ tour that he has chosen retired Marine Gen James N Mattis, to be the nation’s secretary of defense - choosing to announce the news using the general’s moniker “Mad Dog Mattis”.
Despite earning this fearsome name due to a blunt style of speaking, claiming to “enjoy” brawling and killing, and strong views on America’s adversaries, the retired general is also known for his vast military and strategic experience, an educated and intellectual outlook, and active service in, and eventually command of the United States’ military operation in the Middle East and Afghanistan. James Mattis clearly has the experience for the position, but deducing his - and by extension, the Trump administration’s - stance on defence and foreign policy is a difficult task, especially since Mr Trump and Gen Mattis disagree on several key issues.
Unlike Mr Trump, Gen Mattis, who has served in a leading role in NATO, appreciates the role of the transatlantic military alliance and America’s European partners, and has in fact derided Trump’s comments on the subject during the campaign. Unlike Trump, Mattis supports a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians and has been critical of Israeli settlements; going so far as to call them an “apartheid” and a leading factor in anti-US sentiment in the Middle East. And unlike Mr Trump, Mattis is deeply skeptical about Russia’s international role and has warned that Moscow aims “to break NATO apart.”
Perhaps the only thing they concur on is the opposition to the Iran deal signed by the Obama administration, but even here the putative secretary of defense has maintained a more circumspect stance, claiming that it would not be possible to simply do away with the multilateral treaty.
While Gen Mattis’ stance on Israel and Palestine (he is in favour of a two state solution), and his experience in the Middle East will come as positive news, it is not clear how much of this he would have to compromise under the new Trump regime.