Small Wars Journal

Among Trump Aides, Mattis Emerges as a Key Voice on National Security Issues

Among Trump Aides, Mattis Emerges as a Key Voice on National Security Issues by Missy Ryan, Philip Rucker and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Washington Post

… Derek Chollet, who was a senior Pentagon official under President Barack Obama, said that allies were monitoring Mattis’s statements for clues about whether the new administration would follow a course set by Trump’s campaign statements, or stay broadly within the borders of established U.S. foreign policy. “Trump may tweet up a storm, but if there is little or no connectivity to what happens on the ground, they may start discounting it,” he said.

While he has been held up by Trump critics as a bulwark against the president’s whims and praised by supporters for his military record, it’s not yet clear as the rest of Trump’s Cabinet moves into place what sway Mattis will ultimately hold in shaping major decisions. In addition, the role of quiet diplomat is an unlikely one for a longtime combat commander whose brash commentary has occasionally generated controversy.

But Mattis, who has already shown himself willing to disagree with the president’s preferences, now occupies a key position in the Cabinet of a man with little foreign policy experience. Unlike Trump and some of his White House advisers, including Stephen K. Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Mattis has worked within the U.S. military and security establishment for virtually his entire career. Although he appears to share the alarm that senior White House officials see in potential threats from Iran’s missile program and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, his path has been shaped by different forces.

His affinity for working with allies is a product of his experience in the NATO mission in Afghanistan and the first Gulf War. As head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), he conferred closely with Arab nations about terrorism and Iran’s actions in the region, and oversaw the U.S. military’s exit from Iraq in 2011.

His views on Iran were shaped by the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon. Mattis’s hawkish approach to Tehran eventually alienated him from some in the Obama White House before he left CENTCOM in 2013.

Trump, who has surrounded himself by former generals, has already shown that he is willing to defer to Mattis on issues such as whether the United States should employ waterboarding on detainees. In his confirmation hearing, he suggested a less friendly attitude toward Russia than the president has espoused and stressed the importance of NATO, despite Trump’s questions about the alliance’s relevance…

Read on.