'Warrior Monk' Mattis a Strong Voice at Defense by the USA Today Editorial Board
President-elect Donald Trump relishes the nickname for his pick to be secretary of Defense, telling a Cincinnati crowd last week that he was tapping "Mad Dog Mattis" — a general in the mold of legendary World War II commander George Patton — to run the sprawling military bureaucracy.
Colorful nickname aside, there is reason to believe that James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general aggressive in combat and blunt in expression, would represent a desperately needed voice of reason in the Trump administration's national security team.
A voracious reader and lifelong bachelor whose other nickname is the "Warrior Monk," Mattis, 66, is known as a thoughtful moral leader and someone who is unafraid to speak his mind — something that ran him afoul of the Obama administration, particularly when he complained about public deadlines for exiting Afghanistan.
That candor could prove a strong counterweight to some of Trump's ill-informed views. A brief conversation between Mattis and the president-elect already prompted Trump to back away from his untenable pro-torture position. Mattis, whose nomination was to be officially announced Tuesday evening, strongly believes in U.S. engagement with the world and maintaining alliances such as NATO. Though initially opposed to the Iran nuclear agreement, he has said that since it is in place, it should not be reversed.
If the Senate decides that Mattis is the right person for the job — and there is much to admire about his qualifications — lawmakers shouldn't hesitate to waive a federal law requiring a seven-year gap between military service and being named Defense secretary.
That law, passed as part of the National Security Act of 1947, was designed to underscore the primacy of civilian leadership over America's military. The principle is sound, but the waiting period is not sacrosanct.
The law originally required 10 years of civilian hiatus, and only one exception has been granted: for former five-star general George C. Marshall, named secretary of Defense in 1950 during the Korean War. There are already moves to oppose a similar waiver for Mattis.
Mattis is a civilian and has been for three years. The notion that those who served in the military need many years to complete a metamorphosis before being declared sufficiently civilian feeds an unfair stigma that bedevils the current of crop of veterans, many of whom struggle to carve out lives in a civilian world where employers see them as war-addled liabilities.
The stereotype also ignores the reality of modern warfare steeped as much in the art of peacemaking as combat. Leaders at almost every level, particularly in the counterinsurgency conflicts that characterize Iraq and Afghanistan, must be skilled at engagement with tribal chiefs and heads of state. When Mattis served as commander of U.S. Central Command, with purview over military operations in the Middle East and South Asia, he worked closely with the governments of 20 nations in the regions…