Today, following his “surprise” announcement at a rally in Cincinnati on Friday, President-elect Trump made it official: He is nominating Gen. James N. Mattis (ret.) for secretary of defense.
Trump’s choice of Mattis has raised eyebrows; a retired general has not served as defense secretary since 1950, when former Army chief of staff and, later, secretary of state George C. Marshall held the post. Some are concerned that the choice of Mattis might undermine the longstanding American principle of civilian control of the armed forces. Owing to such concerns, Mattis, who retired from active duty in 2013, will require a congressional waiver in order to serve. Already, however, New York’s junior senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said she will oppose the waiver.
Trump’s decision to put retired Gen. Michael Flynn at the NSC and Mattis in the Pentagon means, among other things, that this is shaping up to be an administration of die-hard Iran hawks. And this is pretty much in keeping with Trump’s campaign rhetoric. As early as September 2015, when Trump addressed a Tea Party–sponsored rally opposing the Iran Deal (or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), he declared that the deal allows Iran to “rip us off, take our money, and make us look like fools.” The United States is “going to get nothing” from the deal, he said, because we “are led by very, very stupid people.”
Trump’s contempt for the Iran Deal (and those who brokered it) extends to US non-proliferation policy in general. Recall his breezy remarks during the campaign when he said he wouldn’t object if Saudi Arabia, Japan, or South Korea obtained nuclear weapons, since, as he told CNN, proliferation is “going to happen anyway.”
Worryingly, a Secretary of Defense Mattis would likely reinforce Trump’s oft-voiced inclination to scrap the Iran deal and pursue a policy that would seek to isolate, contain, and punish Iran, which is still viewed by the foreign-policy establishment, thanks to years upon years of AIPAC sponsored agitprop, as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.”