Donald Trump just appointed James Mattis as Secretary of Defense — another sign that his administration will be much more aggressive in its foreign policy.
Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, like Trump, has a long list of troubling statements. In 2005, at a panel discussion talking about his time in Afghanistan he bragged about how fun it was to kill enemy combatants:
“It’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot [Afghans]. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people,” Mattis said. In 2003, while in Iraq he said, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
Mattis is a fierce critic of President Obama’s deal with Iran, which was aimed at stopping the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons. The deal has been lauded by world leaders, including Israel Defense Forces chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who said the Iran deal stopped Iran’s nuclear program. The deal resulted in Iran’s nuclear reactors being filled with concrete and ushered in an increase cooperation between Iran and the US in the battle against ISIS in Iraq.
While Donald Trump played up ISIS as the leading threat to national security on the campaign trail, General Mattis is instead fixated on Iran, one of the few stable countries in the Middle East and a key to defeating ISIS. In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies earlier this year, Mattis called the Iranian regime “[T]he single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”
Observers at the talk reported Mattis depicted Iran as a “rogue state bent on upending order” and “creating chaos” in the Middle East.” For evidence, he pointed to Iran’s participation in the war in Syria.
However, this flies in the face of current United States foreign policy, as the U.S. and nearly all major countries are participating in Syria in one form or another. United States involvement included a covert CIA program to train “rebels,” largely relying on Saudi Arabia’s investment. Paradoxically, the rebels armed by the CIA often ended up fighting Syrian forces armed and supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, as the LA Times reported.
Many analysts rightly make the case that Iran’s actions in Syria are largely a reaction to the instability brought by the second Iraq War, which carried on from the George W. Bush administration to the Obama administration. Even Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — whom Trump recently appointed as his top National Security Advisor — admitted that ISIS’ acquisition of significant portions of Iraq and Syria is an unintended consequence of the Iraq war.
Gen. Mattis recklessly paints Iran as a country stuck in time as a rogue state, and as a country only interested in defying the U.S. This is simply not the case. 60 percent of Iran’s population is mostly under the age of 30 and wants closer relations to Washington. However, Trump’s and Mattis’ saber-rattling and ramping up of sanctions chokes out Iran’s growing reformist movement, along with its desires to see the Iranian government move away from the dark days of Ahmadinejad and the Bush administration labeling it part of the “Axis of Evil.”
Should Mattis be confirmed as Secretary of Defense, the Senate would need to pass a special exception for Mattis, as Secretaries of Defense are normally barred from serving in cabinets if they’ve been on active duty military service in the past seven years.