President-elect Donald Trump calls out to media as he stands with retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Nov. 19. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Trump picks retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for defense

The Washington Post

President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday he has chosen retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who has said that responding to “political Islam” is the major security issue facing the United States, to be secretary of defense.

“We are going to appoint Mad Dog Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Trump told a rally in Cincinnati, the first stop on a post-election “thank-you tour.”

Trump joked that the media and audience should keep the news to themselves. “We are going to be announcing him Monday of next week,” Trump said. “Keep it inside the room.”

Mattis, who retired as chief of U.S. Central Command in 2013, has often said that Washington lacks an overall strategy in the Middle East, opting to instead handle issues in an ineffective one-by-one manner.

“Is political Islam in the best interest of the United States?” Mattis said at the Heritage Foundation in 2015, speaking about the separate challenges of the Islamic State and Iranian-backed terrorism.

“I suggest the answer is no, but we need to have the discussion. If we won’t even ask the question, how do we even recognize which is our side in a fight?”

To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass legislation to bypass a federal law stating that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. Congress has granted a similar exemption just once, when Gen. George Marshall was appointed to the job in 1950.

Mattis, 66, served more than four decades in the Marine Corps and is known as one of the most influential military leaders of his generation, a strategic thinker who occasionally drew rebukes for his aggressive talk. Since retiring, he has served as a consultant and as a visiting fellow with the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University.

Like Trump, Mattis favors a tougher stance against U.S. adversaries abroad, especially Iran. The general, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in April, said that while security discussions often focus on terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or al-Qaida, the Iranian regime is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”

Mattis said the next president “is going to inherit a mess” and argued that the nuclear deal signed by President Barack Obama’s administration last year may slow Iran’s ambitions to get a nuclear weapon but will not stop them. But he added that “absent a clear and present violation,” he did not see a way that Washington could go back on it, because any unilateral sanctions issued by the United States would not be as valuable if allies were not on board.

Mattis was born in Pullman, Washington, according to the U.S. Marine Corps website.

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