James 'Mad Dog' Mattis seen as leading candidate for Pentagon chief

Donald Trump said that the retired Marine Corps general, seen as well-liked by those under his command, was an 'impressive' prospect for Defense secretary.

Mike Segar/Reuters
US President-elect Donald Trump (l.) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence (r.) greet retired Marine General James Mattis in Bedminster, New Jersey on Saturday.

Marine Corps General James Mattis is now a leading candidate for Defense secretary in the Trump administration after meeting with Donald Trump at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., on Saturday, the president-elect tweeted over the weekend.

"General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter following the meeting. "A true General's General!"

General Mattis, who in 2013 retired from his position heading the US military's Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and elsewhere, is reportedly well-liked among the troops. The president-elect has already made an attempt to appease both his alt-right and establishment supporters with the appointments of alt-right publisher Steve Bannon and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to his administration. If appointed secretary of Defense, Mattis could be seen as an attempt to appeal to members of the military.

But like some other appointees to Trump's administration thus far, Mattis has seen his fair share of controversy. The four-star general has come under fire in the past for his remarks that appear to glorify violence against some Muslims.

While referring to men in Afghanistan "who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil" at a 2005 panel discussion in San Diego, Calif., Mattis said, "It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling." In a 2003 speech to a group of soldiers, he said, referring to the rules to live by in Iraq, "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." 

His appointment would mark the rare instance of a former serviceman serving as secretary of Defense, a position that is typically filled by a civilian and would require a Congressional waiver of a rule requiring that any retired officer be out of uniform for at least seven years before taking control of the Pentagon.

"With Republicans in control on Capitol Hill and the general praise for the general's career, a waiver would likely be a formality to obtain," CNN speculates. 

Mattis, who served as an American commander in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has spoken before of the cultural gap that separates civilians and the military 

"I think the gap can be tolerated so long as we maintain a fundamental friendliness in America toward one another and a respect for each other," Mattis told the Military Times in September. "America is quite right to be proud of their military, but at the same time there has got to be a sense of common purpose between these two elements. If, in fact, this gap grows and we lose the sense of common purpose, then I think we have a problem." 

Mr. Priebus, the incoming White House Chief of Staff, told ABC's "This Week" that there is a "very real possibility" Mattis will be America's next defense secretary. 

"I know that President-elect Trump loves leaders like General Mattis," he said. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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