President-elect Donald Trump with Gen. James Mattis at Trump National Golf Course, Bedminster, NJ
November 19, 2016
Source: AP/Carolyn Kaster
President-elect Trump was wrestling with his Pentagon Pick this Sunday. He got turned down by Army Gen. Jack Keane, architect of the Iraq Surge, because of the recent passing of his wife after a 14 year bout with Parkinson’s Disease. Keane had been an adviser to defeated Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton on military affairs. When alleged asked by Trump, who Keane would recommend, he mentioned Marine Gen. James “mad dog” Mattis, storied commander of Marine land forces in Iraq and later CENTCOM Commander who was fired from that post by President Obama because of the General’s criticism of the Iran deal and threats in the region. The other candidate Keane recommended was ex-CIA Director Army Gen. David Petreaus who left under a cloud following his plea bargain over mishandling confidential documents.
President-elect Trump after meeting Mattis at his Bedminster, New Jersey Golf Resort Saturday said in Tweets: “All I can say is he’s the real deal. He’s the real deal.” General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General's General! That may be the case. However, not unlike Mattis’ controversial comments about the Iran Pact , Mattis has made comments on Israel after leaving his Centcom command that raise questions about possible relations with the Jewish nation under his leadership as Defense Secretary. His other hurdle is that his retirement after 44 years of service in 2013 is that he would be barred until 2020 to assume a Pentagon post. That would require a Congressional waiver of the seven year restriction.
Mattis, is considered a “Marine’s Marine”, who came up through the enlisted ranks and received a battlefield commission as Lieutenant in 1972. CNN Politics noted his storied career:
In Mattis, Trump has a candidate who was held in high regard throughout the ranks of the Marine Corps during his 44 years of service. A seasoned combat commander, he led a task force into southern Afghanistan in 2001 and a Marine division at the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003.
The retired four-star general, who was known as "Mad Dog," was lauded for his leadership of Marines in the 2004 Battle of Fallujah in Iraq -- one of the bloodiest of the war.
But he attracted controversy in 2005 when he said "it's fun to shoot some people" while addressing service members in San Diego.
He also served as a commander of a major NATO strategic command, Allied Command Transformation, in Norfolk, Virginia.
Mattis, known as a plain-spoken leader well-liked by his Marines, was later promoted to run US Central Command in 2010 -- a post that gave him command responsibility for all US forces in the Middle East. He also was an outspoken critic of the Iran nuclear deal.
Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way -- not because he went all "mad dog," which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran. Some of those questions apparently were uncomfortable. Like, what do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf? He kept saying, "And then what?"
If these alleged third hand comments are affirmed, then Mattis appears to have been prescient about the folly of the Obama Administration “engagement” with Iran leading to the JCPOA signed off on January 16, 2016, the so-called Compliance Date. Mattis was spot on about Iran’s aggressive behavior against US Naval squadrons in both the Persian Gulf and at the Bab al Mandab Straits at the Mouth of the Red Sea.
Notwithstanding, Mattis’ Israel comments at the Aspen Institute in July of 2013 have raised eyebrows in both the Jewish nation and among its supporters here in the US. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed Mattis at the Aspen Institute regarding his positions on Israel. The Times of Israel noted in a report on Sunday, November 20, 2016:
In July 2013, shortly after leaving his post running CENTCOM, Mattis said the current situation in Israeli was “unsustainable” and that settlements were obstructing the possibility of a two-state outcome between Israelis and Palestinians, comments that seem to fly in the face of Trump’s position as reported by his Israel advisers.
“The current situation is unsustainable,” Mattis told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer during a panel discussion at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado when asked about the peace process. “It’s got to be directly addressed. We have got to find a way to make the two-state solution that Democrat and Republican administrations have supported. We’ve got to get there, and the chances for it are starting to ebb because of the settlements, and where they’re at, they’re going to make it impossible to maintain the two-state option.”
Mattis specifically warned that if Israel continued to expand its settlement presence, its long-term character as a Jewish and democratic state would be at risk, ultimately leading to Israel becoming an apartheid state.
“If I’m in Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there are 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid,” he said.
“That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country,” he added, presumably alluding to South Africa. “So we’ve got to work on this with a sense of urgency.”
In that same conversation, Mattis told Blitzer that the US paid a price for its support of Israel and the perception of bias it broadcasts to the rest of the Arab world.
“I paid a military security price every day as the commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel,” he said, “and that moderates, all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.”
Watch the Aspen Security Forum CNN Wolf Blitzer interview with Gen. Mattis at the 43 minute mark:
Assuming that Mattis stands behind those comments that may present difficulties for President-elect Trump as his principal Israel Advisor Jason Greenblatt, a day following the election, on an Israel Army Radio interview said, “He does not view the settlements as an obstacle to peace.”
The Times of Israel report on the Trump selection of General Mattis as a possible Pentagon chief reminded readers of a similar remark by ex- CIA Director, General David Petreaus, during a US Senate Armed Services Hearing said: "The [Palestinian] conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favoritism for Israel.”
In view of the changes in attitude towards Israel among the Saudis and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council perhaps these older views of Mattis and Petreaus may no longer are relevant. Ironically it is allegedly because of what Mattis told President Obama who fired him nearly four years ago: Iran’s rising bad behavior in the region of the CENTCOM Command threatening both the US presence and “moderate Arab states.”