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Donald Trump

James Mattis, touted by Trump as possible Pentagon chief, is a ‘mad dog’ with a cerebral side

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 2:38pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 9:51pm

Retired General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who for years oversaw US war efforts in the Middle East and is being touted by US president-elect Donald Trump as a possible defence secretary, did not come by his nickname lightly.

Trump tweeted Sunday that the retired commander was “very impressive” when they met Saturday - “a true general’s general”.

Mattis, who is 66, commanded a marine battalion during the First Gulf War and a marine division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2010, the tough-talking native of Washington state was named to head the US Central Command.

That gave him authority over troops in Iraq, where he helped develop a counterinsurgency approach before overseeing the US withdrawal, and Afghanistan, where he implemented a troop surge. It also gave him responsibility for an area including Syria, Yemen and Iran.

Previously, he led the US Joint Forces Command and a Nato command charged with preparing the alliance’s forces to meet future challenges.

A colourful commander, he earned the nickname “Mad Dog” with his battle-hardened swagger and the sort of blunt language marines are famous for. He has been quoted as saying, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

Mattis’s salty language has at times gotten him into hot water, such as during a panel discussion in San Diego, California in 2005.

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil,” he said. “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

He later apologised for those words.

But for all the bluster, Mattis has a cerebral side. He has issued required reading lists to marines under his command, and instructed them that the most important territory on a battlefield is the space “between your ears.”

A scholar of warfare, he is said to have a personal library of more than 7,000 volumes. And as a lifelong bachelor, he has another nickname: the “Warrior Monk.”

Like Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice as national security adviser, Mattis has been highly critical of the multination agreement reached last year with Iran to curtail its nuclear programme.

But while Trump has spoken positively of working with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Mattis has warned that Moscow wants to “break Nato apart.”

Senator John McCain of Arizona, who chairs the Armed Services committee that would hold confirmation hearings for the next defence secretary, told the Daily Beast on Saturday he was a “great admirer” of Mattis.

But to serve as defense secretary, Mattis would need a waiver of a law that bans uniformed military officers from serving in that post for seven years after leaving active duty. The law is intended to ensure the bedrock notion of civilian control of the nation’s military.