personally, but he is a distinguished warrior. I understand he is well thought of among his peers. You may recall him as the Marine Division Commander who relieved one of his Regimental Commanders during the push to capture Baghdad in the Iraq War. In that regard, he seems to me a Patton-like figure. I like Patton as a warfighter, but I don't think he would have been a good Secretary of Defense. Here are my initial thoughts about this announcement:
(1) I am a structuralist when it comes to our government. By that I mean the structure of our government can and should support the Constitution and effective, efficient government. General Mattis is a recently retired general officer. To me, appointing a guy like that to the position of Secretary of Defense has the potential to undermine civilian control of the military. This is especially true given that General Flynn is going to be the National Security Advisor (another very conservative, Patton-like military figure). There is a potential for group think with too many key decision makers who have the same experience and character traits. We must recognize the possibility that putting a slew of retired generals into the cabinet could undermine some of the structural checks and balances of our government.
(2) On the positive side, General Mattis is a warfighter who can potentially cut through a bunch of partisan and political red tape to reform the DoD (the largest part of the discretionary budget goes to DoD). The Department of Defense is bloated and in need of reform. Our country is at war, and has been at war for fifteen years. So this appointment could be really good if it leads us to cut waste in our defense infrastructure, divest some of the missions that have migrated under the Defense Department in recent years that don't really belong there, improve communications within the federal government, and prosecute our ongoing combat operations more effectively.
(3) Regardless of who becomes the next Secretary of Defense, we should all demand Congress provide a fresh authorization for the ongoing use of military force in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere around the world. This is not only necessary from the perspective of resourcing ongoing operations appropriately, but also to ensure our elected officials are accountable for what the government is doing. With one party in control of both the executive and legislative branches, Congress should be able to stop the passive-aggressive patter about executive overreach and start accepting responsibility for the traditional role of the legislative branch as a check on the executive branch.
(4) If General Mattis is confirmed as Secretary of Defense, both the senior active military advisor to the President and the senior civilian representative of the Defense Department will be Marine four star generals for at least several months. The current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is also a Marine four star general, General Dunford. The president should have military advisors with diverse experience sets. America's strategic nuclear arsenal is controlled by the Navy and the Air Force. While the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is an Air Force general, it seems to me that having both a SecDef and a Chairman from the Marine Corps could affect resourcing for strategic forces. A traditional civilian SecDef, or at least one whose military experience was from an earlier phase of life, would be better able to evaluate impartially what is best for American military capability overall without the baggage of loyalty to a branch of service. This may not be fair. To be successful as a four star general, General Mattis would have had to be a proficient joint warfighter, with a mature appreciation for the capabilities of all the services. But my experience in Washington as recently as 12 years ago taught me that bureaucracy, politics and competition for resources are alive and well in the Department of Defense. And General Mattis is not only a retired general, but a recently retired general.
(5) I believe a President's political appointments have two effects that must both be considered. The first effect, and probably the most important, is putting the people in the positions where they can accomplish the desired goals of the administration. The second effect is how the appointments will be perceived by the rest of the world. This second effect is important to the degree that it changes the behavior of other countries toward the US and in the global community. If I was China or Russia or Iran and I saw the incoming US President appoint two retired Patton-like generals to top posts, I would be concerned. Maybe these other international actors get "scared straight" or maybe they start hedging their bets toward a military confrontation. If the reaction is that our international rivals pull in their horns a bit, that could be a great thing. But at the same time, none of us want to start a series of actions and reactions that take us to a world of greater conflict, and that is at least a possibility given the pattern of nominations thus far.
(6) In conclusion, I think that the potential down sides of this appointment outweigh the positives. I am concerned that President-elect Trump has chosen Patton-like personalities for two of the top security posts in his administration. And with General Mattis as SecDef, all three of the new President's top national security advisors (General James Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford, and National Security Advisor Lieutenant General Mike Flynn) will be generals or recently retired generals. All are distinguished warriors, and I am certain each will do his best for our country as he is given to see what is best. But we are all constrained by our experiences in life. Building a cabinet should be a process of building a team able to quickly assess issues from a wide range of perspectives and implement the best course of action for the good of our country. While his personal qualifications are impeccable, General Mattis does not bring the diversity of experience to the national security team that I think the team will need to best serve our country.