He’s been called the “Mad Dog”. He’s been called a “warrior monk”. A sagely old warrior known for his shoot from the cuff remarks and no nonsense attitude, General James Mattis is revered amongst service members. A highly successful career military officer reflects all of the right values to lead our military, what’s not to love? Well, here are five reasons that Mattis was the wrong pick.1) You don’t choose from the system to fix the system. It is no secret that the Defense Department is broken. The enormous bureaucracy is running rampant with fraud, waste, and abuse. Only this morning I was reading an article highlighting the nearly quarter of the defense budget spent on overhead. Throw in the recent hugely expensive, yet surprisingly underwhelming defense projects (F-35, LCS, etc), and you soon see just how large this problem is. Sure, he can navigate the defense department, but can you teach an old dog new tricks?
2) He’s likely to feud with the administration. This one may have some positive policy ramifications, but a marriage built on dissent is likely to result in resentment, dissatisfaction, and divorce. How long before the “Mad Dog” tells Trump where he can shove it?
3) He’s too close to the troops. The relationship between the military and its civilian leadership is one of balance. Everyone has his or her lane of responsibility. A military leader is concerned for the troops. A civilian leader is worried about policy. One is focused on which wars the President wants to fight, which decisions the President wants to make. The other is focused on the fight and on the troops. What comes of this relationship is, in a perfect world, top down decision-making and bottom up refinement. When you get used to playing one role, adopting the other becomes more difficult.
4) If you need a waiver to do it, it probably shouldn’t be your first choice. There is a reason why officers must be civilians for seven years before they can become the Secretary of Defense. Not only are the jobs fundamentally different (and often directly opposed to one another), but they represent the principle of civilian control of the military. This is a founding principle of our republic, and should be respected.
5) There will, potentially, be three generals filling prominent cabinet roles in Trump’s administration. LTG Flynn is his pick for National Security Advisor, GEN Mattis for Defense, and GEN Petraeus is a finalist for Secretary of State. Three career military officers, all well read, well educated, and highly competent, but also all with similar road maps. The field of cabinet secretaries is already lacking in diversity in other ways, professional pedigree needn’t be another.
So there you have it. It doesn’t matter, the pick has been made. His confirmation fight probably won’t be overly contentious, and I’m sure that GEN Mattis will make an excellent SECDEF. Do I wish there was an outside-the-system type with some creative ideas on DoD reform? Sure, but then again, I also believed in Santa until I was 14.