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President-elect Donald Trump has chosen General James Mattis as the new Secretary of Defense. Mattis is described as both a tough and thoughtful leader – and one who may challenge Trump, differing from the President-elect on Russia, Iran, and NATO. Much of the initial reaction to the appointment of “Mad Dog Mattis” has been positive, even from Democrats. But one concern looms large for some: Mattis’ recent military service. It would require a special congressional waiver for him to take the post, and some feel strongly that to allow it would be going against an important tenet of U.S. government. We take a close look at General James Mattis.
- Yochi Dreazen Foreign editor, Vox; author, "The Invisible Front"
- Arnold Punaro Chief executive officer, The Punaro Group; retired Marine Corps Major General; author of the memoir "On War and Politics: The Battlefield Inside Washington’s Beltway"
- Eugene Fidell Florence Rogatz Visiting Lecturer, Yale Law School, and former president, National Institute for Military Justice.
- Lawrence Korb Senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. To be secretary of defense of the United States, you must be a civilian well removed from military service. President-elect Donald Trump's pick, General James Mattis, does not fit that criterion, but it is a tough and respected military leader. If Congress allows his appointment, what will the hard-charging Mattis mean for U.S. involvement in the Middle East and beyond.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about Mattis and the latest from Trump on foreign and diplomatic issues, Yochi Dreazen of Vox News, Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. From New Haven, Connecticut is Eugene Fidell of Yale Law School and from San Francisco, retired Marine Corps Major General, Arnold Punaro.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, we'll welcome your comments, questions, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks, Diane.
MR. LAWRENCE KORBNice to be with you again.
MR. ARNOLD PUNAROThank you.
REHMAnd to you, Yochi Dreazen, tell us why Donald Trump chose James Mattis for this post.
DREAZENSo I spent a fair bit of time with him when he was in Iraq. That was when I was living there and shuttling back and forth. He was beloved in a way that generals are typically not for both big things and small. He was approachable to virtually everyone who served near him, officer and enlisted. A lot of generals sort of had big retinues of staff. They would sleep in offices often reclaimed from Saddam Hussein palaces.
DREAZENHe, literally, slept on a cot in his office and it wasn't for show. Whenever he could, he would go on mission. He would take off his nametag and rank and then try to sneak out with guys when he could. Obviously, there were limitations and he wasn't going to put himself in danger, but he was genuinely beloved and more so than any officer I'd seen. What he brings Donald Trump that Trump doesn't have is someone who would arrive at the Pentagon with a reservoir of good will.
DREAZENThere are concerns there, which I'm sure we'll talk through, but better than -- let me put it a different way. I know people personally who would have quit, civil servants, if some of the other names that have been bandied about had gotten the job, who will stay with some measure of enthusiasm because of him. And what he's getting is somebody who will come to the building trusted, who will come to the building with some measure of energy and enthusiasm and most importantly, who will not come to the building with this, oh, my god, who the hell is this guy, that some of the others might have gotten.
REHMAnd to you, Eugene Fidell, why is this particular pick significant from an historical perspective?
MR. EUGENE FIDELLThe reason for that, Diane -- and good morning to you, nice to be on again -- the reason for that runs very deep into American political culture. Obviously, the premise of our government is civilian control of the military. We've had generals who have been president, by the way, quite a number, in fact. But there's always been a concern that -- and I have to kept on this, that the cabinet should not include military officers.
MR. EUGENE FIDELLAnd Congress ultimately decided to put that in the U.S. code. They imposed the rule that a person could not become secretary of defense less than seven years after he or she left active duty.
REHMAnd why exactly was that rule established?
FIDELLI think there was a concern that some of the great war heroes of World War II might have political aspirations, certainly General MacArthur had political aspirations. Obviously, General Eisenhower later became president. But there was a concern that you might have the man on horseback and that the military would achieve an outsized role in our political institutions.
REHMLarry Korb, what's your reaction to this pick?
KORBWell, I think -- General Mattis is a terrific person. The country owes him a lot. But we don't need another Marine General in the Pentagon. We already have the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Dunford, who has done all of the wonderful things that Yochi has talked about, and so what I'm worried about, what -- will President Trump get another viewpoint? I also worry about whether, in fact, running the first Marine division is, you know, going to be something that prepares you to run the Pentagon because you have an awful lot of frustrating things.
KORBYou've got to deal with Congress. You've got interest groups. You've got the, you know, the defense industry. So I think you need to bring in a different viewpoint. Now, we've only allowed this to be, as Gene Fidell said, this principle to be changed once and that's for after General Marshall took over the Pentagon. But it's important to keep in mind, when he did, the Korean War had just started.
KORBMarshall had already been secretary of state, even though he had not been retired that long. He only stayed for a year. And when Congress did it, they said, we're not going to do this again. And I think that is the key issue here. It has nothing to do with, you know, General Mattis. You know, Trump compared him to General Patton. Would you want General Patton to be running the Pentagon? Now, I don't think it was a perfect comparison.
REHMBut explain why, Larry. Is it because a general at the DOD indeed might take civilians into warfare more frequently, might jump into war more casually? What's the reasoning?
KORBWell, I think it's not just that. For example, look at the social changes that the military has been dragged into. The uniform military opposed integration, the gays, women in combat. General Mattis is already on record as saying he doesn't think, you know, women should have all combat roles. Basically, it was the civilians that got them to do that. Had you not had civilians, you wouldn't have had many of those changes. And so that's what I'm concerned about. This man has spent over 40 years in the military and basically, he's going to look at it, as he should, from a military point of view. We don't need another military point of view.
REHMArnold Punaro, you are a retired Marine Corps Major General. You have a very different view. Tell us why.
PUNAROWell, Diane, it's a privilege to be on your show and I join your many legions of fans in urging you not to retire and hope you'll say around.
PUNAROI would say a couple -- and I'm also privileged to join my good friends, Gene Fidell and Larry Korb, and I will tell you we've been on the same side of many issues over the years and I have great respect for both of them. I would certainly disagree with many of Dr. Korb's assertions just a minute ago. I would say a couple of points. And also, you know, I've spent most of my career as the staff director of the Senate armed services committee. I've been involved with the confirmation process of ten secretaries of defense.
PUNAROI've known and worked with every secretary of defense since Melvin Laird, you know, in the early '70s and certainly myself, a big believer of civilian control of the military and I don't believe for one second that confirming Jim Mattis is going to erode civilian control of the military. I personally think he's an inspired choice not just because of who he is as an individual, but we're in a world today of tremendous challenge, very unstable and dangerous. He's a very thoughtful individual.
PUNAROHe's a very objective individual. He's a man of great intellectual integrity. He's a very analytical person. He's a -- the key thing is, he's a student of history. He truly understands the history of all the regions that he's going to have to deal with and make recommendations to the commander in chief. He's a very measured individual. Yes, certainly, he's got a broad range of knowledge on many subjects, not just on military operations on the battlefield where everybody knows he's been a big success.
PUNAROBut I will tell you, military individuals are always the most cautious when it comes to committing our troops to go into harm's way. So I think Jim Mattis -- he also knows the ropes in the Pentagon. He actually had a stint as -- working in the secretary of defense's office as the executive secretary. He had a stint working in the deputy's office. And finally, I would say the most important thing to me -- and I will say, I've known and worked with Jim Mattis for decades, both in his military capacity, in my civilian jobs. He's not a yes-man. He's absolutely not a yes-man.
PUNAROAnd he's an individual that will take on the military in uniform, including, you know, the chairman of the joint chiefs, if necessary. He'll take on the civilians and the bureaucracy, if necessary. He'll take on the national security establishment if necessary and push back and I think he'll Mr. Trump thoughtful, objective recommendations with a range of options. And so I have zero reservations about General Mattis serving as secretary of defense.
REHMYochi Dreazen, is there any indication that the Congress would not provide the waiver necessary to approve him?
DREAZENNo, none whatsoever. I mean, the immediate response from John McCain and, frankly, from a lot of Democrats was this is a great choice. He's very qualified. So no. I mean, it's important to recognize this wouldn't be passing a waiver. This would actually be passing new legislation that would sort of then be -- so it isn't that you would amend something. You'd be actually writing something new. There's a point that Larry mentioned earlier.
DREAZENBefore, when they did it with George Marshall, the language matters and, you know, Larry quoted it, which was wonderful, but they said, basically it's a sense of Congress. It's the -- it's not we are trying to ban this from ever happening again. This is -- it was, we, Congress, in this moment, are saying that this is our view of this moment. They talk about how no future military man should have it, but it was very much a comment of its time.
DREAZENYou know, there are two things about Jim Mattis that, I think, are also worth keeping in mind. One is he has -- may fight with the current national security advisor who is, himself, another general, they see eye to eye in almost nothing that's worth talking through.
REHMYochi Dreazen, foreign editor for Vox News, author of "The Invisible Front." Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the -- talking about the appointment of General James Mattis to be secretary of defense. Some questions have been raised not only here this morning from Larry Korb about comments that the general has made in the past but also questions about congressional authority. Here's an statement from Robert on our website, who says, I've heard the argument that Congress overstepped its authority in placing a restriction on the right of the president to nominate whomever he wants for secretary of defense or any other position. in other words, Congress is encroaching on the president's powers granted him under the Constitution.
REHMOf Congress retains the right to not confirm the president's nominee however unlikely that may be, Gene Fidell.
FIDELLSo that's a really interesting point. The -- there is a school of thought at the Justice Department that under the Appointments Clause Congress cannot unduly constrain the power of the president to select basically whomever he or she wants for high office. Indeed it's an amazing case. Perhaps Arnold Punaro remembers this, but there was a decision when President Eisenhower was in office from the attorney general that President Eisenhower could promote a Marine officer, as it happens, who hadn't been selected by a promotion board.
FIDELLAnd the Department of Justice held that the statute that limits the president's power to promote military officers is itself an undue construction on the president's power. Congress can do things like say, look, only citizens can be commissioned officers. You could have a rule like that. But there is a school of thought that you can't unduly constrict the president's power to pick basically whomever he or she wants.
PUNAROWell, let me add some history to why this provision is there, and under Article I, Section 8, Congress is charged under the Constitution to provide for the rules and governance of the military. So at the end of World War II, where the joint chiefs had been incredibly successful in winning that war with President Roosevelt, we created the national -- the new national security establishment.
PUNARODuring the war there was a War Department and a Navy Department, and they were separate. So we unified the armed forces, and we created for the first time the Department of Defense, for the first time a secretary of defense, for the first time the National Security Council, for the first time the Central Intelligence Agency. And when we created that, because the chief had been so powerful in the war and so successful, there was concern, and they by the way were opposed to the unification. You know, you took the Army Air Corps and made the U.S. Air Force. The Army didn't like that. The Navy didn't want to be under Department of Defense.
PUNAROSo it said, you know what, we better have a really strong civilian in charge of this new Department of Defense. So they put a 10-year prohibition of a recently retired active-duty military. The Congress reduced that in 2008 to eight years. Now in 1986 when we did Goldwater-Nichols and strengthened the civilian control of the military by making everything in the department subject to the authority, direction and control of the secretary of defense, made the chairman the principal military advisor, crystallized the chain of command from the president to the secretary of defense to the combatant commanders, we looked at this provision, and we actually thought it was not needed anymore, but because we'd done all these other things in '86, we just left it as is.
PUNAROSo frankly I don’t think the compelling reason, you know, that they had back in '47 really exists today 60 days later, and I think certainly Congress is well within its right to create the exception, similar that they did for George Marshall. Remember the Korean War was going badly, the American people and our allies were concerned. That's why Truman brought in George Marshall, who also helped him fire MacArthur. And so I'd say the circumstances are very similar today.
REHMGood to have some historical perspective, Larry Korb.
KORBA couple of things. The circumstances are not like they were when the Korean War came, and Louis Johnson, who had been secretary of defense, was cutting the military budget. You had a revolt of the admirals, and when he canceled an aircraft carrier. And George Marshall agreed to only stay for a year.
KORBThe National Security Act of 1947 put in that requirement, and the president signed it. So this idea this Congress -- and don't forget Congress has the power to declare war and raise an army and navy. So I'm not a constitutional lawyer like Gene, but the fact of the matter is they do have a role here, and I assume, as Yochi said, they probably will waive it this time. But the reason issue is what kind of precedent. And the idea that somehow the Pentagon today is like it was back in 1950 is nonsense.
KORBOkay, you've got, as he mentioned, the Goldwater-Nichols Act, you've got a strong chairman, you have five other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So this idea that, you know, we're like we were in '50 is not true, and I don't know if we really want to undo this for that reason.
REHMAll right, and what I want to do now is to focus ahead and look at areas where General Mattis really could make a difference on Iran. Yochi, you've said that Iran may be the most significant issue for the general.
DREAZENI mean, this is a man who, when he was running the war in Iraq, but also it should be remember he also ran Central Command, which oversaw not just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but meant that he was interacting with defense ministers and other senior defense leaders from around not just the Middle East but around the world, and that is in many ways a high-level job.
DREAZENAn interesting part of his time there was early on he gave an interview talking about Iran where he was very, very hawkish on Iran and said that they are killing American troops in Iraq, they've not been held to account, we should be acting more aggressively against them. This was at exactly the moment that the new administration was trying to say we want to reach out to Iran, we think that there's an opportunity for a nuclear deal.
REHMAre you talking about the Obama administration, yeah.
DREAZENExactly, I'm sorry, the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Tehran. This went over terribly, and I remember writing about it at the time. He was basically muzzled. His public affairs staff were told do not allow him to do interviews. So James Mattis, who when he was in Iraq quoted all the time because he's a fun person to talk to, disappeared from the radar screen precisely because he was off-message with what they wanted to say about Iran.
DREAZENIt's worth pointing out he is not just a warmongering person who says tear up the Iran deal, let's go in and bomb their reactors. He has said that he thinks the deal had flaws, that he thinks the deal maybe shouldn't have been negotiated as it was, but he's also said the deal should be kept. Where he is a lot more aggressive is saying that Iran is doing malignant things in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Yemen, that those should be confronted, that to the degree that they were contributing to instability in Iraq it should be confronted and most importantly that they should not be seen as an ally against ISIS, that that would be a mistake to view them like Russia, like Syria, in the way that Donald Trump sees them, which is potentially useful allies against ISIS.
REHMThat's an interesting point, that the two, General Mattis and the president-elect do differ on that Iran nuclear deal.
KORBWell there's no doubt about it. You know, I think if Donald Trump wants to have Mattis back on his national security team, he should do what John Kennedy when he brought Maxwell Taylor, who had retired from the Army, he was very critical of the Eisenhower administration, he brought him back and made him chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The General Dunford's time, the first two-year appointment, is retiring in a couple of months. Bring him back as your chairman. That's if you want that type of advice.
KORBBut that doesn't get to the other problem of civilian control and all of these other issues.
REHMSo you clearly feel that even within this separation of thought on something as important on Iran that Mattis should not be in the DOD chair.
FIDELLNot as a civilian -- not as a civilian secretary. The idea we don't have any other people is not -- I'll give you one person that Trump has spoken to, Congresswoman Gabbard from Hawaii, served two tours in Iraq with the Hawaii National Guard, she's been in elective office. She would be someone who would, you know, fit in. And, you know, Arnold mentioned Melvin Laird. Laird had to go in and force the military to end the draft. They didn't want to do that, and that's what you really need, a secretary to do things that the military doesn't like.
REHMWhat do you think about that, Arnold Punaro?
PUNAROWell, I would say Melvin Laird was a great secretary of defense, and the Laird-Packard model I think is still the model we ought to have with a person focused on the externals, and Dave Packard focused on managing the Pentagon. With James Mattis they'll bring in, I think, somebody that's really good at managing the internals, but I -- again, Larry Korb and I have been on the same side of many issues, but I hate to say I'm pretty much on the 180 from Larry on just about everything he said.
PUNAROI think -- I think Jim Mattis, whatever he said in the part on Iran, he's taken a fresh look at it. The Senate Armed Services Committee will explore his views on all these areas in great detail during the confirmation process. Again, he's a -- he has a broad range of knowledge, he's thoughtful, he's objective, and frankly I think it's a good thing to have somebody that has both his military operational experience and his broad grasp of history and firsthand experience.
PUNAROHe knows how tough it is to get involved in conflict, particularly with a country like Iran, and I think he will be a sober voice in this administration, and also again, he's one that can take on the military, if he thinks the military is wrong. He's not going to be pushed around by the military like Les Aspin was and got fired a year after he was secretary of defense.
REHMGene Fidell, what do you think this appointment could mean for U.S. strategy in the Middle East?
FIDELLDiane, I don't have a view on that. I don't have a crystal ball, and I'm not going to give you a comment on a subject that I don't feel expert in, sorry.
REHMThat's all right. Go ahead, Yochi.
DREAZENIt's like -- I mean, one thing about him that's going to be interesting both on Iran and elsewhere, the incoming national security advisor, Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, is someone that we don't know his relationship with Jim Mattis. Generals often do get along, but there are also rivalries, excuse me, between them. So you'll have a general not just advising a national security advisor and then through them to the Pentagon -- I'm sorry to the president, you'll have a general who for all we know may hate Mike Flynn because Mike Flynn has become an ideologue in a way that Jim Mattis has never been.
DREAZENMike Flynn is someone who's chanted lock her up about Hillary Clinton, something Jim Mattis would never do. So as we're considering a general for the secretary of defense, we should also remember there's going to be a recently retired general as national security advisor.
DREAZENAnd potentially a couple of more in other jobs.
REHMAnd that's what an email from Shelby asks, how many former military people have already been appointed to top levels of the Trump administration? The answer is one, as national security advisor, but potentially another in the secretary of state position, Gene Fidell.
FIDELLRight, Diane, having stiffed you just not on the question that you asked me, I do want to chime in on a dimension that others have spoken about here. I've never met General Mattis. But I followed his career with great interest, and let me mention, if any -- if any listener has not read Tom Ricks' book "The Generals," as soon as this show is over -- wait for the whole show, but as soon as the show is over and as soon as Diane announces this is WAMU, go out and get the book because it's a terrific read.
FIDELLAnd it will give you an idea of what it means to be a successful general, and Tom has catalogued them, sliced and diced the good, the bad and the ugly. What I want to do is share a particular fact, if I can, about General Mattis. Do I have a second?
REHMIn just one second, after I remind listeners that you are listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Go right ahead, Gene.
FIDELLThanks a million. There came a time -- my field is military justice, and there came a time -- so I follow things, you know, as much as I can. There came a time when there was a battle in Haditha, and a number of court martial cases or potential court martial cases emerged in that. General Mattis was the person in charge. He was the convening authority there, general court martial convening authority. And in two particular cases, one involving a junior officer, who was a lawyer as I recall, and the other involving a lance corporal.
FIDELLHe decided that prosecution -- prosecutions should not occur. And I want to read you one paragraph that General Mattis wrote in a letter. He wrote letters to each of these two Marines. With the dismissal of these charges, Lance Corporal Sharette (sp?) may fairly conclude that he did his best to live up to the standards followed by U.S. fighting men throughout our many wars in the face of life-or-death decisions made in a matter of seconds in combat, and as he has always remained cloaked in the presumption of innocence, with this dismissal of charges he remains, in the eyes of the law and in my eyes, innocent.
FIDELLAnd I am here to tell you that I can't think of a comparable situation where a general officer in command had the kind of forthrightness to do that, and I think people should know about that, and it's a serious plus -- a serious mark in the plus column.
REHMLarry Korb, do you want to comment?
KORBWell again, there's no doubt I think he'd be a terrific chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or commandant of the Marine Corps. But this is not what we're concerned about. Are we -- do we really want to have a -- you know, we've had great generals since the end of World War II. General Ridgeway, who saved it in Korea, wanted to make him secretary of defense. General Clark, who won the Silver Star, you know, in Vietnam and then was the commander of the war in Kosovo, actually he did run for president, but these are people who could have been, and we didn't do it before.
KORBAnd I think that's the real issue. Why are we doing it now? And Yochi talked about the fact that you got General Flynn. He's a three-star general. Now you've got a four-star general in the Pentagon. Is the three-star general going to be able to tell the four-star general? Those are the things that I think you have to worry about. We could have General Petraeus as secretary of state, they're talking about him.
KORBSo this -- I think we have -- there's no doubt about that generals are great, and we look up to generals, but that does not mean that they should do things outside the military.
REHMYochi, how much opposition is there going to be in Congress? We've heard from Gillibrand, and that's the only opposition we've heard from so far.
DREAZENI mean, some of the more prominent Democratic voices, not necessarily in Congress, but Michele Flournoy, who had been the number three at the Pentagon and was universally considered to be the defense secretary if Hillary Clinton had won, came out early to praise him. I think when you do hear -- it won't be criticism necessarily, it will be concern along the lines that Larry has raised about should this be a good precedent.
DREAZENI would be frankly stunned if there are many votes against him. I think he will sail through. There are other Trump nominees who will not. But it isn't simply Mike Flynn, the incoming national security advisor, who is a three-star, who will be in the Trump orbit. You also have potentially, as Larry said, David Petraeus, secretary of state, you have potentially John Kelly for the Homeland Secretary Department, you have potentially Admiral Mike Rogers who is currently running the NSA being retired and made the director of national intelligence.
DREAZENSo you may have four, possible five, generals or admirals in and around Donald Trump.
REHMDoes that give you any concern?
DREAZENIt does because Donald Trump himself knows so little about national security, and as we've seen so far, he is so moldable based on what he sees on TV and the last person to talk to him, that's why I worry about it.
REHMAll right, short break here, and when we come back, we'll open the phones for your questions, comments, stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time for your emails and phone calls. First, an email from a retired Army General. Sorry, Army Major with 20 years of service including a tour in Vietnam. He says, we seem to forget it was three civilians, President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld who ran the war in Iraq without sufficient cause, killing thousands of military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we're worried about a former General being in charge of defense.
REHMOne who said that people would not be so quick to go to war if they had to write condolence letters to five to 10 family members every day while in a combat zone. General Mattis is Trump's best pick. Your reaction, Larry?
KORBWell, there's no doubt about the fact that, you know, Bush and Cheney and...
KORB...and Rumsfeld. But the fact of the matter is, the Chief supported that war. And only General Shinseki said send more troops. But Jack Keane, who've, you know, now he's one of the, you know, you see him a lot on television. In fact, he was -- pulled himself out of the running for the job. He supported the war, so the question is they did not speak out like they could have. They could have gone to Congress, you know, under the, under the law. So, I, I, I, I, I do think, and as I mentioned to you, it's good for people in this job to have some military experience.
KORBThat's a problem. I know my own four years on active duty in the Navy helped me immeasurably when I was in the Pentagon, so I do think that's important. But what we're talking about is somebody who spent 40 years. That really gives you a different viewpoint.
REHMArnold Punaro, some people are speculating that General Mattis will likely advocate some build up in the 6,000 American troops currently in Iraq, but will argue for the increase only if it's tied to an overall strategy for the country after American backed Iraqi security forces defeat Islamic State militants in Mosul. What is your thought?
PUNAROWell, I heard General Joe Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, at the Reagan Defense Forum this past weekend, where I participated, talk about a reassessment. And typically, a new President comes in and asks for a reassessment, not just in the Middle East and ISIL, but in all parts of the world. So, I believe that they've gotten that started on the military side. Should he get confirmed by the US Senate, which I fully expect he will, he won't be General Mattis. He'll be Mr. Secretary.
PUNAROMr. Secretary will oversee that review and they will bring into the President's national security team, which would include national security advisors, state, probably the Secretary of Homeland. Probably the Treasury and other people and the Vice President, a series of recommendations. And so, I don't have any way to pre-judge what they might recommend. I would say this, with Mr. Secretary Mattis at the top, he will be totally focused on what's the objective, what's the in-state? What's the mission?
PUNAROYou know, you just don't add troops for the purpose of adding troops. And by the way, could you be successful in that mission? And that's why I think Larry is a little bit on the wrong side of this issue, suggesting that, you know, the military are the ones that are just going to take over this country in a coup and be in charge of everything. And we're going to be in wars all over the world.
REHMI don't think Larry's saying that, frankly.
PUNAROWell, I certainly got that impression, and I know it's maybe -- but, but the military right now, today, is the most admired institution in our country. And they take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. They're going to be very loyal to that oath, and I think they're going to be very thoughtful.
PUNAROMr. Secretary Mattis, in giving the President objective, thoughtful information. But if it's a military action, they'll want to ensure that they can be successful on the battlefield.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones. Mary Lee in Lillian, Alabama. You're on the air.
MARY LEEThank you for taking my call.
LEEI recently attended a town hall with Bradley Burn, who is our representative in our area. And he was giving us an update, you know, rah, rah for him. And he said one of the things that he mentioned was that he wanted to give the military -- give the military resources to change the rules of engagement. That there were too many lawyers and civilians who were holding the military back. And it concerns me to have General Flynn and General Mattis. And obviously, these, our representatives are receiving information from military people that are saying our hands are tied. We can't do anything.
REHMYochi, do you want to comment?
DREAZENYeah, I think with General Mattis, we've actually seen the exact opposite. I mean, you had, in one, in the completely bizarre and in some way surreal interview that Donald Trump did with the New York Times, when he was asked about torture, and if you think back, during the campaign, he said if the military didn't want to do it, I would order them to do it and they would do it anyway about waterboarding. Which is illegal, immoral, but also it's illegal.
DREAZENIn the interview at the Times, he said, I was talking to Jim Mattis and Jim Mattis persuaded me it was a bad idea. I was surprised he said that, but okay, now I think it's a bad idea. Jim Mattis is not someone who's going to be just saying get rid of all the lawyers. Let's start bombing madly everywhere. That’s not the man, that's not the man he is.
REHMExactly. All right.
FIDELLDiane, can I, can I chime in?
REHMSure, go ahead Gene.
FIDELLYeah, Yochi makes an excellent point. A Secretary of Defense is part of a team. And who provides the Secretary's legal advice is one of the major questions. We've been blessed in this country with a -- an all-star lineup of phenomenal people, Jamie Dorell (sp?) , like Steve Preston, Jay Johnson, Togo West, Will Taft, Judy Miller as general counsel for the Pentagon. That's a key position. These people are mostly not household names, but they ought to be.
FIDELLBecause they serve as a check on whoever is going to be the Secretary of Defense. So, I think, as listeners, you know, sort of figure this all out and figure out, you know, how they're going to balance in their own mind the interest in civilian control of the military verses, you know, what do you do with a supremely talented individual like General Mattis? They ought to bear in mind that this is not a one person show.
REHMAll right. And to...
KORBAmen. Hallelujah to Gene on that point.
REHM...to Diane in Grapevine, Texas. You're on the air.
DIANEThank you. I think what has been forgotten regarding the seven year rule is that most men, at that time, had armed services experience. Today, that's not true. Very few people have any experience in the armed forces. I don't trust Trump, but I trust General Mattis.
REHMThat's interesting. And she's absolutely right that fewer and fewer people have experience in the military. Yochi.
DREAZENThat's right. That was an era where most people were veterans. Now, you have the lowest percentage, certainly in the 20th century. And that - but, the thing about Donald Trump, in particular, it's not simply that you have fewer and fewer members of Congress, this is a man who's never interacted with a military ever and who comes to office having spent the campaign trail insulting the military in a way that's never been seen by a major Presidential candidate, saying Generals were idiots, Generals were rubbish.
DREAZENHe knows more than they do, which is kind of a mind boggling bit of arrogance. So, you do have not only less experience among all elected officials, but especially a President who comes in with no experience and a measure of hostility towards the active military.
KORBWell, I do worry though, about the separation between the military and society because less than one percent of the people serve and General, very thoughtful Generals like Stan McChrystal are trying to do something, you know about that. So that, again, reinforces this position. You've already got military people there. It's not like Trump does not have other military advisors in the Pentagon to bring another one -- are you going to get the perspective of society or the military, which are more and more apart than they used to be when people served.
REHMA number of our listeners have asked about the book that you mentioned, Gene. It's Tom Ricks' book, "The Generals." And I echo your comments. It's a very, very fine book. All right, let's go to Joe in Tampa, Florida. You're on the air.
JOEThank you very much. I just wanted to make a brief comment. Having served under General Mattis here in Tampa, I think, I think he's a wonderful commander. I'm a retired Army Captain, served 18 years. What I also was going to mention with regard to CENTCOM is it's a strategic command. It's one of the combatant commands. So, General Mattis was a commander of CENTCOM. In that role, he engaged not only with the National Command Authority, but he also oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
JOESo, I think one of your guests mentioned that he -- being the commander of the first Marine Division doesn't qualify you for it, but I beg to differ. A CENTCOM commander is uniquely qualified, is going to do great working with other secretaries, just like secretary of state. And also working with National Command Authority.
FIDELLWell, again, there's no doubt about it. The secretary of defense is much different than a combat commander in terms of what he or she, and hopefully soon, will have a woman. You know, this is something I was hoping for after the election. We haven't had a woman in 70 years, but the fact of the matter is you got to deal with Congress. You've got to deal with other members of the National Security Council. And, you know, Harry Truman said, when Dwight Eisenhower became President, he said, I really feel sorry for him because he's gonna sit behind that desk and give an order and think it's going to be carried out. It's a lot different when you're not in the military.
REHMYochi, I want to ask you about General Mattis' stand on NATO and Russia and how those stands could differ with President-elect Trump.
DREAZENIt's completely fascinating, not just because of him and him alone, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the new team, when they were confirmed, were all asked, what are the biggest threats to the United States? And uniformly, number one was Russia. Islamic State was, depending on the person speaking, four or five, number three. But uniformly, it was Russia. General Mattis feels very much the same. I mean, he has talked about Iran as an enormous threat in the Middle East.
DREAZENNot just the US, but to its allies. But when it comes to Russia, he is very far to the right of where Donald Trump is and exactly in line with where the military chain of command is. I mean, remember, it's important to remember, because we tend to normalize, Donald Trump is off on his own completely in his views Russia. The military worries about it, the intelligence community worries about it, General Mattis worries about it. He is standing alone in a way that we can talk about why that is.
DREAZENWe can talk about Russian involvement in the election. But just as a pure statement of fact, he is alone in where he is on Vladimir Putin.
PUNAROLet me underscore that point and say that we don't find in our military today one individual service. The Navy's never going to go to battle by themselves. We fight jointly, we fight in coalitions, we fight with allies. There's no circumstance where we would never be able -- where we would want to go and do anything without our allies being involved. General Mattis has spent his life working with our allies, building coalitions. Imminently respected. Also at the Reagan Forum, we had the Defense Ministers of Norway, of the United Kingdom, of Singapore, and they were very reassuring in this pick.
PUNAROBecause they understand. And so, I think that's a very important point, that General Mattis will bring to the National Security table.
REHMArnold Punaro. And you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. And here's an email from Dan, a former US Marine Corps Captain. He says, a strong argument for allowing General Mattis to become Secretary of Defense, he may be the only person sitting at the Trump table who can counter General Flynn's toxic views of Islam and the world in general. Larry Korb.
KORBWell, General Dunford's going to be there, too, because the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is an advisor to the National Security Council. But there's no difference between an advisor and member. And that's the point I'm trying to make. We already have that, and as Yochi just pointed out, it was General Dunford said, Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and ISIS. So, we already have that. And that's what -- again, I, and I've done several interviews and former marines are writing to me and complaining.
KORBIt's nothing to do with General Mattis. He's a terrific guy, he's a great patriot, he served his country. The real question is do we need another General in what's supposed to be a civilian position? And the issue nobody's talked about, what about all these social issues? He's made some comments about women in combat. He doesn't like it. Okay, well, a lot of military people don't, just like they didn't want to end the draft or integrate or let gays and all that. But you need someone who's gonna come with that perspective.
REHMDo you think his views might evolve as he moves into that position?
DREAZENHis views specifically on social issues, on women in combat?
REHMYeah. On social issues.
DREAZENNo. Because the President he'll be serving is somebody who has said not only similar views, but in some ways, much more offensive ones. I mean, remember, Trump has said in the past that a problem with the military's rape epidemic, which is serious and growing is that women shouldn't be there. That if women weren't there, they wouldn't get raped. Which is profoundly offensive. That is not where Jim Mattis is, and I don't want to suggest that he shares that view, which is, to my mind, kind of repugnant.
DREAZENBut Jim Mattis is someone who said, wait a second. And that is frankly a very Marine view. The part -- the service that has been the most concerned about women, their roles in frontline combat has been the Marines by far. And that is one place where he and other Marine Generals do kind of line up.
REHMSo what might he do in regard to women in those positions?
DREAZENI don't honestly think that this, among the things that will be on his plate when he takes over, with a Republican Senate and a Republican President like Donald Trump, this will not be a major issue for him. There had been momentum under Obama and Ash Carter to open more rules to women. That momentum will likely continue. But among the many, many, many things that he'll be wrestling with, this will be very, very, very low on the list.
REHMDo you agree with that?
KORBWell, I hope so. But again, I can't emphasize too much how civilians have made the military do things they didn't want to on these -- when I came in, the Marines wanted to roll back all the gains they had made under the Carter Administration and women. And I had to fight them tooth and nail on it.
PUNARODiane, Diane? This is Arnold.
REHM...you just feel that if he were not a General, or if he had been out of the military for seven years, you think he'd make a great Defense Secretary.
KORBI think it'd be better if he was out longer, yes, and if he wasn't a career military person.
REHMAnd you seem to be in a very small minority.
REHMAnd you've heard from lots of people about that.
KORBOh yes. All the former Marines and I think. And again, I haven't had the military experience maybe Arnold has, but I spent 24 years counting active and reserve. And I've seen how Generals and Admirals do things and the way they come to issues, which is a lot different than the rest of society. And that's what I'm concerned about.
REHMAll right. And Lawrence Korb, as the minority view on this program, you've got the last word. Lawrence Korb is Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. He's former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration. Yochi Dreazen is Foreign Editor for Vox News. And Eugene Fidell is Visiting Lecturer at Yale Law School. Arnold Punaro is Chief Executive Officer of the Punaro Group, a Retired Marine Corps Major General. Thank you all so very much for joining us. And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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