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Trump Says Retired Gen. Mattis Is His Choice To Lead Pentagon


Donald Trump announced his choice to be defense secretary.


DONALD TRUMP: We are going to appoint Mad Dog Mattis...


TRUMP: ...As our secretary of defense.

SHAPIRO: And NPR's Tom Bowman joins us now to talk about General James Mattis. Tom, what can you tell us about him?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, it's not over the top, Ari, to say he's a living legend in the Marine Corps and highly respected in the military across the board and on Capitol Hill as well. He's a very aggressive combat leader, led Marines to Baghdad in the Iraq war. And as you say, his nickname is Mad Dog. His radio call sign was Chaos, and he famously relieved an officer in the Iraq war for not being aggressive enough. And as far as everyone knows, that was not done before in the war. And interestingly, back in 2005, his star was rising so much there were even plans to make a movie about him starring Harrison Ford.

Now, Ari, the other nickname for Mattis is the warrior monk. He's also very much an intellectual. He's been known to carry the "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius. He can quote liberally from Clausewitz and Napoleon. And even though they call him Mad Dog, he told Donald Trump recently he didn't think much of torture.

Remember back during the campaign; Trump said he would bring back waterboarding and worse. Mattis said, listen; give me a pack of cigarettes and two beers. That will work much better.

SHAPIRO: But Congress actually has to give him a waiver to serve, right? The law says an officer must be out of uniform for seven years to be defense secretary. Mattis has only been out for three.

BOWMAN: That's right. That was only done once before back in 1950 for George Marshall, the top general during World War II. So I'm told by congressional staffers that even though Mattis is popular on the Hill, they will consider this waiver seriously, likely have hearings. So this is really a big deal.

SHAPIRO: And what's the headline for how you expect him to change the Defense Department, especially the fight against ISIS?

BOWMAN: One thing to look for is probably being a mad dog - much more aggressive against ISIS, likely remove restrictions on how close U.S. forces can be to the front lines and maybe remove restrictions on bombing as well. The problem is, that could lead to more civilian casualties and also maybe even more American casualties.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tom Bowman on the choice to be defense secretary under Donald Trump, General James Mattis. Thank you, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.

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