Donald Trump's pick of retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to lead the Department of Defense signals a new way forward for the U.S. military. As the president-elect noted: "They say he's the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have, and it's about time."
Mattis’ nomination comes at a critical time. The international arena continues to grow more dangerous and complex, while America’s military is stuck in a period of deep decline.
As a nation, we are not giving our troops the funding, training or equipment they need to accomplish missions safely and effectively. Since 2011, real defense spending has declined $78 billion due to sequestration and budget cuts.
The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 “Index of U.S. Military Strength” highlights this sobering reality. Among its numerous findings, the assessment shows that the United States military, as currently structured and funded, is not ready to defend the nation against the threats that face her.
For example, the Air Force has 700 fewer pilots and 4,000 fewer maintainers than it should, and those deficits are growing. Less than 50 percent of the Marine Corps’ aerial fleet is currently flyable. The Navy will be able to provide aircraft carriers only 56 percent of the time they are needed next year.
These are just some of the stark realities facing our men and women in uniform, yet we continue to ask them to do more while giving them less. They bravely answer their nation’s call every day, but for their sake, and for the sake of our national security, we need to do better—and that starts with leaders who both understand what is necessary and are willing to fight to make it happen.
Gen. Mattis will bring that leadership to the Department of Defense.
As a combat Marine and former commander of U.S. Central Command, Mattis possesses the wisdom of experience. Having operated from one spectrum of the defense world to the other, he understands both the muddy-boots challenges of the grunt in the fox hole, as well as the strategic circles of power operating in Washington and other foreign capitals.
Famous for his toughness and blunt manner, Mattis has also been consistently praised for his commitment to the men and women under him and his devotion to military success on behalf of the United States. He is regarded with honor amongst Marines and members of the other service branches.
Mattis will bring vision, resolve and realism to the Pentagon – much-needed qualities in these times. He understands that our military must be reinvigorated, and will be an effective advocate on Capitol Hill and in the president’s Cabinet for increasing the size of our total force, funding a robust modernization regime and enhancing the military’s combat readiness.
Just as important, Mattis will bring a clear-eyed perspective on the potential adversaries our nation faces, including Russia and China. In a speech last year at The Heritage Foundation, he characterized the Russian threat as “much more severe and much more serious than we have acknowledged.” He went on to state that “China’s the more difficult problem, actually, but in the near term I think the most dangerous might be Russia.”
With Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and terrorist elements in the Middle East all challenging or actively threatening the United States and our allies, the Pentagon needs a leader with not just the resolve to stand firm and defend our interests, but the vision and understanding to know how to win. That is General Mattis in spades.
Toughness and foreign policy foresight are critical qualities for any secretary of defense. In Mattis they find fruition in his willingness to be an independent voice – one that tells leaders hard, but necessary, truths. Mattis’ career proves that, though his counsel may sometimes be tough, it is spot on. Ignoring it is never wise.
This November offered the Establishment some tough advice of its own: The American people are tired of our nation’s perpetual decline, including our military’s. Secretary Mattis would strengthen and rebuild our armed forces, and offer wise, independent and informed counsel to our leaders. He is an excellent choice for secretary of defense.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill