On Thursday, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis took to the stand for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee as President-elect Trump’s nominee for secretary of Defense.
Mattis answered the lawmakers’ questions with grace and professionalism, like the other retired military veterans tapped by the president-elect have, and will.
Those who are unfamiliar with the military worry about veterans serving in civilian leadership positions, but the concern is misplaced. Combat veterans, having experienced the horror of war, are less likely to send Americans unnecessarily into harm’s way. They also understand the importance of having all military resources needed to win.
Trump’s cabinet nominees are proven leaders who have succeeded in business, finance, medicine, law and — in the case of military veterans — devoting their lives to defending our country.
These brave and dedicated Americans will continue to serve our country well as leaders in the Trump administration. Their career biographies record national security know-how, distinguished military service, years of sacrifice, duty and a special love for the United States.
James Mattis, nominated for secretary of Defense, is a retired four-star Marine general who led a Marine division to Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and more recently led the United States Central Command.
John Kelly, nominated for Homeland Security secretary, is a retired four-star Marine general whose son was killed in combat in Afghanistan. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), designated to head the Central Intelligence Agency, graduated from West Point and served as an Army officer.
Michael Flynn, who will serve as National Security Advisor, is a retired Army lieutenant general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency known for plain-spoken views on the threat of Islamist militancy.
In response to these appointments, critics have warned that the selections are “dangerous” and “highly unusual.” Their scaremongering overlooks that fact that the vast majority of Defense Secretaries have had military experience, including five-star Army general George Marshall.
The critics seem confused about whether military experience is a prerequisite or a disqualification. While complaining that Trump never served in uniform, they warn that he surrounds himself with those who did.
“War is too important to be left to the generals,” said Clemenceau. Yet we have seen the results of armchair warriors’ arrogant ineptitude.
President Lyndon Johnson personally selected bombing targets in Vietnam. President Jimmy Carter weakened our military while indulging in excessive micro-management. President Barack Obama withdrew from Iraq as a strategic end unto itself.
After eight costly years of sidelining our defensive forces, it is time for the president-elect to reverse his predecessor’s strategic mistakes. It is time to redeploy our leading veterans as civilian policymakers to help restore our global leadership position.
President Ronald Reagan won the Cold War through an avowed policy of “peace through strength” based on the words of our nation’s most famous general. “To be prepared for war,” George Washington said, “is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
Reagan knew that strength avoids conflict rather than provoking it. He liked to quote the pithy wisdom of Will Rogers, who said of the world heavyweight champion of his day, “I’ve never seen anyone insult Jack Dempsey.”
In contrast, Obama’s foreign policy has taken America from world heavyweight to 97-pound weakling.
He “led from behind” in Libya. He turned tail and ran from hard-won victory in Iraq. He drew an illusory “red line” in Syria. He diminished our military and misused it for political and cultural purposes. In short, he has consistently projected weakness instead of strength, ignoring our adversaries’ threats.
The gimmicky red reset button that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented to Russia’s foreign minister did indeed reset global world order — in the direction of Russian ascendancy and American decline.
Obama mocked Mitt Romney for claiming in 2012 that Russia was a major geopolitical threat.
“The 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” said Obama, oblivious to both current geopolitical reality and the role of Reagan’s emphasis on military readiness to end the Cold War.
Most recently, taking a page from a John le Carré Cold War novel, Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for Russia’s “actions intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” Media reports referred to “election hacking” — as if “election” is a synonym for “John Podesta’s gmail account.”
With President-elect Trump’s selection of military veterans for senior positions in his administration, critics have reacted with alarm. But our incoming commander-in-chief has rightly turned to America’s veterans to serve in leadership posts.
Our armed services produce top-quality leaders, and those who advance to senior ranks are among our best and brightest public servants. A cabinet that includes such experienced and trustworthy leaders will help the Trump administration make America strong again, ready to overcome any obstacles that confront us.
First published in The Hill in January 2017