Quora Question: Is General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis a Threat to Foreign Policy?

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Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis meets with Donald Trump in Bedminster, New Jersey, November 19, 2016, ahead of him being appointed secretary of defense on January 20. Russians expecting a softer approach were disappointed by his comments during a visit to Brussels claiming Russia had “violated international law.” Mike Segar/Reuters

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Answer from Konstantin Toropin, CNN journalist:

How aggressive will General James “Mad Dog” Mattis be if confirmed as Secretary of Defense?

Mattis’ reputation of Marine-ness is certainly significant, bordering on mythical. He’s known for being a Marine’s Marine with a proven record in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He commands respect far and wide and almost no one can say a bad word about him. Perhaps his most often quoted line is: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” His following in the uniformed ranks borders on cult-like. That all said, despite his moniker as the Patron Saint of Chaos, Mattis is not a fool or a cowboy.

For example, Mattis is a strong supporter of a two-state solution in Israel, even praising Kerry’s efforts towards this goal.

He chastised fellow service members following a report that showed that less than half would report a comrade for abusing civilians in wartime.

And more recently, despite being a somewhat outspoken critic of the Iran peace deal, he also dismissed Republican claims that the agreement should be torn up by the next President: “We are going to have to recognize that we have an imperfect arms control agreement, […] What we achieved was a nuclear pause, not a nuclear halt…” He also noted that Obama’s diplomatic efforts were probably more effective than military options.

Hell, he may have even gotten Trump to reverse his position on waterboarding.

The point is that yes, the man is direct and sometimes says things that suggest he's just out to fight everyone he can, but that’s far from the truth. Mattis is well-read and his opinions, though not always with the majority or those in power, are well-founded. In many ways, he is very much the Warrior Monk that his fans claim he is.

So, getting back to the question—how aggressive will he be? It’s tough to say. His overall philosophy would probably lean more aggressive or interventionist than the current administration but there is nothing in his public comments to suggest he would advocate for overly dramatic changes in military posture or planning. But regardless of his beliefs, the secretary of defense is not commander in chief nor is it a blank check to write military policy. As SECDEF he can advise and recommend but he would be working within (or against, depending on how things go) the entire national security apparatus that includes the National Security Council and a myriad of other agencies that don’t report to him. In fact, given the bureaucratic constraints of the job as well as his more considered opinions of military affairs, its possible that Mattis will actually be a calming presence in the Trump administration rather than an inflammatory one.

I know “tough to say” isn’t a very satisfying answer but its probably the most honest one there is. However, I can say that if you're worried about Mattis kicking off WWIII, rest easy, we’re in good hands.

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