Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis is in the running to lead the Pentagon for President-elect Donald Trump, according to reports.
Trump’s transition team announced on Friday that Mattis would be meeting with the President-elect on Saturday. A person involved with the transition told Bloomberg that Mattis was being considered, along with retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who met with Trump on Thursday.
Mattis declined to comment when reached by Business Insider.
The former four-star general retired in 2013 after leading Marines for 44 years. His last post was with US Central Command, the Tampa, Florida-based unified command tasked with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than two-dozen other countries.
Mattis, 66, is something of a legendary figure in the US military. Looked at as a warrior among Marines and well-respected by members of other services, he’s been at the forefront of a number of engagements.
He led his battalion of Marines in the assault during the first Gulf war in 1991 and commanded the task force charging into Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003, as a Major General, he once again took up the task of motivating his young Marines to go into battle, penning a must-read letter to his troops before they crossed the border into Iraq.
Though he’s beloved by troops for his straight talk and strategic genius, he’s dealt with some controversy outside of the military for some of his more colourful quotes. He asserted in 2005, for example, that it was “fun to shoot some people” — though he was talking about fundamentalists who “slap women around” in Afghanistan for not wearing veils. Still, the Marine commandant at the time said he was counseled and told to “choose his words more carefully,” according to Fox News.
If he were tapped to be defence secretary, he would need a waiver from Congress to take on the position, since it requires a military officer to have been off active duty for at least seven years. Mattis retired in 2013.
Whoever is ultimately picked, the next head of the Pentagon will oversee roughly 3 million military and civilian personnel and face myriad challenges, from the ongoing fight against ISIS and China’s moves in the South China Sea to the ongoing stress on the military imposed by sequestration.
A number of defence secretaries who served under President Barack Obama have criticised him for his supposed “micromanagement.” Even Mattis himself was reportedly forced into early retirement by the Obama administration due to his hawkish views on Iran, according to Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy.
To some of his supporters, Trump appears to be more of a delegator who will let the Pentagon chief take the reins of the military.
“He will empower his SecDef to lead the way,” Joe Kasper, chief of staff for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), told Business Insider.
The next defence secretary may also end up dealing with a nuclear-armed North Korea, and Russia is very likely to test limits in eastern Europe. The secretary will also need to reinvigorate a military plagued by low morale.
Mattis currently splits his time between Stanford and Dartmouth as a distinguished fellow, conducting research and giving lectures on leadership and strategy.
Other names that have been floated for the position include former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri and Stephen Hadley, the former national security adviser to President George W. Bush.
A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
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