GOP Arizona Sen. John McCain, a top defense hawk in the Senate, issued a full endorsement Monday of retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for the position of secretary of defense.
Mattis is currently a frontrunner for the job, though because he only exited the Marine Corps four years ago, Congress will have to pass a waiver to allow him to serve in the Pentagon’s top civilian position.
“I am pleased that the President-elect found General Jim Mattis as impressive as I have in the many years I have had the privilege of knowing him,” McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said in a statement. “General Mattis is one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops. He is a forthright strategic thinker. His integrity is unshakable and unquestionable. And he has earned his knowledge and experience the old-fashioned way: in the crucible of our nation’s defense and the service of heroes.”
“General Mattis has a clear understanding of the many challenges facing the Department of Defense, the U.S. military, and our national security. I hope he has an opportunity to serve America again,” McCain added.
GOP President-elect Donald Trump met with Mattis Saturday morning and later remarked he was “very impressive.”
But Mattis and Trump actually seem to differ significantly on various foreign policy issues, which may be why McCain has offered such a strong endorsement and offered to move along the congressional waiver process.
Mattis has criticized Trump indirectly by taking aim at Jeffrey Goldberg’s profile of Obama for the New Yorker, in which Mattis said he thought Obama’s mistaken impressions about U.S. allies lined up closely with Trump’s position.
“It wasn’t Trump; it was the president saying that our allies are free riders and that sort of thing,” Mattis said. “For a sitting U.S. president to see our allies as freeloaders is nuts.”
Additionally, Mattis is intent on seeing an increase in ties between the U.S. and intelligence agencies in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia. Back in 2012, Mattis also supported delivering weapons to Syrian rebels to take out the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Trump, on the other hand, has argued for dropping support to the rebels, as “we have no idea who these people are.”
Instead of targeting Assad, Trump appears much more interested in taking down the Islamic State more directly.
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