As published at Conservative Review December 5, 2016.

Christmas came early this year with confirmation that Marine Gen. James Mattis is President-elect Trump’s choice for secretary of defense. Though it requires a waiver from Congress, since the retired general, who spent over forty years in service, was active duty within the last seven years, he is likely to be confirmed with the incoming Republican-majority Congress. Mattis is an exceptional choice to lead in restoring the military’s top priorities of combat readiness and troop welfare, as well as restoring sound foreign policy with his no-nonsense yet optimistic approach.

Beloved by those with whom he’s served, Gen. Mattis has a reputation for blunt talk, level-headedness, and a deep affection for America’s defenders. He is bold; famous for unapologetic statements about killing the enemy. After serving for decades and in close combat over multiple wars, he has certainly earned his irreverence toward them. More importantly, he is an extremely well-read student of warfare and history in order to learn its lessons, to increase the likelihood of success, and so that the precious lives or our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines may not be sacrificed in vain. In correspondence now gaining wide coverage on the importance of officers reading he said:

By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men. Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead…As a result, the enemy has paid when I had the opportunity to go against them …

He is an equally thoughtful student of foreign policy. An opponent of American withdrawal abroad, he also doesn’t favor frequent and prolonged military intervention. On the need for continued engagement around the world he has said:

…[E]ach time in our recent history that we’ve followed [isolationism], our country was forced to use our military to reverse a worse situation because of what we allowed to fester rather than to confront. And we recognize today that our people and our allies paid a terrible price for that wrong-headed approach. [But] engagement does not indicate or require an expanded or even frequent use of our military instrument…It would be a false choice to say the sole options today are between isolationism on the one hand or more wars on the other…

We are over a decade deep into the festering problem of radical Islamic terrorism, which has only worsened in the last eight years because this administration, and to a certain degree its predecessor, failed to confront it. To have as secretary of defense someone who recognizes and names the problem, its level of complication, and understands how it can successfully be addressed, is indeed a refreshing change. Under Ashton Carter and Ray Mabus, whose sole focus has been socio-cultural changes, readiness has seriously declined and the state of our ships and aircraft is pathetic. The Marines have had to cannibalize museum pieces to get aircraft operable, with only 30% ready for action. Our ship count is at an all-time low, with the few Mabus has added being of questionable quality. The newest, the USS Zumwalt, had to be towed to port after a mechanical failure. Its electromagnetic weapons systems were also deemed too expensive to use at $800,000 per round. Carter and Mabus had to work hard to achieve this level of failure. For someone of Mattis’ caliber, however, it won’t be complicated to reverse the fiasco. He’s got just the kind of backbone and political will needed for the job.

 As we face our most merciless enemies, Gen. Mattis has a clear vision for a successful military and effective combat missions. “You send a shockwave back to our enemies so that [they say] ‘we don’t ever want to take these guys on.’” With his leadership at the Pentagon, we hope to see an end to endless wars with no clear idea for victory. He will return our Rules of Engagement back to protecting our warfighters instead of the enemy, and ensure that combat readiness replaces Diversity Metrics as the military’s primary concern. Based on his philosophy and style, we can expect a blend of astute diplomacy and wise action, “reason over impulse.” And where military action is needed, he will employ strategies to achieve victory with the fewest casualties possible.
No country alone can defeat or even derail terrorist attacks. We need swift intel sharing with engaged partners around the world and offensive operations to catch the enemy as early as possible in an age when a handful of nutcases can kill on an industrial level … At this point in time the greatest provocation to our enemies would be America’s failure to wisely stand up to them alongside our friends when our vital interests are at stake.

Trump’s choice can go a long way to restoring a ready military and America’s standing in the world. Secretary Mattis will help quell terrorism and the rise of peer adversaries like Iran, Russia, North Korea and China. We have every reason to be hopeful and our enemies have every reason to tremble. If Gen. Mattis wavers, military men and women will be the first to hold him accountable. But failure seems unlikely. As he says, “I don’t even know the meaning of the word.”