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Mattis Puts Russia On Top of His Threat List, Defends NATO

Retired Gen. James Mattis testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 12, 2015. CSPAN Image

Retired Gen. James Mattis testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 12, 2015. CSPAN Image

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis placed Russia as the top threat facing the United States – especially with its attempts to break up NATO – during his confirmation hearing to become the Pentagon’s top civilian official.

“Russia has chosen to be a strategic competitor” by actions such as seizing Crimea, backing separatists in Eastern Ukraine, trying to intimidate other bordering nations – including NATO allies on the Baltic Sea and Poland – and supporting President Bashar al Assad in the Syrian civil war, he said while testifying Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I’m all for engagement, [but] three are increasing number of areas where we are going to have to confront Russia,” he said.

Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in his opening statement that “Putin wants to be our enemy.”

When asked whether Baltic allies should have a permanent U.S. military presence, Mattis said, “I do, sir.” He also said he supports the European Reassurance Initiative, which is sending more American armed forces permanently back to the continent and rotating other units through, as well as paying for expanded military exercises to counter Moscow.

Although Donald Trump during the election season questioned NATO’s effectiveness in today’s world, when so few of its members meet the threshold for defense spending – two-percent of gross domestic product – Mattis said “NATO is the most successful military alliance … probably in history.”

“The first time it went into war was when this town [Washington] and New York City were attacked,” he added.

Mattis, in response to another question, said that the president-elect has shown himself open and inquisitive on alliances and partnerships.

“He understands where I stand,” which Mattis testified includes finding common ground with existing allies and “looking for new allies to promote stability. … Nations with strong allies thrive.”

Mattis moved a step closer to confirmation shortly after the hearing ended when the committee on a 24-3 vote approved a waiver of the requirement that a general officer be retired seven years before becoming eligible to serve as defense secretary. He retired in 2013.

The full Congress must also approve the waiver. The only other time the requirement was waived was for Gen. George Marshall in 1950. Approval of the waiver is expected.

However, there are some in the House who are supportive of Mattis as SECDEF but disapprove of the Senate language for the waiver.

“The Senate language we are being asked to approve is also ill-considered and filled with problems that we have not adequately addressed. Unlike the exception for General Marshall in 1950, the bill under consideration does not specify that the exception would apply to General Mattis and only General Mattis. Its vague language would allow the exception to be applied to a former military officer other than General Mattis should he fail to be confirmed by the Senate or if his Presidential nomination is rescinded prior to his appointment to office,” wrote House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) in a Thursday letter.
“The bill does not remove General Mattis from being subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. As a retired military officer, he remains subject to UCMJ jurisdiction, which technically means he could be court-martialed for disobeying orders from the commander-in-chief, disparaging a government official, and any number of other offenses not applicable to civilians. That status could create conflicts with the performance of his duties as Secretary of Defense. These types of conflicts illustrate exactly why civil-military relations are such a major concern.”

The law was passed to demonstrate clear civilian control of the armed forces in the newly created Defense Department following World War II. The committee held a hearing on the waiver earlier this week.

The Senate alone would confirm his nomination. Confirmation is also expected.

Mattis said several times during the three-and-a-half-hour hearing that he understands that his duties as the civilian head of the Pentagon – to shape policy and strategy – were substantially different from those of a combatant commander – to carry out the military aspect of the policy and strategy. He added civilian control also meant congressional involvement in national security policy and strategy.

He said he expected that, as the new administration takes office, he would face immediate challenges beyond Russia. McCain said North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs “may be the defining crisis of the next president.” The international order of the past 70 years is being subjected “to the biggest attack since World War II.”

Mattis termed the Iranian nuclear pact “an imperfect arms agreement,” adding “It’s not a friendship agreement.” Later in answer to a related question, he said, “When you give your word, you live up to it.” Trump said during the campaign he would re-negotiate the terms.

On China’s militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea, he said the Defense, State and Treasury departments needed to put together a policy on how to respond, not just militarily.

“International waters are international waters,” he said.

He called for a new look at the strategy in taking Raqqa – the proclaimed capital of the Islamic State – and a hard military blow against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to ensure its defeat.

“We’ve got to have an integrated strategy,” he said, not only inside the U.S. government but also with allies and forces such as the Syrian Kurds. Since the election, Trump has suggested he is open to developing a partnership with Russia to defeat the Islamic State.

“I have to assume our credibility will be challenged” in a number of areas after the Jan. 20 inauguration. In facing crises, Mattis said several times in slightly different ways, “we should not simply be turning to the military to answer all our concerns in the world.”

On personnel questions, Mattis said he is open to women serving in all positions in the armed forces and is not coming into office intent on rolling back that decision or those governing sexual orientation.

“Standards are the standards, and when people meet the standards that’s the end of the discussion,” he said.
“I have no plan to oppose women in any aspect of our military.”

He voiced support “absolutely” for the Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine to replace the Ohioclass now in the fleet, and for buying two Virginia-class attack submarines per year. He said the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would help the United States maintain its strategic edge in fighter aircraft.

“Many of our allies have bet their program [for the future] on the F-35,” he added.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    The Putinista-in-chief won’t like this dissent.

  • KazuakiShimazaki

    “We have two threats. A has 150 million people and a stagnating economy. B has close to 1.5 BILLION people and an economy that’s still growing. A is securing space near its homeland after we’ve been expanding our alliance to it for two decades. B making noises over some of the most vital trade routes on the planet. We have plenty of reasonably powerful friends facing A, and almost but weaklings facing the B.

    A is the primary threat.”

    It’s almost like America WANTS to lose its hegemony which has served it pretty well so far.

  • R’ Yitzchak M

    It is really interesting that General Mattis clearly defied the Trump’s proposed policies and the choice of the American people and CLEARLY choose the opposite “team” of the “establishment..” which failed in elections. Let me see something rather strange.. is happening right now. The “establishment” the aspiring tyrants in the making while being “Republican” (imposters) voted almost in every opportunity against the interests of their party? While being the “representatives” of the American people voted and did everything possible to prevent the interests of the American people vis a vis the ENEMY of the United States Saudi Arabia which just happened to be involved in the undeclared war against the American people MURDERING 3,000 Americans ( a 1,000 more than at Pearl Harbor) they are the one that prevented the American families to sue the perpetrators of that UNPROVOKED murder of the best tradesmen on the globe a backbone of the American capitalism.. yes I know I know today after the decades of the indoctrination instead of EDUCATION our children consider the word “capitalism” as a “dirty word”. The 28 pages of the collected evidence against the Saudi “royals” involvement in that mas murder and the undeclared war against the Americans is withheld “classified” and tampered with to protect the interests of Saudi family against the American people. The one of the “princes” of the Saudi family was directly involved in financing at least 2 pilots that were flying those passenger airliners into the unsuspecting civilian targets murdering the 3,000 again out of all 18 murderers 15 were Saudi’s.. So the character that financed those murderers was caught and brought to the justice yet to be yanked out from the federal court by the “US” State Department as a “too sensitive” for the interests of the “National Security”.. THE “NATIONAL SECURITY”? The freak just murdered 3,000 Americans and he was removed from the hands of justice by the “US” State Department’s nomenCLEPTURE “establishment” McCain and the Lindsey Graham were the most active and instrumental players to deny the rights of the family to sue nor to gather any evidence implicating the Saudi Royals who were and are at war with the American people.. So whom the McCain and Lindsey Graham represent? Republicans not really? American People..? Not really.. So they want the war against the Russia.. How many Russians were in those planes? How many Russians are financing the ISIS murderers, How many Russians are in the Saudi ISIS team? How many Russians are killing those murderers.. So Gen Mattis chose McCain “hero” who is the only one pilot in the US history that single handedly almost sank the US NCV and Lindsey Graham a true friend of the enemy of the United States people.. and not so much compassionate to the interests of the VICTIMS who were lost their loved ones due to the perverted arrogance of power that Saudi’s clearly think they are entitled for.. because they PAY FOR IT. Now Democratic nomenCLEPTURA and the “Republican” nomenCLEPTURA are the same “players” and Gen Mattis clearly stated that he is in their team a team of the “New World Order” as he clearly stated his main enemy if Russia for opposing the “New World Order” ( an “new” REICH) and saying nothing against his Saudi friends?

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    Quicker than the 9 hour slog that was Tillerson’s hearing….. Mattis came across pretty well.

    The democrat members seemed to focus the bulk of their queries on pushing their LGBT(Q?) agenda…..

    They seem to know what really matters for America’s defence!

  • OleSalt_1

    Gen Mattis, Retired US Marine, the impending Secretary of Defence will probably clash with his Commander-in-Chief President Trump, regarding Russian threats to US. Unlikely Mattis advice will be seriously heeded, as well as the matter of US defence alliance with NATO (Trump calls it Obsolete).

    • old guy

      Please see my comment above

      • morrell

        old guy
        Just wondering ?
        How old are you?

        • old guy

          I’m 89. I missed all of the fighting. I volunteered for ARMY on my 17th b’day. 3/14 VE day 5/09. Basic and tank driver training, Ft. Knox.Slated to invade Japan, Camp Stonemason, CA 08/05/45. VJ day 8/14/45 . Sent to Ft. Richardson, Elmandorf Field.1/3/46. Discharged 3/18/ 47. Not called up for Korea. Hows that for lucky, all around?

          • morrell

            A well deserved salute!

  • Ed L

    NATO is a mess large amounts of hardware (armor) is laid up in storage. Most NATO countries cut there military spending to half of what it should be. Brigades are being used in place of when an army Corp used to be available Kalaingrad has 200,000 military personnel. At least the poles have a 1,000 leopard 2’s I don’t think the Lithuanian’s have any Tanks.

  • old guy

    There is no dissent with the Prez, at all. President Trump only identified a clever opponent and the need to recognize it. Lack of such clear thinking prevented Hitler being squashed in 1935. Ipso Facto WW2.

  • old guy

    I agree with most of what you say, but having spent a bit of time in international business (mostly Spain and Japan) I would match my knowledge of those countries operations with any military commander.