Report: Trump picks legendary Marine Gen. Jim Mattis for Defense Secretary

REUTERS/Mike Segar

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped retired Marine Gen. James "Mad Dog" Mattis for the role of defense secretary, according to people familiar with the decision who spoke with Dan Lamothe at The Washington Post.

An official announcement is expected early next week, The Post reported.

Neither Mattis nor a spokesperson for Trump immediately responded to a Business Insider's request for comment. However, Jason Miller, a spokesman for the Trump transition team, tweeted that "no decision has been made" about the position.

Mattis is "an excellent pick that offers an opportunity to restore the warrior culture in DOD that's been undermined by this administration," Joe Kasper, chief of staff to Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, told Business Insider. "Mattis is no-nonsense, and he's a sure bet to turn the Pentagon upside down and get things done."

After Trump met with Mattis more than a week ago, most defense watchers believed the retired Marine general was the top pick to lead the Pentagon. The President-elect described Mattis, 66, as "very impressive" and said he was "seriously considering" him for the position.

Trump later had an off-the-record meeting with media executives and on-air personalities, in which he said "he believes it is time to have someone from the military as secretary of defense," according to Politico. Other Republicans and many D.C. insiders also offered praise for Mattis, though he would require a congressional waiver to serve as Defense Secretary since he has not been out of uniform for the statutorily required seven years.

Mattis faced plenty of competition along the way, which included retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), and others. Keane reportedly declined Trump's offer to serve at the Pentagon, but recommended Mattis for the position.

A number of defense secretaries who served during the Obama administration have criticized President Obama for supposed "micromanagement." Even Mattis himself was reportedly forced into early retirement by the White House due to his hawkish views on Iran, according to Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy.

If confirmed, Mattis would 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.

He 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.

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.

Gen. James MattisREUTERS/Mike Segar

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 colorful 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.

Mattis currently splits his time between Stanford and Dartmouth as a distinguished fellow, conducting research and giving lectures on leadership and strategy.

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