Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense is the colorful, much-decorated, intellectual General Jim Mattis. Called by a military colleague “one of the most urbane and polished men I have known,” Mattis is widely read and not easily fooled. Mattis has spent a lot of time thinking about war and combat — and in discussion he’s reportedly as likely (or more likely) to reference the strategy of Alexander the Great as the strategy of Norman Schwarzkopf. Mattis is also a student of the role of the military beyond combat, especially as far as the responsibilities military commanders assume in the public sphere.
One part of the status quo that Mattis would likely disrupt is how elected officials have used military brass to defend and explain the purpose and strategy behind U.S. military actions. Mattis believes elected officials bear the responsibility to persuade the public of the necessity of military activities, rather than having that duty fall to the military elite who must also execute the strategy. It’s an important distinction, and one that has become fuzzier since 9/11, Mattis asserts. Mattis lamented this role shift in his essay for Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military, which he co-edited with Kori Schake. Mattis believes both President Bush and President Obama relied on military brass like Gen. David Petraeus to make the case for military action to the public when that responsibility should lie with elected officials.