Trump taps retired general Mattis as new Pentagon chief

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with retired Marine Gen. James Mattis following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S.
PHOTO: Reuters

CINCINNATI - President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday that he will nominate US Marine retired general James Mattis, who oversaw US war efforts in the Middle East, to be his defence secretary.

"We are going to appoint 'Mad Dog' Mattis as our secretary of defence," Trump told a large crowd in Cincinnati, Ohio, referring by nickname to the tough-talking general who headed the US Central Command, giving him authority over troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"He's our best. They say he's the closest thing to (World War II-era) general George Patton that we have," Trump said, apparently divulging his pick days ahead of schedule as his transition team had already said there would be no more cabinet announcements this week.

Obama and Trump meet in the White House

  • Barack Obama and Donald Trump on Thursday put past animosity aside during a 90-minute White House meeting designed to quell fears about the health of the world's pre-eminent democracy.
  • White House staffers stand on the steps of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as they await the arrival of US President-elect Donald Trump for a meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, DC, November 10, 2016.
  • "Mr President, it was a great honour being with you," Trump said, calling Obama a "very good man." .
  • As protests against the Republican property mogul's shock election rumbled across US cities and world capitals contended with a suddenly uncertain world order, Obama and Trump vowed to carry out a smooth transition of power.
  • After a nasty campaign that culminated in the election of a 70-year-old billionaire who has never held public office and who gained power on a far-right platform, the message was: this is business as usual in a democracy.
  • "It is important for all of us, regardless of party and regardless of political preferences, to now come together, work together, to deal with the many challenges that we face," Obama said.
  • Trump appeared more subdued than usual, and was unusually cautious and deferential in his remarks.
  • The outgoing Democratic president and his successor huddled one-on-one in the Oval Office, for what Obama characterized as an "excellent conversation" and then put on a remarkably civil joint public appearance.
  • After all, Trump championed the so-called "birther movement" challenging that Obama was actually born in the United States - a suggestion laden with deep racial overtones - only dropping the position recently.
  • "Here's a good rule. Don't answer questions when they just start yelling," Obama told Trump.
  • Trump - who previously called Obama the "most ignorant president in our history" - said he looked forward to receiving the president's counsel. Obama - who previously said Trump was a whiner and "uniquely unqualified" to be commander-in-chief - vowed his support.
  • The two men ended the improbable and historic White House encounter with a handshake and refused to take questions, appearing to find common cause in their opinion of the press.
  • He (Obama) told Trump that his administration would "do everything we can to help you succeed, because if you succeed, then the country succeeds."

"Okay. So I gave up a little secret. My people over there are probably saying, 'You weren't supposed to do that, Mr Trump,'" the president-elect quipped.

Mattis, who is 66, commanded a Marine battalion during the First Gulf War and a Marine division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In 2010, the tough-talking native of Washington state was named to head the US Central Command.

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That gave him authority over troops in Iraq, where he helped develop a counterinsurgency approach before overseeing the US withdrawal, and Afghanistan, where he implemented a troop surge.

It also gave him responsibility for an area including Syria, Yemen and Iran.

Previously, he led the US Joint Forces Command and a NATO command charged with preparing the alliance's forces to meet future challenges.

A colorful commander, he earned the nickname "Mad Dog" with his battle-hardened swagger and the sort of blunt language marines are famous for.

He has been quoted as saying, "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

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But to serve as defence secretary, Mattis would need Senate confirmation - and a waiver of a law that bans uniformed military officers from serving in that post for seven years after leaving active duty.

The law is intended to ensure the bedrock notion of civilian control of the nation's military.

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