Trump’s selection for Defense Secretary, retired General James N. Mattis, is the fourth in the line of senior policymakers who would presumably take a very different approach to Russia than the one articulated by the President-elect and by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn during the campaign season. Along with Mattis, two others are Vice President-elect Mike Pence and nominee for CIA Director, Mike Pompeo. The fourth is Trump’s pick for Deputy National Security Advisor, KT McFarland (see my earlier post, KT McFarland’s Hardline on Russia with Nuance). Mitt Romney or retired General David Petraeus as Secretary of State would make five.
The New York Times reports: “General Mattis believes, for instance, that Mr. Trump’s conciliatory statements toward Russia are ill informed. General Mattis views with alarm Moscow’s expansionist or bellicose policies in Syria, Ukraine and the Baltics.”
Yochi Dreazen at Vox writes:
Mattis is also a Russia hawk of sorts — a position that would potentially leave him at odds with the president-elect.
Mattis, echoing the assessments of most of the Pentagon’s top brass, has a sharply different assessment of Putin, whom he sees as a clear threat to both the US and many of Washington’s closest European allies.
According to an article by the US Naval Institute, Mattis used a speech to a conservative think tank last May to warn that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continued meddling in eastern Ukraine was a “severe” and “serious” threat that was being underestimated by the Obama administration.
Putin, Mattis concluded, was trying to “break NATO apart.”
Former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul tweeted:
General Mattis is no pushover when it comes to Russia.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) December 2, 2016
It is obviously unclear how Trump administration policies will play out as we turn from campaign rhetoric to governing. At least with the announcement of General Mattis as our next likely SecDef, NATO allies can breathe a little easier this morning.
[Editor’s Note: To see more on this topic, read Rolf Mowatt-Larssen’s piece, The Strategic Balance: A New US-Russian Zero Sum Game.]