President-elect Donald J. Trump’s reported choice (via the Washington Post) of retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis as Secretary of Defense risks a fight with pro-Israel groups similar to the one that faced former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel in his confirmation fight in early 2013.
The case against Mattis, from a pro-Israel standpoint, is weaker than the case against Hagel, a Republican Senator from North Dakota who had made repeated criticisms of Israel, and who seemed not to understand Israel’s history — or enemies like Iran.
Mattis has been criticized for remarks he made in 2013, when he seemed to suggest that Israel bore blame for the region’s anti-American hostility, and which warned that Israeli “settlements” could lead to the country becoming an “apartheid” state.
The Zionist Organization of America warned recently in a press statement that President-elect Trump should not appoint Mattis (original emphasis):
The ZOA is concerned about the potential appointment of Marine General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, and urges that Mattis not be appointed. Mattis’s statements at a 2013 Aspen Institute conference were hostile to Israel, and revealed a lack of appreciation for and understanding of the extraordinary value to American security resulting from a strong American-Israeli alliance and a secure Israel.
Alarmingly, while Mattis was quick to gratuitously wrongly blame Jewish settlements, Mattis never mentioned any of the real obstacles to peace: Namely, the Palestinian-Arab leadership’s continuing incitement of terrorism in schools, textbooks government run-media and mosques, payments of millions of dollars to terrorists to murder Jews, promotion of PA security personnel who murder Jews; goal of destroying all of Israel; and rejection of repeated extraordinarily generous peace offers.
At the Aspen conference, Mattis also insisted on urgently creating a Palestinian-Arab state (saying: “We have got to find a way to make the two-state solution”) – while ignoring that a Palestinian state, at least at this time and in the foreseeable future – would be a Hamas-Iran-dominated terror state that threatens Israeli and U.S. security.
However, the Jewish Institute for the National Security of America countered with a defense of Mattis, without endorsing him outright:
… we feel compelled to convey that characterizations of one candidate, General James N. Mattis, USMC (ret.), as anti-Israel are ill-founded and unfair.
The criticism revolves around extemporaneous remarks General Mattis made at the Aspen Institute in July 2013 on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. …
We understand and share many of the objections to his remarks, including that he seemed to blame mostly Israel for the impasse, despite the critical challenges it faces in lacking a stable, moderate Palestinian partner that genuinely seeks a durable peace with the Jewish state. Some American Jews and even Israelis make the same mistake. In any case, he has not repeated those remarks.
On the larger U.S. military and strategic issues related to the Middle East, which a Secretary of Defense will have to address early on, General Mattis has notably and indisputably distinguished himself in advocating for a more robust U.S. military posture to counter, contain and deter Iran …
General Mattis’ outlook on these issues aligns perfectly with Israel’s.
Hagel was eventually confirmed, albeit rather narrowly. Matts would face a tougher set of obstacles, at least procedurally, since current law bars individuals from serving as defense secretary if they have been on active duty in the previous seven years. (Matts retired in 2013.) The last time Congress granted an exception was for George C. Marshall in 1950.
The Trump transition team responded to the Washington Post report by insisting that no decision had yet been made on the Secretary of Defense position.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.