Interesting view here from Niall Ferguson:
General James Mattis, who has been named Donald Trump’s secretary of defence, earned a daunting reputation as a master of kinetic warfare as the commander of the 1st Marine Division in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During the push to Baghdad, he relieved a colonel of his command for not advancing fast enough. But he is not only a fearsome warrior, but he is a deep strategic thinker – a soldier-scholar in the mould of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose Meditations he carried with him in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will be the first general to run the Pentagon since Harry Truman appointed George Marshall in 1950.
As president, Trump has the enticing opportunity to fix America’s broken foreign policy. His deal with Putin could end the war in Syria and resolve the not-so-frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine. A comparable deal with China could address the economic grievances of Middle America while creating a new basis for peaceful coexistence with the Middle Kingdom, addressing key flashpoints in the Asia-Pacific region such as North Korea, the South China Sea — and Taiwan.
The Trump presidency can also change the game in the Middle East by abandoning the Obama administration’s ill-conceived tilt towards Iran. And it can jolt continental Europeans out of their complacency, so that Nato ceases to be an alliance paid for by Americans and taken for granted by Germans.
However, to achieve all this will need the credible threat of force. This is where Jim Mattis comes in.
He has unrivalled credibility. It is not only marines who love the man. Even Michèle Flournoy, who would have had his job if Hillary Clinton had won, speaks of him with reverence.
Second, Mattis is a hawk on Iran. Some say it was his readiness to contemplate military action against Iran that led to his being sacked from US Central Command by President Obama. In a lecture in April he called the Tehran regime “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East”.
Mattis will advise Trump to keep Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, but to punish any future Iranian breaches of it with military retaliation. He will also propose tougher action against Iranian regional proxies, notably Hezbollah.
Third, unlike Trump, Mattis has no illusions about Putin. He has spoken out against the Russian invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, and has implicitly criticised the Obama administration for not being tough enough.
Finally, Mattis has a playbook for the Chinese, too. In his testimony before the Senate armed services committee in 2015, he stated that “efforts in the Pacific to keep positive relations with China” must be “paralleled by a policy to build the counterbalance if China continues to expand its bullying role in the South China Sea and elsewhere”.
Theodore Roosevelt’s mantra was to “speak softly and carry a big stick”. Unlike Trump, Mattis speaks softly. And that big stick he carries is sharp, too.