James Norman Mattis (born September 8, 1950) is the 26th and current United States Secretary of Defense and a former United States Marine Corps general. He commanded the 1st Marine Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and served as the 11th Commander of United States Central Command during the Presidency of Barack Obama.
Mattis commanded the United States Joint Forces Command and concurrently served as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation from November 2007 to August 2010, prior to replacing General David Petraeus as Commander of United States Central Command. During the Iraq War, he commanded I Marine Expeditionary Force, United States Marine Forces Central Command, and 1st Marine Division.
On January 20, 2017, Mattis was confirmed as Secretary of Defense 98–1 by the United States Senate on a waiver, as he had only been three years out of active duty despite U.S. federal law requiring at least seven years of retirement for former military personnel to be appointed Secretary of Defense. He was the first Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate and first confirmed member of the Cabinet of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the only United States Senator to oppose his appointment as Secretary of Defense.
As Secretary of Defense, Mattis has affirmed the United States' commitment to defending longtime ally South Korea in the wake of the North Korea crisis. An opponent of proposed collaboration with Russia on military matters, Mattis has consistently stressed Russia's threat to the world order. Mattis has occasionally voiced his disagreement with certain Trump administration policies, opposing the proposed withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, and has criticized budget cuts that hamper the ability to monitor the impacts of climate change.
|26th United States Secretary of Defense|
|Assumed office |
January 20, 2017
|Preceded by||Ash Carter|
|Commander of United States Central Command|
August 11, 2010 – March 22, 2013
|Preceded by||David Petraeus|
|Succeeded by||Lloyd Austin|
|Commander of the United States Joint Forces Command|
November 9, 2007 – August 11, 2010
|Preceded by||Lance L. Smith|
|Succeeded by||Raymond T. Odierno|
|Supreme Allied Commander Transformation|
November 9, 2007 – September 8, 2009
|Preceded by||Lance L. Smith|
|Succeeded by||Stéphane Abrial|
|Born||James Norman Mattis|
September 8, 1950
Pullman, Washington, U.S.
|Net worth||$5 million|
|Service/branch||United States Marine Corps|
|Years of service||1969–2013|
Mattis was born on September 8, 1950, in Pullman, Washington. He is the son of Lucille (Proulx) Mattis and John West Mattis (1915–1988), a merchant mariner. His mother immigrated to the United States from Canada as an infant and had worked in Army Intelligence in South Africa during the Second World War. Mattis's father moved to Richland, Washington, to work at a plant supplying fissile material to the Manhattan Project. Mattis was raised in a bookish household that did not own a television. He graduated from Richland High School in 1968. He earned a B.A. degree in history from Central Washington University in 1971. He earned an M.A. degree in international security affairs from the National War College of National Defense University in 1994.
Mattis enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1969. He was commissioned a second lieutenant through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps on January 1, 1972. During his service years, Mattis was considered an intellectual among the upper ranks. Robert H. Scales, a retired United States Army major general, described him as "... one of the most urbane and polished men I have known." Reinforcing this intellectual persona was the fact he carried a copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius throughout his deployments.
As a lieutenant, Mattis served as a rifle and weapons platoon commander in the 3rd Marine Division. As a captain, he was assigned as the Naval Academy Preparatory School's Battalion Officer, commanded Rifle and Weapons Companies in the 1st Marine Regiment, then Recruiting Station Portland, Oregon, as a major.
Mattis is a graduate of the U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and the National War College. He is noted for his interest in the study of military history and world history, with a personal library that once included over 7,000 volumes, and a penchant for publishing required reading lists for Marines under his command. He is known for the intellectual rigor he instills in his Marines, risk management, and requiring his Marines to be well-read in the culture and history of regions where they are deployed. Before deploying to Iraq, Mattis had his Marines undergo cultural sensitivity training.
As a colonel, Mattis commanded the 7th Marine Regiment. He led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade as its commanding officer upon promotion to brigadier general. It was as a regimental commander he earned his nickname and call sign, "CHAOS", an acronym for "Colonel Has Another Outstanding Solution", which was initially somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
During the initial planning for the War in Afghanistan, Mattis led Task Force 58 in operations in the southern part of the country beginning in November 2001, becoming the first Marine Corps officer to command a Naval Task Force in combat. According to Mattis, his objective upon arriving in Afghanistan was "make sure that the enemy didn't feel like they had any safe haven, to destroy their sense of security in southern Afghanistan, to isolate Kandahar from its lines of communication, and to move against Kandahar." In December 2001, an airstrike carried out by a B-52 bomber inadvertently targeted a position held by U.S. special operations troops and Afghan militiamen in Urozgan Province. Numerous men were wounded in the incident, but Mattis repeatedly refused to dispatch helicopters from the nearby Camp Rhino to recover them, citing operational safety concerns. This prompted an Air Force helicopter to fly from Uzbekistan to ferry the men to the Marine Corps base where helicopters sat readily available but unauthorized to fly. Then-Captain Jason Amerine cited the delay caused by Mattis's refusal to order a rescue operation as having resulted in the deaths of several men. Amerine wrote, "Every element in Afghanistan tried to help us except the closest friendly unit, commanded by Mattis." This episode was used against Mattis after he was nominated for Defense Secretary in 2016.
While serving in Afghanistan as a brigadier general, Mattis was known as an officer who engaged his men with "real leadership". He also was quoted as saying "be polite, be courteous and have a plan to kill everyone you meet." A young Marine officer, Nathaniel Fick, said he witnessed Mattis in a fighting hole talking with a sergeant and lance corporal: "No one would have questioned Mattis if he'd slept eight hours each night in a private room, to be woken each morning by an aide who ironed his uniforms and heated his MREs. But there he was, in the middle of a freezing night, out on the lines with his Marines."
Mattis played key roles in combat operations in Fallujah, including negotiation with the insurgent command inside the city during Operation Vigilant Resolve in April 2004, as well as participation in planning of the subsequent Operation Phantom Fury in November.
In May 2004, Mattis ordered the 3:00 a.m. bombing of a suspected enemy safe house near the Syrian border, which later came to be known as the Mukaradeeb wedding party massacre and resulted in the deaths of 42 civilians. Mattis said it had taken him 30 seconds to decide whether to bomb the location. Describing the wedding as implausible, he said, "How many people go to the middle of the desert to hold a wedding 80 miles (130km) from the nearest civilization? These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive." The Associated Press obtained video footage appearing to show a wedding party, but the occurrence of a wedding was disputed by military officials.
Following a Department of Defense survey that showed only 55% of U.S. soldiers and 40% of Marines would report a colleague for abusing civilians, Mattis told Marines in May 2007 that "whenever you show anger or disgust toward civilians, it's a victory for al-Qaeda and other insurgents." Reflecting an understanding of a need for restraint in war as key to defeating an insurgency, he added: "every time you wave at an Iraqi civilian, al-Qaeda rolls over in its grave."
Mattis popularized the 1st Marine Division's motto "no better friend, no worse enemy", a paraphrase of the famous self-made epitaph for the Roman dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla, in his open letter to all men within the division for their return to Iraq. This phrase later became widely publicized during the investigation into the conduct of Lieutenant Ilario Pantano, a platoon commander serving under Mattis.
As his division prepared to ship out, Mattis called in experts on the Middle East for cultural sensitivity training. He constantly toured the battlefield to tell stories of Marines who were able to show discretion in moments of high pressure. As an apparent example, he encouraged his Marines to grow mustaches to look more like the people they were working with.
He also was noted for a willingness to remove senior leaders under his command at a time when the U.S. military seemed unable or unwilling to relieve underperforming or incompetent officers. During the division's push to Baghdad, Mattis relieved Colonel Joe D. Dowdy, commander of Regimental Combat Team-1. It was such a rare occurrence in the modern military that it made the front page of newspapers. Despite this, Mattis declined to comment on the matter publicly other than to say that the practice of officer relief remains alive, or at least "we are doing it in the Marines." Later interviews of Dowdy's officers and men revealed that "the colonel was doomed partly by an age-old wartime tension: Men versus mission—in which he favored his men", while Mattis insisted on execution of the mission to seize Baghdad swiftly.
After being promoted to lieutenant general, Mattis took command of Marine Corps Combat Development Command. On February 1, 2005, speaking at a forum in San Diego, he said "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling." Mattis's remarks sparked controversy; General Michael Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, issued a statement suggesting Mattis should have chosen his words more carefully but would not be disciplined.
The Pentagon announced on May 31, 2006, Mattis had been chosen to take command of I Marine Expeditionary Force, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. On September 11, 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that President George W. Bush had nominated Mattis for appointment to the rank of general to command U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. NATO agreed to appoint Mattis as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation. On September 28, 2007, the United States Senate confirmed Mattis's nomination, and he relinquished command of I MEF on November 5, 2007, to Lieutenant General Samuel Helland.
Mattis was promoted to four-star general and took control of JFCOM/SACT on November 9, 2007. He transferred the job of SACT to General Stéphane Abrial of France on September 9, 2009, but continued in command of JFCOM.
In early 2010, Mattis was reported to be on the list of generals being considered to replace James T. Conway as the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. In July, he was recommended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for nomination to replace David Petraeus as commander of United States Central Command, and formally nominated by President Obama on July 21.
His confirmation by the Senate marked the first time Marines had held billets as commander and deputy commander of a Unified Combatant Command. He took command at a ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base on August 11.
As head of Central Command, Mattis oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was responsible for a region that includes Syria, Iran, and Yemen. According to Leon Panetta, the Obama administration did not place much trust in Mattis because he was perceived as too eager for a military confrontation with Iran.
Since retirement from the military, Mattis has worked for FWA Consultants and also served as a member of the General Dynamics Board of Directors. In August 2013, he became an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution and has since been named as their Davies Family Distinguished Visiting Fellow.
From 2013 through January 2017, Mattis was a board member of Theranos, a health technology company known for its false claims to have devised revolutionary blood tests using very small amounts of blood. Previously, in mid-2012, a Department of Defense official evaluating Theranos's blood-testing technology for the military initiated a formal inquiry with the Food and Drug Administration about the company's intent to distribute its tests without FDA clearance. In August 2012, Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes asked Mattis, who had expressed interest in testing Theranos's technology in combat areas, to help. Within hours, Mattis forwarded his email exchange with Holmes to military officials, asking "how do we overcome this new obstacle." In a July 2013 letter from the Department of Defense approving his possible employment by Theranos, Mattis was given permission with conditions. He was cautioned to do so only if he did not represent Theranos with regard to the blood-testing device and its potential acquisition by the Departments of the Navy or Defense.
In December 2015, Mattis joined the advisory board of Spirit of America, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides assistance to support the safety and success of American service personnel and the local people they seek to help.
He is co-editor of the book Warriors & Citizens: American Views of Our Military, published in August 2016.
Then-President-elect Donald Trump met with Mattis for a little over one hour in Bedminster, New Jersey, on November 20, 2016. He later stated on Twitter, "General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General's General!" On December 1, 2016, Trump announced at a rally in Cincinnati that he would nominate Mattis for United States Secretary of Defense.
As Mattis retired from the military in 2013, his nomination required a waiver of the National Security Act of 1947, which requires a seven-year waiting period before retired military personnel can assume the role of Secretary of Defense. Mattis is the second Secretary of Defense to receive such a waiver, following George Marshall. Mattis was officially confirmed as Secretary of Defense by a vote of 98–1 in the United States Senate on January 20, 2017. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the sole "no" vote. She released a statement, explaining that she was opposed to the waiver of the National Security Act of 1947 even though she "deeply" respects his service.
For his first official trip abroad, Mattis began a two-day visit with longtime U.S. ally South Korea on February 2, 2017. He warned North Korea that "any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated", and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with an "effective and overwhelming" response from the United States. During a press conference in London on March 31, 2017, with his UK counterpart Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon, Mattis said North Korea was behaving "in a very reckless manner" and must be stopped. During a Pentagon news conference on 26 May, Mattis reported the U.S. was working with the UN, China, Japan, and South Korea to avoid "a military solution" with North Korea. On June 3, Mattis said the United States regarded North Korea as "clear and present danger" during a speech at the international security conference in Singapore. In a June 12 written statement to the House Armed Services Committee, Mattis said North Korea was the "most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security". On June 15, Mattis said the U.S. would win a war against North Korea but "at great cost".
On March 22, 2017, during questioning from the U.S. Senate, Mattis affirmed his support for U.S. troops remaining in Iraq after the Battle of Mosul was concluded. Mattis responded to critics who suggested the Trump administration had loosened the rules of engagement for the U.S. military in Iraq after U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Mosul killed civilians, saying, "We go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people." According to Airwars, the U.S.-led coalition killed as many as 6,000 civilians in Iraq and Syria in 2017.
On April 5, 2017, Mattis called the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack "a heinous act" and said it would be treated accordingly. On April 10, Mattis warned the Syrian government against using chemical weapons again. The following day, Mattis gave his first Pentagon news conference since becoming Secretary of Defense, saying ISIS's defeat remained "our priority" and the Syrian government would pay a "very, very stiff price" for further usage of chemical weapons. On April 21, Mattis said Syria still had chemical weapons and was in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. According to investigative journalist Bob Woodward, Trump ordered Mattis to assassinate Assad, but Mattis refused. On 8 May, Mattis told reporters details of the proposed Syrian safe zones were "all in process right now" and the United States was involved with configuring them.
On April 20, 2017, one week after the Nangarhar airstrike, Mattis told reporters that the U.S. would not conduct a damage assessment "in terms of the number of people killed" in Afghanistan. Mattis traveled to Afghanistan days later and met with government officials, explaining that the purpose of the trip was to allow him to state his recommendations for U.S. strategy in the country. On June 13, Mattis said U.S. forces were "not winning" in Afghanistan and the administration would develop a new strategy by "mid-July" while speaking to the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services. On June 27, Mattis told reporters that he was creating a conflict-ending strategy for Afghanistan that would also "remove the danger to the Afghan people and to us and to all the nations that have been attacked by terrorist groups out of that region". On June 29, Mattis said the Obama administration "may have pulled our troops out too rapidly" and that he intended to submit a new Afghanistan strategy to Trump upon his return to Washington, D.C.
The United States has been openly arming the Syrian Kurdish fighters in the war against ISIS since May 2017. Following the start of the Turkish invasion of northern Syria aimed at ousting U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds from the enclave of Afrin, Mattis said in January 2018: "Turkey is a NATO ally. It's the only NATO country with an active insurgency inside its borders. And Turkey has legitimate security concerns." Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag urged the United States to halt its support for Kurdish YPG fighters, saying: "Those who support the terrorist organization will become a target in this battle."
Mattis supports a two-state solution model for Israeli–Palestinian peace. He has said the situation in Israel is "unsustainable" and that Israeli settlements harm prospects for peace and could lead to an apartheid-like situation in the West Bank. In particular, he has said that the perception of biased American support for Israel has made it difficult for moderate Arabs to show support for the United States. Mattis strongly supported Secretary of State John Kerry on the Middle East peace process, praising Kerry for being "wisely focused like a laser beam" on a two-state solution.
Mattis believes Iran is the principal threat to the stability of the Middle East, ahead of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Mattis says: "I consider ISIS nothing more than an excuse for Iran to continue its mischief. Iran is not an enemy of ISIS. They have a lot to gain from the turmoil in the region that ISIS creates." Mattis sees the Iran nuclear deal as a poor agreement, but believes there is now no way to tear it up, saying: "We are just going to have to recognize that we have an imperfect arms control agreement. Second, that what we achieved is a nuclear pause, not a nuclear halt". Mattis argues that inspections may fail to prevent Iran from seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but that "[i]f nothing else at least we will have better targeting data if it comes to a fight in the future." Additionally, he criticized Obama for being "naive" about Iranian intentions and Congress for being "pretty much absent" on the nuclear deal.
Mattis praises the friendship of regional US allies such as Jordan, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.  He also criticized Obama for seeing allies as "free-loading", saying: "For a sitting U.S. President to see our allies as freeloaders is nuts." He has cited the importance of the United Arab Emirates and Jordan as countries that wanted to help, for example, in filling in the gaps in Afghanistan. He criticized Obama's defense strategy as giving "the perception we're pulling back" from US allies. He stresses the need for the US to bolster its ties with allied intelligence agencies, particularly those of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In 2012, Mattis argued for providing weapons to Syrian rebels as a way to fight back against Iranian proxies in Syria.
The departure of several of Mattis's senior deputies in the fall of 2018 caused concern in foreign policy circles. Many senior officials served only because of Mattis and fought political battles with the White House regularly. One of the most serious areas of concern has been the potential for war with Iran because of the Trump Administration's withdrawal from the JCPOA at the same time the U.S. military is redeploying forces from the Middle East to the Pacific to better compete with China and contain North Korea.
Mattis visited Japan one week after being sworn in as Secretary of Defense. During a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, Mattis emphasized that the United States remains committed to the mutual defense of Japan and stated, "I want there to be no misunderstanding during the transition in Washington that we stand firmly, 100 percent, shoulder to shoulder with you and the Japanese people."
Speaking at a conference sponsored by The Heritage Foundation in Washington in 2015, Mattis said he believed that Russian President Vladimir Putin's intent is "to break NATO apart." Mattis has also spoken out against what he perceives as Russia's expansionist or bellicose policies in Syria, Ukraine and the Baltic states. In 2017, Mattis said that the world order is "under biggest attacks since World War Two, from Russia, terrorist groups, and China's actions in the South China Sea."
On February 16, 2017, Mattis said the United States was not currently prepared to collaborate with Russia on military matters, including future anti-ISIS U.S. operations. In August 2017, he said: "Despite Russia's denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force, undermining the sovereign and free nations of Europe".
Mattis called for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and criticized China's island-building activities, saying: "The bottom line is [...] the international waters are international waters."
In 2017, Mattis said that budget cuts would hamper the ability to monitor the impact of climate change, and noted, "climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of-government response."
Mattis has never been married and has no children. He proposed to a woman named Alice Gillis, but she called off the wedding days before it was to occur, not wanting to burden his career. He is nicknamed "The Warrior Monk" because of his bachelorhood and lifelong devotion to the study of war.
Mattis is a Catholic, and has been described as "devout" and "committed." During the 2003 Iraq invasion, he often prayed with general John F. Kelly on Sundays. The Trump transition team's formal biography of Mattis described him as "the living embodiment of the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis." He has shown restraint when asked by reporters to discuss his faith in public. In a 2003 PBS interview, Mattis recalled how his Marines followed advice from his chaplain on gaining the support of Iraqi citizens: "On the suggestion of my Catholic chaplain the Marines would take chilled drinking water in bottles and walk out amongst the protesters and hand it out. It is just hard to throw a rock at somebody who has given you a cold drink of water and it’s 120 degrees outside."
Mattis's decorations, awards, and badges include, among others:
|1st row||Defense Distinguished Service Medal w/ one oak leaf cluster||Navy Distinguished Service Medal||Defense Superior Service Medal|
|2nd row||Legion of Merit||Bronze Star Medal w/ Combat "V"||Meritorious Service Medal w/ two 5⁄16" Gold Stars||Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal|
|3rd row||Combat Action Ribbon||Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation||Joint Meritorious Unit Award||Navy Unit Commendation|
|4th row||Navy and Marine Corps Meritorious Unit Commendation||Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal||National Defense Service Medal w/ two 3⁄16" bronze stars||Southwest Asia Service Medal w/ two 3⁄16" bronze stars|
|5th row||Afghanistan Campaign Medal w/ one 3⁄16" bronze star||Iraq Campaign Medal w/ one 3⁄16" bronze star||Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal||Global War on Terrorism Service Medal|
|6th row||Humanitarian Service Medal||Sea Service Ribbon w/ one 3⁄16" silver star and two 3⁄16" bronze stars||Marine Corps Recruiting Service Ribbon w/ one 3⁄16" bronze star||Polish Army Medal in gold|
|7th row||NATO Meritorious Service Medal||NATO Medal for Service with ISAF||Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia)||Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait)|
|Badges||Rifle Expert Badge (4th award)||Pistol Expert Badge (2nd award)|
|Badge||Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge|
Mattis's civilian awards include:
He is a lifelong bachelor with no children, but wouldn't move into a monastery unless it was stocked with "beer and ladies."
Following his retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2013, Secretary Mattis served as the Davies Family Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, specializing in the study of leadership, national security, strategy, innovation, and the effective use of military force.
While I deeply respect General Mattis's service, I will oppose a waiver. Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.
Lance L. Smith
| Supreme Allied Commander of Transformation
| Commander of United States Joint Forces Command
John R. Allen
| Commander of United States Central Command
| United States Secretary of Defense
|Current U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
as Secretary of the Treasury
| Order of Precedence of the United States
as Secretary of Defense
as Acting Attorney General
|Current U.S. presidential line of succession|
as Secretary of the Treasury
| 6th in line
as Secretary of Defense
as Acting Attorney General