The Insider

Trump critic backs Mattis with hope he will prevent 'wildly stupid' scenario

January 10, 2017 |
Tony Bertuca

The Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony today from a foreign policy analyst and prominent critic of President-elect Donald Trump, who hopes former Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis will be confirmed as the next defense secretary to keep "wildly stupid, dangerous, or illegal things from happening."

The testimony came from former State Department official Eliot Cohen, now an analyst at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

"I have sharply criticized President Obama's policies, but my concerns pale in comparison with the sense of alarm I feel about the judgment and dispositions of the incoming White House team," he told the committee in his opening statement.

While some Democrats have voiced concerns about the possible erosion of civilian control of the military, Cohen urged the committee to grant Mattis an exception to current law which prevents military leaders from serving as defense secretary until they have spent at least seven years out of uniform. Mattis has only been retired for three years.

Cohen, however, stressed the law should still remain on the books once Mattis receives an exemption.

Kathleen Hicks, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Mattis should be confirmed, but viewed him as a "rare, generational" exception because of his particular qualifications. Mattis is a former head of U.S. Central Command.

Hicks, however, said the committee should reject Trump's argument that it is "time for a general" to run the Pentagon.

"It should never be considered time for a general to fill the senior-most, non-elected civilian position in the operational chain of command," she said.

The committee is scheduled to hold a nomination hearing for Mattis on Thursday.