James Norman Mattis[4] (born September 8, 1950) is the 26th and current United States Secretary of Defense, serving in the Trump Administration. Mattis is a retired United States Marine Corps general who previously served as the 11th Commander of United States Central Command and was responsible for American military operations in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, and Central Asia, from August 11, 2010, to March 22, 2013.

Before President Barack Obama appointed him to replace General David Petraeus on August 11, 2010, Mattis previously commanded United States Joint Forces Command from November 9, 2007, to August 2010 and served concurrently as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation from November 9, 2007, to September 8, 2009. Prior to that, he commanded I Marine Expeditionary Force, United States Marine Forces Central Command, and 1st Marine Division during the Iraq War.[5]

On January 20, 2017, Mattis was confirmed as Secretary of Defense 98–1 by the United States Senate on a waiver,[6] as he had only been three years out of active duty despite US federal law requiring a seven-year cooling off period for retired military personnel to be appointed Secretary of Defense. He was the first member of President Donald Trump's cabinet to be confirmed.

Mattis was born on September 8, 1950, in Pullman, Washington.[7] He is the son of Lucille (Proulx) Mattis[8] and John West Mattis (1915–1988),[9][10] 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.[11] Mattis' father moved to Richland, Washington to work at a plant supplying fissile material to the Manhattan Project.[12] Mattis was raised in a bookish household that did not own a television.[12] He graduated from Columbia High School in 1968.[12][13] He earned a B.A. degree in history from Central Washington University in 1971.[14][15][16] He later earned an M.A. in international security affairs from the National War College in 1994.[17]

Military career[edit]

James Mattis initially enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1969.[18] He was commissioned a second lieutenant through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps on January 1, 1972.[19] During his service years, Mattis was considered to be an intellectual among the upper ranks.[20] 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 personal copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius throughout his deployments.[20]

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 (composed of Enlisted Midshipman Candidates and its Company Officers and Enlisted Staff), commanded Rifle and Weapons Companies in the 1st Marine Regiment, then Recruiting Station Portland, Oregon, as a major.[21]

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. Mattis is also noted for his intellectualism and interest in the study of military history and world history,[22][23] with a personal library that once included over 7,000 volumes,[2] and a penchant for publishing required reading lists for Marines under his command.[24][25] 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 in the world where they are deployed. Before deploying to Iraq, Mattis had his Marines undergo cultural sensitivity training.[23]

Persian Gulf War[edit]

Upon promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel, Mattis commanded 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, which was one of Task Force Ripper's assault battalions during the Persian Gulf War.[26]

Afghanistan War[edit]

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.[27]

During the initial planning for the War in Afghanistan, Mattis led Task Force 58 in operations in the southern part of the country,[28] becoming the first Marine Corps officer to ever command a Naval Task Force in combat.[19]

While serving in Afghanistan as a brigadier general, he was known as an officer who engaged his men with "real leadership". A young Marine officer named Nathaniel Fick cited an example of that leadership when 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."[29]

Iraq War[edit]

Letter written by Mattis on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, addressed to members of the 1st Marine Division.

As a major general, Mattis commanded the 1st Marine Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent stability operations during the Iraq War.[22]

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.[30]

In May 2004, Mattis ordered the 3 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 which resulted in the deaths of 42 civilians. Mattis stated that it had taken him 30 seconds to deliberate on bombing 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."[31] The Associated Press obtained video footage appearing to show a wedding party, although the occurrence of a wedding was disputed by U.S. military officials.[32]

Following a U.S. Department of Defense survey that showed only 55% of American soldiers and 40% of U.S. Marines would report a colleague for abusing civilians, Mattis told U.S. 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 the need for restraint in war as key to defeating an insurgency, he added that "Every time you wave at an Iraqi civilian, al-Qaeda rolls over in its grave."[33]

A city street in Fallujah heavily damaged by the fighting, November 2004

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,[34] 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.[35][36][37][38][39][40]

Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen and General Mattis in Baghdad, Iraq

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.[23]

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 under-performing or incompetent officers. During the division's push to Baghdad, Mattis relieved Colonel Joe D. Dowdy, regimental commander of Regimental Combat Team-1, and 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."[29] 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.[41]

Combat Development Command[edit]

After being promoted to lieutenant general, Mattis took command of Marine Corps Combat Development Command. On February 1, 2005, speaking ad libitum 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.[42]

U.S. Joint Forces Command[edit]

The Pentagon announced on May 31, 2006, that Lieutenant General Mattis was chosen to take command of I Marine Expeditionary Force, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.[43] 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.[21]

Mattis was promoted to four-star general and took control of JFCOM/SACT on November 9, 2007. He transferred the job of SACT to French General Stéphane Abrial on September 9, 2009, but continued in command of JFCOM.[44]

U.S. Central Command[edit]

In early 2010, Mattis was reported to be on the list of U.S. Marine generals being considered for selection to replace James T. Conway as the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.[45] In July, he was recommended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for nomination to replace David Petraeus as commander of United States Central Command,[7][46] and formally nominated by President Barack Obama on July 21.[47]

His confirmation by the Senate marked the first time Marines had held billets as commander and deputy commander of a Unified Combatant Command.[48] He took command at a ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base on August 11.[49][50][51]

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.[52] According to Leon Panetta, the Obama administration did not place much trust in Mattis, because he was perceived to be too eager for a military confrontation with Iran.[53]

He retired from the Marine Corps in 2013.[54][55]

Since retirement from the military, Mattis has worked for FWA Consultants and also served as a member of the General Dynamics Board of Directors.[54] In August 2013, he became an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution[56] and has since been named as their Davies Family Distinguished Visiting Fellow.[57]

From 2013 through January 2017, Mattis was a board member of the Silicon Valley biotech company Theranos.[58][59] 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.[60]

In December 2015, Mattis joined the advisory board[61] 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.[62]

Secretary of Defense[edit]

Nomination and confirmation[edit]

Then-President-elect Donald Trump met with Mattis for a little over one hour in Bedminster, New Jersey, on November 20, 2016.[63] 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!"[64] On December 1, 2016, Trump announced at a rally in Cincinnati that he would nominate Mattis for United States Secretary of Defense.[65] 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.[66] Mattis is the second Secretary of Defense to receive such a waiver, following George Marshall.[66] Mattis was officially confirmed as Secretary of Defense by a vote of 98–1[a] in the United States Senate on January 20, 2017.[69]


Mattis, in a January 2017 phone call with Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, "reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.–Saudi Arabia strategic relationship".[70]

For his first official trip abroad, Mattis began a two-day visit with long-time U.S. ally South Korea on February 2, 2017.[71] 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.[72] 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 going "in a very reckless manner" and needed to be stopped.[73] During a Pentagon news conference on May 26, Mattis reported the US was working with the U.N., China, Japan, and South Korea to avoid "a military solution" with North Korea.[74] 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.[75] 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".[76] On June 15, Mattis said the US would win a war against North Korea but the victory would be "at great cost".[77]

On March 22, 2017, during questioning from the U.S. Senate, Mattis affirmed his support for U.S. troops remaining in Iraq after the Mosul conflict was resolved.[78] 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.[79] He said: "We go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people."[80]

On April 5, 2017, Mattis called the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack "a heinous act" and said it would be treated in that manner.[81] On April 10, 2017, Mattis warned the Syrian government against using chemical weapons once more, saying it would be "ill-advised".[82] 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.[83] He said that "even in World War II chemical weapons were not used on battlefields."[84] On April 21, 2017, Mattis said Syria still had chemical weapons and was in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.[85] On May 8, Mattis told reporters details of the proposed Syrian safe zones were "all in process right now" and the United States was involved with configuring.[86]

Mattis has voiced support for a Saudi Arabian–led military campaign against Yemen's Shiite rebels.[87] He asked President Trump to remove restrictions on U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia.[88]

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.[89] Mattis traveled to Afghanistan days later and met with government officials, Mattis explaining the purpose of the trip was allowing him to state his recommendations for the US's strategy in the country.[90] 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.[91]

Political views[edit]

Israeli–Palestinian peace process[edit]

Mattis supports a two-state solution model for Israeli–Palestinian peace. He says the current situation in Israel is "unsustainable" and argues that the settlements harm prospects for peace and could theoretically lead to an apartheid-like situation in the West Bank.[92] In particular, he believes the lack of a two-state solution is upsetting to the Arab allies of America, which weakens US esteem amongst its Arab allies.

Mattis strongly supported Secretary of State John Kerry on the Middle East peace process, praising Kerry for being "wisely focused like a laser-beam" towards a two-state solution.[93]

Iran and Arab allies[edit]

Mattis believes that 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." On the Iran nuclear deal, although he sees it as a poor agreement, he 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 the nuclear 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."[94] Additionally, he criticizes President Barack Obama for being "naive" about Iranian intentions and Congress for being "pretty much absent" on 2016's nuclear deal.[95]

Mattis praises the friendship of regional US allies such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.[96] He has also criticized Obama for his view of seeing allies as 'free-loading', saying: "For a sitting U.S. president to see our allies as freeloaders is nuts."[96] 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 the 44th President's defense strategy as giving "the perception we're pulling back" from US allies.[97] He stresses the need for the US to bolster its ties with allied intelligence agencies, particularly the intelligence agencies of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.[98] In 2012, Mattis argued for providing weapons to Syrian rebels, as a way to fight back against Iranian proxies in Syria.[99]


Mattis visited Japan one week after being sworn in as Secretary of Defense. During a meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, Mattis emphasized 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."[100]

Mattis reassured Japan that the U.S. would defend disputed Senkaku Islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.[101]


Speaking at a conference sponsored by The Heritage Foundation in Washington in 2015 Mattis stated that he believed that Russian President Vladimir Putin's intent is "to break NATO apart."[102] Mattis has also spoken out against what he perceives as Russia's expansionist or bellicose policies in Syria, Ukraine and the Baltic states.[103] 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."[104]

On February 16, 2017, Mattis said that the United States was not currently prepared to collaborate with Russia on military matters, including future anti-ISIS U.S. operations.[105]


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."[106]

Climate change[edit]

See also: Climate security

In 2017, Mattis said that budget cuts would hamper the ability to monitor the impacts of climate change,[107] and noted, "...climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of-government response."[108]

Personal life[edit]

Mattis is a lifelong bachelor[41] who has never been married and has no children.[2] 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.[12] He is nicknamed "The Warrior Monk" because of his bachelor life and lifelong devotion to the study of war.[109] Mattis is noted for his intellectualism and interest in the study of military history and world history,[22][23] with a personal library that once included over 7,000 volumes,[2] and a penchant for publishing required reading lists for Marines under his command.[110][111]