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On First Overseas Trip as Defense Sec., Mattis’s Military Experience Plays Unexpectedly Crucial Role

Secretary of Defense James Mattis received glowing reviews from foreign dignitaries during his trip to Asia, all thanks to an aspect of him that was once believed to be a detriment.

Mattis’s extensive military experience was a point of contention during his confirmation hearing, with many Democrats believing his appointment was a threat to a tradition of civilian control of the military. But according to Military Times, Mattis was praised for that very same experience during his first overseas trip. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe referenced Mattis’s military career, saying:

“I was very encouraged,” Abe said, “to see someone like you who has substantial experience, both in the military and in security, defense and diplomacy, taking this office.”

Mattis spent most of his military career focused on the Middle East and Europe, but he is not a stranger to Japan. In 1972, as a lieutenant, Mattis trained in Okinawa, a fact that Prime Minister Abe also referenced:

“So I believe that you are quite familiar with the situation surrounding Japan”

Mattis also visited South Korea, where he received similar praise from the South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-goo. Han discussed how he believed that he and Mattis could build a strong friendship:

“I believe this was possible because we both served as active-duty servicemen for 40-plus years”

Mattis’s praise stands in contrast to what happened in his confirmation hearing. In order to confirm Secretary Mattis, the Senate Committee on Armed Services was required to issue a waiver to bypass a rule that prohibits former service members from holding the position until they are seven years removed from their service.

While Mattis’s military experience was viewed as a possible detriment to his new role as Secretary of Defense, it seems that Mattis may just turn it into his greatest strength.