The Mattis appointment as defense secretary could prove to be Trump’s most inspired, even given the nightmarish mess brewing abroad. But the media blitz has overdone the idea that Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis is somehow a frenzied, “let me at ’em” gung-ho warrior.
He may be certainly all that (and we hope our enemies focus on the nickname). But he is also probably the most well-read defense secretary we have seen in decades, and his reading extends from Homer and Plutarch to modern strategic studies.
Trump alluded in his announcement to General George S. Patton. And that comparison could be apt — not just because Mattis in rare public moments has used profanity and tough talk as did Patton on frequent occasions. More importantly, though, Patton (who, like William Tecumseh Sherman, is still an enigmatic and often wrongly caricatured figure) was widely read too, and a keen student of biography and history. He often talked candidly not just because he meant what he said, but because it offered another — necessary — combative public side to a contemplative streak sometimes wrongly misunderstood as insufficiently martial.
“Warrior monk” is another sobriquet applied to Mattis, but monk seems also misleading in that few generals are more outgoing, well-traveled, and engaged.
He may be part “Swamp” and “Desert” Fox — but Jim “Clever Fox” Mattis seems the best fit.