Best Defense

Marines on top: Defense Secretary James Mattis must be feeling good about this lineup

If anybody in the White House wants to mess with Mattis, they’re going to have to go through Kelly.



That is, the new White House chief of staff, erstwhile Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, is a retired Marine general. Indeed, in 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, he was assistant commander of the 1st Marine Division under James Mattis, now the secretary of Defense.

And then there’s the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Joseph Dunford, another old comrade of Mattis.

If anybody in the White House wants to mess with Mattis, they’re going to have to go through Kelly.

I don’t know how the selection of Kelly will affect the standing of Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor. On the one hand, military minds tend to be simpatico. On the other, they also tend to be rank conscious — and Kelly, who wore four stars, outranks McMaster’s three stars. One wonders if President Donald Trump will turn to Kelly for military advice, especially if he doesn’t like what he is hearing from McMaster.

As a friend notes, these guys — McMaster, Mattis, and Kelly — need to get their act coordinated before a major foreign-policy crisis hits. Especially, he adds, as they are working with a weak secretary of State and truly ignorant president and vice president.

A footnote: One characteristic of Marines is an appreciation of Congress. This is in part because Marines are taught that the Corps only exists because the American people want it to exist. Indeed, Kelly has served an assignment on Capitol Hill as the chief legislative liaison for the Marine Corps. This makes me think that he might prioritize getting Trump to treat members of Congress better — that is, not as underlings to be ordered about, but as independent power centers to be supplicated.

Photo credit: Sgt. MALLORY S. VANDERSCHANS/U.S. Marine Corps

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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