Although Mattis retired from active duty in 2013, he will require a congressional waiver in order to serve. There has already been enmity to the waiver. New York’s junior senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says she will oppose the waiver.
The Trump team is shaping up to be an administration of die-hard Iran hawks, with the decision to put retired Gen. Michael Flynn at the NSC and Mattis in the Pentagon. This all aligns with Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
In September 2015, Trump addressed a rally opposing the the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and declared that the deal allows Iran to “rip us off, take our money, and make us look like fools.” The United States is “going to get nothing” from the deal, he said, because we “are led by very, very stupid people.” His contempt for the Iran Deal extends to US non-proliferation policy in general. During his campaign he told CNN that he wouldn’t object if Saudi Arabia, Japan, or South Korea obtained nuclear weapons, since proliferation is “going to happen anyway.”
Iran is viewed by the foreign-policy establishment as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” because of AIPAC sponsored agitprop. With Mattis installed as Secretary of Defense, Trump’s inclination to scrap the Iran deal, and pursue policy to isolate, contain, and punish Iran would be encouraged.
Mattis already declared that Iran “is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.” He seeks links to connect the Salafi terror network ISIS to Iran. In April, he tried to make the link explicit, saying, “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 that ISIS creates. What,” he asked, “is the one country in the Middle East that has not been attacked by ISIS? One. And it’s Iran. That is just more than happenstance, I’m sure.”
His soon to be colleague, Michael Flynn, sought to tie the Benghazi attacks to Tehran, when he was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Coming of the heels of the the unanimously vote for the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), which extends the sanctions on Iran by 10 years, the Mattis nomination proves that there’s a new climate for Iranian policy in Washington.
Iran’s reaction was swift, as head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, called the extension a “clear violation” of the deal.
Surely the JCPOA is in jeopardy, especially since the plan had the support of only 42 Democratic senators. And Trump filled his national-security team with hard-line Iran hawks, determined to see Iran and what is said to be its sphere of influence, the so-called “Shia crescent”, as the primary threat to peace and stability in the Middle East, while turning a blind eye to the influence of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and saying nothing about the presence of Israeli settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
If the nomination of Mattis is any indication of things to come, Trump’s promise to pursue an “America First” foreign policy may prove to be, like much else about the president-elect, just talk.