Michael Swartz / Jan. 13, 2017

Trump National Security Nominees on the Hot Seat

Mattis, Kelly and Pompeo each face the Senate.

Three of President-elect Donald Trump’s selections for key national security posts in the administration sat through their Senate confirmation hearings this week, giving those who would vote on them the opportunity to pepper them with questions.

Giving the broadest perspective was Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, tapped to be secretary of defense, who spent much of his time discussing our allies and how he sees the prospect of rebuilding a military that has fallen away from full strength through overuse and neglect. In Mattis’ view, our alliances such as NATO were part of a “world order” that has endured for the last 70 years — but this period of order is “under the biggest attack since World War II” thanks to more aggressive Russian and Chinese policy.

Mattis also vowed, “If you confirm me, my watchwords will be solvency and security in providing for the protection of our people and the survival of our freedoms.” The erudite, well-read retired general may be at odds with Trump, though, on the benefits of NATO and the degree of danger Russia presents, making him a curious choice to some observers.

Naturally, the Left was most interested in whether Mattis would continue the social engineering put in place by Barack Obama’s SecDef, Ashton Carter, and his testimony was perhaps the most politically correct answer he could muster. “I’m not concerned about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with,” said Mattis, although it should be noted that the consenting adults in question weren’t necessarily in the military. Given his history, leftists should fear that Mattis will rollback their ill-gotten “gains.” Time will tell.

On a different front, fellow retired Gen. John Kelly, nominated as Trump’s choice to run Homeland Security, made the case that security was more than a wall. Instead, the best way to have a secure border comes from what Kelly described as a “layered approach” that enlists nations supplying our illegal aliens and illicit drugs in dealing with the issues within their own borders — even if it involves additional foreign aid.

Like Mattis, Kelly is coming into a job where morale is low due to the high stress placed on those in their respective arenas. Whether it’s the officer deployed for months on end in theater with overly restrictive rules of engagement or the Border Patrol agent who’s outgunned by those who traffic in drugs and human cargo, those serving in the military or in Homeland Security are crying out for new leadership.

Yet in echoing the thrust of the remarks given by Gen. Mattis, Kelly’s ideas reveal an approach that differs from those issues Trump ran on. Whether it was a strategy Trump used intentionally in not surrounding himself with “yes men” or if this divergence of opinions will eventually create friction enough to force one or both men to leave before Trump does remains to be seen; however, it’s a change from the blind obedience that the outgoing administration seemed to value.

This diversity of opinion continued with Trump’s pick to head up the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo. Prodded by Democrats fearful of bringing back the enhanced interrogation techniques favored by the incoming president, Pompeo promised to follow the law that currently prohibits the practices — not that he thought Trump would really push the issue. Pompeo testified, “I can’t imagine I’ll be asked” to use those techniques.

And while he talked tough enough on Russia to further distance himself from Trump, Pompeo noted his key priority was stopping the Islamic State.

Of the three national security nominees, it’s widely thought Pompeo has the easiest path to confirmation, in part because he’s a known factor among those in Congress and also because he had a relatively smooth confirmation hearing. Regardless, assuming all three men are confirmed, we’ll see a completely different approach to national security in the areas of projecting power, border security and intelligence gathering. After the last eight years, many believe we have nowhere to go but upward in each of these areas.

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