Retired Gen. James "Mad Dog" Mattis, a hardliner on Iran and a revered figure in the Marine Corps, would make an excellent choice for defense secretary, President-elect Donald Trump said Sunday.
Trump has made no final decisions for the top Pentagon post among a number of candidates on his short list. Even so, he tweeted that the 66-year-old "General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General's General!"
Trump met with Mattis for more than an hour Saturday at the residence off the President-elect's golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Trump later told reporters that he's made no final decisions on the defense secretary nomination but said of Mattis: "All I can say is he is the real deal. He is the real deal." He also called Mattis a "brilliant, wonderful man."
If chosen by Trump and he accepted the nomination, Mattis would need a waiver from Congress from the rule barring military officers from accepting a post requiring Senate confirmation for seven years after retirement.
Mattis retired as commander of U.S. Central Command covering the Mideast and Afghanistan in 2013. However, Mattis maintained good relations with Democrats and Republicans during his career, testifying frequently at Capitol Hill hearings, and a waiver would likely pose little difficulty with Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress.
Mattis also has a fan in Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who would preside over hearings on a defense secretary nominee.
"I'm a great admirer of Gen. Mattis," McCain told the Daily Beast. A Mattis nomination "would require a waiver, but that has happened in the past," McCain said.
Trump is also said to be considering retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, who retired in 2011 to accept the post of CIA director in the Obama administration, for secretary of defense or possibly secretary of state. The chances of Petraeus getting a waiver from Congress or even a security clearance were more problematic.
The married Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information for sharing classified information with his then-girlfriend, Paula Broadwell.
A Petraeus nomination would be sure to draw comparisons to Trump's frequent charges during the campaign that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton should be prosecuted for alleged mishandling of classified information on her private email server.
The possible choice of Mattis for defense secretary would be further evidence that Trump intends to follow through on campaign promises about Iran, Russia, immigration, a border wall and intelligence.
Trump has already announced his intention to nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican and backer of Trump on deportations and a wall along the Mexican border, and Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican who has called for expanded surveillance by intelligence agencies and a possible return to "enhanced interrogation techniques," as CIA director.
Trump has also said he will appoint retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as his White House National Security Advisor. Flynn has backed Trump on closer ties to Russia.
Mattis, who led a task force into Afghanistan and the 1st Marine Division in the invasion of Iraq, reportedly was often at odds with military superiors and the Obama administration with his advocacy for a tougher approach on Iran.
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized the international agreement supported by the U.S., China and Russia to rein in Iran's nuclear programs and pledged that he would either scrap or renegotiate the deal.
Others believed to be under consideration for Defense Secretary were Jim Talent, a retired Republican senator from Missouri; Stephen Hadley, former national-security adviser under President George W. Bush; and Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and Army captain who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.