Jim Mattis is a military legened. With the nickname “Mad Dog”, Mattis served his country in the Marine Corps and earned the rank of a general.
When Donald Trump appointed him as his Secretary of Defense, it was a move that earned bipartisan praise. And for his first holiday season in office, he spent it with his troops in Guantanamo Bay.
Mattis went to Cuba, the first defense secretary to visit the base since Donald Rumsfeld did in 2002.
He said that he wanted to offer the troops stationed there some holiday cheer and to let them know that the work they’re doing there is being appreciated.
He also defended the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which has been controversial, and which Barack Obama unsuccessfully tried to close.
“I am confident that we’re doing the right thing here,” he said. He then mentioned a conversation that he had with a woman earlier, who said that the base was a “blot on our nation”.
But when he invited her to visit the base with him, she said no. “That shut her up. She didn’t have anything more to say to me,” he said.
The troops seemed to have one major question for Mattis: what is going to happen with North Korea?
While he said that the goal was to come to a diplomatic solution, he also made no bones about what would happen if diplomatic talks fail.
“If we have to do it (militarily), we expect to make it the worst day in North Korea’s life,” he said, adding that if war comes, “every submarine he’s got is to be sunk and every ship he’s got is to be sunk,” he vowed. At a rifle range, he told a group of Marines that North Korea is a “not yet imminent but a direct threat to the United States”.
He also told the troops stationed at Guantanamo Bay, as well as at Mayport Naval Station, that they must remain prepared for war.
“You must be ready, and you must demonstrate you’re ready” in order to improve the chances of a peaceful resolution,” he said. “I need you to be at the top of your game.”
Mattis also directly contradicted Obama, calling for Guantanamo Bay to remain open, despite Obama’s failed attempts to close it. “We need this base badly,” he argued.
Trump has yet to release any prisoners, while Obama freed five prisoners in exchange for the return of Bowe Bergdahl, who deserted his post in Afghanistan.
At this moment, 41 prisoners remain in the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
In addition to talking about North Korea, Mattis spoke strongly about Iran this month. “Everywhere you find turmoil [in the Middle East], you find Iran’s hand in it,” he said.
“Everywhere you find turmoil [in the Middle East], you find #Iran’s hand in it.”— Israel Foreign Min. (@IsraelMFA) December 19, 2017
“We find Iran actively engaged in keeping [Syrian President Bashar] Assad in power, despite the murder of his own people on the industrial scale, including the use of chemical weapons,” Mattis said.
“We see what [Iran has] done with Lebanese Hezbollah in Lebanon and the threat to peace and the support they’ve given to Assad and the threat to Israel, for example.”
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