January 11, 2017

CNAS Briefing: Key Questions for the Mattis Confirmation Hearing

As General James Mattis (USMC, Ret.) is set to face a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to be the next secretary of defense, experts from the Center for a New American Security have prepared a series of questions they would like the members of the committee to ask during the hearing. The full list of questions is available below:

Syria, Iraq, and ISIS

  • The current approach to fighting ISIS in Syria turns in part on the assumption that the Assad regime's misrule is a generator of violent extremism, and that so long as Assad remains in power, this phenomenon will continue. If this is correct, no amount of military force will destroy ISIS (or its ideological successor) completely without Assad's departure and an improvement in Syrian governance. Do you agree with this analysis, and what do you believe are the necessary political complements to our military effort to destroy ISIS? – CNAS President Richard Fontaine


  • The United States has been heavily focused on the counter-ISIS fight and seems to have made significant progress in the last two years in rolling back the caliphate. However, much work remains to be done in both Mosul and Raqqa. In the meantime, there is an extremist safe-haven in Idlib province in northwest Syria that is controlled by a group that until a few months ago was formerly affiliated with al Qaeda. What shifts in strategy and approach do you recommend for the counter-ISIS fight in Eastern Syria and Western Iraq? How do you suggest the United States respond to the extremist safe-haven in the Northwest? Will it be necessary to put more American forces on the ground or take direct actions in these areas? – CNAS Middle East Security Program Director Ilan Goldenberg


  • Russia's military incursions in Ukraine and its bombing of civilians in Syria has violated international norms and law. Moreover, the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia intervened in the electoral process to help elect Donald Trump. What is your view of President Putin, his strategic calculus, and the threat Russia poses to Europe and the West? As secretary of defense, will you commit to fully supporting the NATO alliance, and how will you approach the urgent task of countering Russia's nefarious activities in Eastern Europe and the Middle East? – CNAS Executive Vice President Shawn Brimley


  • In February of last year, the Obama administration announced a FY2017 Defense Department funding request of $3.4 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI). This money is intended to support a persistent, rotational U.S. air, land, and sea presence in Europe in the name of reassuring U.S. allies and deterring Russian aggression. ERI also helps support exercises and training with NATO allies and partners and augment prepositioned equipment on Europe soil. What are your thoughts on ERI? Do you support this funding? Should it be increased or decreased for any reason? – CNAS Strategy and Statecraft Program Director Julianne Smith


  • During his campaign, President-elect Trump suggested that the U.S. meet its Article 5 commitments in NATO only in cases where the alliance member in question was spending the suggested 2 percent of GDP on defense. Do you support that idea? – CNAS Strategy and Statecraft Program Director Julianne Smith


  • China is engaged in a major program of land reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea. The Defense Department's chief response has centered on conducting freedom of navigation exercises in the region. Yet sailing around China's newly-militarized features, or flying over them, does not roll back the effort to construct such installations, nor does it limit Beijing's growing ability to project power far from its shores. What role should the U.S. military play, if any, in dealing with this broader challenge in the South China Sea? – CNAS President Richard Fontaine


  • China's destabilizing activities in the Asia-Pacific, particularly its recent placement of anti-aircraft radars and missiles on various newly created "islands" in international waters, threatens to put U.S. naval vessels and aircraft at perpetual risk during normal maritime operations and transit through the South China Sea. U.S. reaction to these developments has been slow, halting, and tepid. ###u– CNAS Executive Vice President Shawn Brimley


  • You have publicly argued that Iran represents the biggest strategic challenge to the United States in the Middle East and is the driver behind much of the instability in the region. However, you have also publicly stated that at this point walking away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action may not be possible given that it will be very difficult to reapply the sanctions regime, especially if the United States is seen as the party that broke the deal. Do you still believe that it is not possible at this moment to walk away from the Iran Deal? What kind of policies and steps do you recommend to push back against Iran's destabilizing behavior in the Middle East? – CNAS Middle East Security Program Director Ilan Goldenberg


  • Secretary Carter and his predecessors initiated several reforms to the recruitment, retention, management, and development of today's force as well as DoD civilians. Many of these reforms are in the early stages of implementation or are pending congressional action. – CNAS Deputy Director of Studies Loren DeJonge Schulman


  • The president-elect, the National Defense Authorization Act, and many other experts have highlighted a need to streamline and appropriately size DoD quarters staff and processes, with Mr. Trump calling for a hiring freeze of civilians. However, at the same time Mr. Trump called for a significant expansion of force structure, highlighted defense acquisition and management processes in need of reform, and implied a need for change in approach in many defense activities, all of which require civilian manpower and expertise. Given those priorities, as secretary, would you still support a hiring freeze or headquarters cuts of DoD civilians, or how would you advise the president-elect to approach this matter? – CNAS Deputy Director of Studies Loren DeJonge Schulman

Women in the Military

  • Female soldiers, airman, sailors, and marines have been a part of the U.S. Armed Forces for decades. Secretary Carter has made it possible for women to compete for positions in combat units (e.g. infantry, special forces etc.). A growing number of women are successfully completing combat training for the U.S. Army Rangers, Marine Corps infantry units etc. ###u – CNAS Executive Vice President Shawn Brimley

Military Technological Superiority, Third Offset, and Acquisitions Reform

  • The United States military will always derive its advantage from the quality of the men and women serving in uniform. However, other nations and terrorist groups are rapidly improving their military technology, undermining another longstanding source of American military advantage. How acute do you believe this challenge to be and how would you address it as secretary? What new or additional resources do you believe you require in order to keep the United States ahead? – CNAS Technology and National Security Program Director Ben FitzGerald

  • The previous administration was very focused on innovation and reaching out to Silicon Valley. Will you seek to continue this agenda? If so, how will you improve it? If not, what is your alternative approach to improving the ways in which the DoD does business? Specifically, what are your thoughts on the future of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental? – CNAS Technology and National Security Program Director Ben FitzGerald  
  • Meaningful acquisition reform has eluded many of your predecessors. Over the past two years, this committee has enacted some of the most sweeping legislative acquisition reform legislation in a generation. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act changed the structure of the current Acquisition, Technology and Logistics organization and the 2016 NDAA provided new authorities, many of which the department has not used. What is your vision for improving the ways in which the DoD acquires technology and how will you capitalize on the reforms led by this committee? – CNAS Technology and National Security Program Director Ben FitzGerald  
  • The Department of Defense has taken steps to offset other major powers’ improvements in conventional capabilities designed to hinder U.S. power projection in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East. Senior defense officials have described this effort – officially named the Third Offset Strategy – as key to strengthening America’s conventional deterrent for the coming decades. The Third Offset Strategy has emphasized investments in artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics, and human-machine teaming. Will you support a continued, dedicated effort to harness these and other emerging technologies to maintain U.S. military technological superiority? Give the fact that much of this innovation comes from the commercial sector, what steps will you take to ensure the U.S. military has access to the most advanced technologies? – CNAS Defense Strategies and Assessments Program Research Associate Alexander Velez-Green

Role of the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council

  • What is your view on the proper role of the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs in providing advice to the commander-in-chief? And what, if anything, do you plan to do to ensure that there is a clear division of labor between you and Chairman Dunford? – CNAS Executive Vice President Shawn  Brimley


  • Relations between the Department of Defense and the National Security Council staff have been stressed in recent years, with accusations - valid or not – of micromanagement of military operations and disputes over the scope and process of the development of military options for the president. ###u – CNAS Deputy Director of Studies Loren DeJonge Schulman

Fighting Online

  • The persistent evolution of communication technologies has created an information environment that is complex, impactful, and indispensable for both state and non-state actors. The United States has no choice but to be subjected to this environment, and yet the United States is often ineffective in this domain. The processes and tools the U.S. military uses to conduct information operations are largely disjointed from one another, inhibiting operational success. How do you plan to improve U.S. military operations in the information environment so that the United States operates more effectively and fully appreciates the information environment’s impact on U.S. policy? – CNAS Defense Strategies and Assessments Program Research Associate Adam Routh

Combatant Commands

  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Dunford has highlighted the limitations of the current combatant command structure, both in prioritizing global challenges and in responding to so-called “gray zone” threats. You have more personal experience on this issue than most previous secretaries of defense, given your tours as combatant commander of both Central Command and the now-disbanded Joint Forces Command. Do you share General Dunford’s assessment of the challenges, and, if so, how do you propose this issue can be resolved? – CNAS Defense Strategies and Assessments Program Research Associate Lauren Fish


CNAS experts are available for interviews on the confirmation hearing. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org, or call 202-457-9409.