Last April, retired Gen. James Mattis stood in front of an august audience at the Center for Security and International Studies in Washington and declared, “The Iranian regime, in my mind, is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.” This was quite a statement, given the challenges posed by ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Syrian civil war, and Russia’s first military intervention in the Middle East in 30 years. But for Mattis,the priority was crystal clear: Iran.
Fast forward six months, and President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Mattis to be the next U.S. secretary of defense. Ironically enough, the man who places such a high priority on countering Iran’s bad behavior may turn out to be one of the new administration’s biggest supporters of the Iran Nuclear deal that aims to curb the country’s nuclear programs, which Trump criticized throughout his presidential campaign.
To understand why, it’s worth taking a closer look at his military background. Mattis’s focus on Iran is shaped by the U.S. military’s experiences over the past 35 years. The 1983 Marine Barracks attack by Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah bombers killed 241 service members, leaving an indelible mark, especially for Marines such as Mattis. The 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, sponsored by Iran, killed 19 Americans. And most recently, Iranian-armed Shia proxy groups in Iraq were responsible for roughly 1,000 American fatalities during the eight years of the Iraq War.
Read the full commentary at Fortune.