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US James Mattis calls Iran ‘biggest destabilizing force’ in region

Trump and Mattis
US President-elect Donald J. Trump’s choice for defense secretary, Gen. James N. Mattis, has told Congress that Iran is the “biggest destabilizing force in the Middle East” and that the United States needs to forge a strategy to “checkmate Iran’s goal for regional hegemony”, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

The retired Marine general provided his written responses on an array of policy questions to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is meeting Thursday morning to take up his nomination for defense secretary, as well as to consider the legal waiver that would be needed so that he could serve in the Pentagon’s top civilian job.

Military officers are barred by law from serving as defense secretary unless they have been retired for seven years. General Mattis left active duty in May 2013.

His responses, contained in a 56-page document that was provided to The New York Times, cover everything from military strategy to personnel policy. The document is intended to serve as a guide to lawmakers who will be questioning General Mattis, and it will become part of the permanent hearing record.

On some issues, General Mattis appeared to take a starker view of the dangers faced by the United States than Mr. Trump. Here are some highlights.

Iraq

General Mattis did not say how many American troops should be kept in Iraq, but he asserted that the United States needed to maintain its influence there long after Mosul was captured from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. “Our principal interest in Iraq is to ensure that it does not become a rump state of the regime in Tehran,” he wrote. “It will be essential to fold any efforts in Iraq following ISIS’s defeat in Mosul into an integrated regional strategy.”

Syria

General Mattis did not offer a solution for the conflict in Syria, which has killed hundreds of thousands. But he described the fighting as a major threat to American national security interests, offering a more alarming view of the crisis than the Obama administration and, at times, than Mr. Trump. “The brutal civil war in Syria has destabilized the Middle East, contributed to the destabilization of Europe and threatened allies like Israel, Jordan and Turkey, all while ISIS, Iran and Russia have profited from the chaos — none of which has been in America’s national interest,” he wrote.

Russia

General Mattis said he supported Mr. Trump’s “desire to engage” with Russia, but he provided a vivid catalog of the potential dangers. “Challenges posed by Russia include alarming messages from Moscow regarding the use of nuclear weapons; treaty violations; the use of hybrid warfare tactics to destabilize other countries; and involvement in hacking and information warfare,” he wrote.

Iran

While the Obama administration has held out hope for better relations with Tehran, General Mattis said he saw Iran as an increasing threat. “Iranian malign influence in the region is growing,” he wrote.

Terrorism

Trump said during the campaign that it might be necessary to “take out” terrorists’ families to win the war against the Islamic State. General Mattis categorically opposes such an approach. “The killing of noncombatants in a war against a nonstate enemy violates Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions,” he wrote. “Legal questions aside, it is my view that such actions would be self-defeating and a betrayal of our ideals.”
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