Breaking with President-elect Donald Trump, James Mattis said Thursday in his confirmation hearing to be defense secretary that he supports a permanent U.S. military presence in the Baltics to deter Russia — and reiterated that he believes the U.S. must stick to the Iran nuclear deal even if it is flawed.
The retired Marine Corps general initially tried to dodge the question on Eastern Europe, saying he’d wait until Trump’s national security team was in place. But when panel Chairman John McCain pressed, Mattis said he agreed: “I do, sir.”
Mattis separately described Moscow as “raising grave concerns on several fronts.”
His remarks, including a strong endorsement of the NATO military alliance, are a departure from Trump, who has been accused of cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has repeatedly denigrated NATO and other U.S. alliances on the campaign trail under the banner of “America First.”
Trump has also promised to rip up the 2015 agreement to lift sanctions on Iran in return for the Islamic Republic freezing its nuclear weapons program, a deal that was reached with several nations, including Russia.
Mattis, who retired from the military as a four-star general in 2013, repeatedly touted the importance of international partnerships during his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“History is clear: nations with strong allies thrive and those without them wither,” Mattis said.
Mattis also said he was a strong supporter of NATO in a lengthy questionnaire he provided to the panel. “NATO is central to our defense,” Mattis said. “I believe the alliance must harness renewed political will to confront and walk back aggressive Russian actions and other threats to the security of its members.”
His overall views are almost certain to play well among members of the Senate Armed Services panel, which is made up of some of the biggest defense hawks in both parties — including a number of senators who are very concerned about Trump’s disparagement of global alliances and his e