By John Ubaldi,

When President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in next month, he will face enormous international challenges from day one. His announced selection yesterday of retired Marine Corps General James Mattis to be his Secretary of Defense will help him. But whom he selects as Secretary of State will be crucial.

New Foreign Policy Will Have Global Consequences

With the campaign over, statements often made in the heat of verbal battle fall victim to reality. Now the direction Trump’s foreign policy will take will have global consequences. The most important statement Trump can make, and one that would reassure our allies and send a strong signal to our adversaries, will be his choice for Secretary of State.

Mattis’ appointment to be Secretary of Defense will require a waiver from Congress because of a law that requires military veterans to have a seven-year grace period before assuming a senior-level civilian defense position. Barring any legal hiccup, Mattis will be confirmed.

As soon as Trump is sworn into office he will have to deal with the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Currently, military operations are being conducted against the ISIS-held Iraqi city of Mosul and the Islamic State capital of Raqqa in Syria.

Crucial Decisions Will Be Needed Once ISIS is Defeated

No matter how military operations progress, the U.S. will have to make crucial decisions on how to move forward once ISIS is defeated on the battlefield.

What strategy will Trump take with regard to postwar Iraq and Syria? How will Trump deal with Syria and its embattled leader President Bashar al-Assad, who is currently backed by Russia and Iran? How will Trump deal with this changing situation in light of recent statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin that there will be dire consequences if anyone attacks Syrian forces?

Will President Trump’s Attitude Change toward Russian President Putin?

With all of Trump’s past statements regarding Russia, reality will now be front and center. How will he deal with Putin’s deep involvement in the Syrian civil war? What about Moscow’s action in eastern Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea, its continued provocations against the Baltic states, which incidentally are NATO member countries?

This would be trouble enough, but Trump also has to deal with the failure of President Obama’s Middle East strategy including a Palestinian-Israeli peace accord. Obama campaigned on ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he now leaves Trump with five ongoing conflicts all with varying degrees of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq.

If that weren’t bad enough, Trump will have to deal with an assertive Iran, which the Sunni Arabs and Israel believe is the real threat to regional stability. The very countries we need to defeat ISIS view the threat entirely different from the U.S. So how will President Trump deal with this complex situation?

Any Sign of US Weakness Will Embolden China

Whatever decision Trump makes for his top Cabinet post will have ramifications in other regions of the world. China is closely watching how the U.S. deals with these critical and complex challenges, and any sign of weakness will further embolden Beijing.

The Obama administration’s strategic disengagement has further complicated matters across the globe, especially with our allies that believe the U.S. is retrenching from the Middle East. This has sent a signal to our adversaries that America is a diminished power.

It would serve Trump well, therefore, to select a serious foreign policy practitioner instead of a political loyalist to this crucial and pivotal position in national security.

Internal Power Struggle In Trump Camp over Mitt Romney

Currently, there is an internal power struggle going on inside the Trump transition team. The loyalists who supported Trump from the beginning are pitted against the establishment Republicans over whether former presidential nominee Mitt Romney should be the next Secretary of State.

Throughout the presidential campaign Romney was one of Trump’s most vocal critics, often making disparaging comments about why Trump should not be president.

Trump loyalists, led by former Republican speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, are therefore adamantly opposed to Romney as Secretary of State.

Other Trump loyalists campaigning for the position include former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, and retired General David Petraeus.

Considering that Trump brings virtually no international experience to the White House, does he want someone loyal to him or does he seek a serious national security professional?

Secretary of State: Giuliani or Romney? Who Will Trump Select?

Does Trump choose a loyalist in Giuliani or an establishment choice in Romney? What about a political foreign policy expert like Corker, or a conservative ideologue like Bolton? Or does he choose a national security practitioner such as Petraeus?

At this crucial period the president-elect will not have the luxury of easing into the office on an initial “honeymoon” as past presidents have had. Foreign policy will test Trump, so why not have a steady and experience hand as Secretary of State?

The candidates all have impressive resumes, but none has been involved in making national security policy. Meeting foreign leaders is a step forward, but actually instituting national security policy is another matter.

The logical choice for Secretary of State would be General Petraeus.

Petraeus is well known for being the leading architect for saving Iraq from the brink of collapse with his innovative counter-insurgency strategy, and he instituting the same transformation in Afghanistan. He knows the Middle East region from his service as ground commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and having served as commanding general of U.S. Central Command.

Petraeus Well-Versed in all Aspects of National Security

Petraeus is well versed in all aspects of national security, having instituted national security strategic policy. He is a well-known commodity around the globe, which has given him the opportunity of working with many world leaders especially in the Middle East. Petraeus’ only blot on his impressive military career is a misdemeanor conviction for giving classified information to his biographer.

If Trump wants to focus on reviving the U.S. economy, why not have a Secretary of State who knows the Middle East? Who knows the leaders? Who knows the complexities of the region? More importantly, as a general he brings power that the leaders in the region respect.

Petraeus Selection Would Show US is Resurgent Again

Selecting Petraeus will also transcend the Middle East and will show Moscow, Tehran and Beijing that America is resurgent and will not be dismissed again.

Petraeus would give Trump someone who knows the issues and the leaders of the various countries we will need to defeat ISIS and repair the fractured relationship between the U.S. and some of its allies.

An added bonus is that Petraeus and Mattis have worked together, first when they co-authored the new counter-insurgency manual and then when both served in the Middle East.

Previous administrations had to deal with infighting between State and Defense, with the most notable example being the conflict between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the early years of the George W. Bush administration. Mattis and Petraeus would know their mandates and would work in strategic harmony to give Trump the best strategic advice.