By Aaron Mehta, Defense News–

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — The nomination of retired Gen. James Mattis to be President-elect Donald Trump’s first secretary of defense was hailed as a great positive by both Pentagon officials and key defense allies this weekend.

Attendees at the Reagan National Defense Forum, held Dec. 3 outside of Los Angeles, California, were downright effusive when discussing Mattis, who would be the first retired general since George Marshall to hold the top Pentagon spot.

The praise started on the first panel, where Sen. Lindsey Graham, the influential South Carolina Republican, praised the pick as “outstanding,” in part for the message it sends that “we are going to have a different relationship with the Arab world and Iran.”

“I know they don’t like this in Tehran, so that’s one reason I’m going to vote for him,” Graham said.

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The praise continued later in the day, with Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, simply replying “no” when asked if he had any concerns about the Mattis choice, particularly in regard to civilian-military control. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made it clear he also has no problem with the choice, congratulating the retired general and saying: “I’ve worked with Jim for many years, he’s a friend, and I hold him in the highest regard.”

Bob Work, Carter’s deputy, joined in the praise, telling reporters after the conference that everyone who has worked with Mattis should share “great confidence” in what the Marine will bring to the table.

“The secretary of defense is the CEO of the largest corporation on the planet. He represents three million men and women in uniform and government civilians,” Work said while in transit back to Washington. “The first thing you can look for is someone who can inspire the workforce, and I think that’s one thing everyone can agree Gen. Mattis will be able to do.”

But perhaps the most interesting — and notable — endorsements came from the defense ministers for the United Kingdom, Norway and Singapore, a trio of key allies who made it clear throughout the conference that they were looking for clarity on what Trump’s foreign policies may entail.

All three ministers were quick to note that Mattis represents a known quantity to their militaries, and expressed confidence that he could provide a tether between the policies of the Obama and Trump Pentagons.

While noting she did not have much experience with the man directly, Norwegian Defence Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide said she received a number of texts from people who had dealt with the former general, including those in the special forces and a former ambassador to NATO, that were “very positive.”

“He is a person who has shown himself a very good partner to cooperate with in the military,” she said. “So it seems like a good choice.”

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And Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said officers in his military have “the highest regard” for Mattis.

“America has shown commitment in the Asia-Pacific region, total committed to the region,” Ng said. “I believe that if Gen. Mattis is confirmed he will continue to do so, and I look forward to working with him.”

As for the UK, America’s closest strategic partner, Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon was downright effusive.

“I thoroughly welcome this appointment and wrote a note of congratulations to James Mattis yesterday on his nominations, and I hope that goes through to confirmation,” Fallon said. “I’m looking forward to working with him, as does our military, who know him very well from Iraq and Afghanistan. He has that combination of combat and command experience, including command experience in NATO, so this is a very welcome pick.”

Asked what his priorities would be with a Secretary Mattis, Fallon highlighted the ongoing operations against the Islamic State group, but noted discussions would naturally go to other areas — including the future of NATO.


[-elect] Trump described NATO as obsolete,” Fallon said with a small smile. “That’s not our language, but we agree NATO needs to reform, needs to reform its structures, its decision-making, the way you can deploy forces rapidly at times of tension. I look forward to working with [Mattis] on that.”

Fallon also expressed hope that Mattis would continue the technology push spearheaded by Carter and Work, noting that the UK in September launched its own plan for developing the future of military technology.

“The third offset strategy, as Secretary Carter described it, has to be the future. It is technology, in the end, which is going to come to our aid when we are dealing with some of these very complex threats nowadays, so I hope the new administration will continue that work.”