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Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Defense Department, said during his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday that the world order was “under the biggest attack since World War II.”
“That’s from Russia, from terrorist groups, and with what China is doing in the South China Sea,” Mattis said when asked by Sen. John McCain of Arizona what he thought about the current world order.
McCain, a Russia hawk and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, grilled Mattis about how the retired general thought the US should deal with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
“Putin will never be our partner, including in fighting ISIL,” McCain said. “He believes that strengthening Russia means weakening America. We must proceed realistically on this basis.”
Mattis replied that while “history is not a straitjacket,” he had “never found a better guide for the way ahead than studying the history.”
“Since Yalta, we have a long list of times that we’ve tried to engage positively with Russia,” Mattis said. “We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard.”
Mattis also called NATO “the most successful military alliance, probably, in modern world history, maybe ever,” appearing to break with Trump, who has called NATO “obsolete” and questioned its value to American security.
“We must recognize the reality that Putin is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance,” Mattis said, and “take the necessary steps to defend ourselves where we must.”
Early on in the hearing, Mattis said that while he supported Trump’s desire to engage with Russia, “when we identify other areas where we cannot cooperate, we must confront Russia’s behavior and defend ourselves if Russia chooses to act contrary to our interests.”