President-elect Donald Trump choosing retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis as his secretary of defense would break with decades of U.S. military history, putting a retired senior military officer in the job 65 years after Congress passed legislation that said it was “the sense” of lawmakers that “no additional appointments of military men to that office shall be approved.”
The legislation allowed Army Gen. George C. Marshall to serve as secretary of defense under President Truman. Marshall, then a five-star general, served as secretary of defense for a year from 1950 to 1951 after previously serving as Truman’s secretary of state from 1947 to 1949, overseeing the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II.
Mattis, 66, met with Trump on Saturday at his golf club in Bedminster Township, N.J., and Trump tweeted the following day that the general was “very impressive” and under consideration to be Pentagon chief. Mattis retired from active duty in May 2013 as the top officer in U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Middle East, and is perhaps the most popular senior officer of his generation.