WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump’s defense secretary nominee, retired Gen. James Mattis, has been very clear in recent years that he’s not pleased politicians have pushed the military to accept women in combat and openly gay service members.
Under questioning at his confirmation hearing Thursday, he refused to disavow those opinions, or guarantee that he would not try to roll back inclusive changes in the armed forces.
The questions were raised by women senators, and while Mattis was careful not to denigrate women or LGBTQ soldiers, he also declined to repudiate a string of his past comments read to him by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
In one, from a 2014 speech, he said “eros” would be a problem for men and women in combat, and that putting women in such situations was “not setting them up for success.” He added that only someone who had never been in combat “would promote such an idea.”
Gillibrand also pointed to his summary of a number of his complaints, including a mention that service by openly gay members of the military was “an accretion of social conventions that are diminishing the combat power of our military, disregarding our war-fighting practitioners’ advice.”
Asked if he still thought “eros” was a problem, Mattis didn’t say, only indicating that he thought it was his job to deal with what the politicians had decreed.
“If we are executing policies like this, we had better train leaders so they can handle all things from a policy decided in this town,” Mattis said.
Asked if he thought women or gay service members undermined military strength, Mattis also dodged.
“My belief is that we have to stay focused on a military that is so lethal that on the battlefield, it’ll be the enemy’s longest day and their worst day when they run into that force,” he said.
Asked again, he declared, “Frankly, Senator, I’ve never cared much about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with.”
Gillibrand was worried about more than just his opinions, and asked if he planned to roll back the changes. He said he did not, but nevertheless left himself an out.
“I believe that right now, the policies that are in effect, unless a service chief brings something to me where there has been a problem that’s been proven, then I’m not going in with the idea that I am going to be reviewing these, and right away start rolling something back,” Mattis said.