Secretary of Defense James Mattis is one of the most respected former generals of his generation. He's also widely viewed as the most serious and capable member of President Donald Trump's Cabinet. So why isn't he publicly speaking for the administration more often?
Mattis has yet to conduct a press conference of his own in the Pentagon. He's only appeared on one Sunday news show. He has yet to sit down for a profile of him. When he fields questions from the media en route to some location — which he does fairly often — he usually only answers a few before going off mic.
For a nation at war in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, it would seem only natural for the nation's top defense official to regularly make the case for what the US is trying to accomplish and how those fights are going. But that's not the path Mattis has chosen.
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"Jim himself is what I would call a military mensch," Doug Wilson, a former Pentagon senior spokesperson in the Obama administration, said in an interview. "He's the antithesis of a showboat."
The problem is that leaves the public in the dark as to what the nation's top defense official thinks about US security. Without a trusted leader like Mattis explaining what the DOD is doing — and what it plans to do — it leaves space for the president to send mixed messages about US operations around the world. That only makes it harder for the public and US allies to trust the work of the Pentagon.