President Donald Trump’s pick for the top national security job in the Pentagon, Gen. James Mattis, said on Monday that he doesn’t want to be a distraction to his administration’s agenda, but he does want to make sure Americans “don’t be disappointed.”
“The American people don’t expect us to do anything,” Mattis told reporters in the Oval Office.
“I don’t think they expect me to be their ambassador to the world.”
Asked what he’d like the US to do in the Middle East, Mattis said: “I want to see Israel be strong, and Iran be strong.
I want to help our allies.””
I want our military to be stronger, not weaker, and I want our diplomats to be more professional, more thoughtful, and more diplomatic,” he said.
Mattis, who was a four-star general in the Army before becoming secretary of defense, was named to his post on May 26.
The president has said he’s “grateful” for the job, which is being handed over to a “fresh, talented, and experienced” person.
But some Republicans have questioned Mattis’ experience in the military.
He has previously said he was trained to be an officer, not a general.
He has faced questions about his background, including his past record of supporting Israel, which has a long-standing military relationship with the United States.
Mattis also defended Trump’s decision to deploy additional troops to the region, saying the deployment was necessary to defend US interests.
But Democrats have called on Mattis to resign and demand an apology.
“The Trump administration has no business calling Gen. Mattis a ‘war hero’ and a ‘soldier of the United Nations,'” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a statement.
“He has repeatedly stated that he never made a single ‘false’ statement about Israel.
Instead, he has repeatedly defended the United State against false accusations.”
Mattis is also facing scrutiny over his past support for Israel.
In 2013, he wrote a letter to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he said that the U.S. should “take action to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons” and that Israel “would be the first to defend itself.”
“While I am not proud to have endorsed the Netanyahu government’s illegal settlements, I am proud to support Israel’s right to defend its citizens from threats and threats of Iran,” Mattis wrote.
“I will always stand with Israel against any and all attempts to undermine that great nation,” he wrote.
But the Trump administration says Mattis was simply expressing “his personal views.”
“It is not the Secretary’s place to defend or defend the positions of other Cabinet members or the Administration,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.
“The views expressed by the Secretary are his own and are his alone.”
Mattes’ comments came just days after the Israeli parliament passed a resolution condemning the Trump Administration’s “dangerous policies” in the region.
The vote was passed in a vote of 98 to 0, with seven abstentions.
The resolution condemned the Trump’s administration’s policies of “disarming” Iran, “pushing the U to bomb Iran, and imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic.”
It also called on Israel to “immediately and fully withdraw” from any agreement that allows Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, which it has repeatedly denied.
In a statement on Monday, the Trump transition team called the resolution “deeply troubling.”
“We are proud to be leading the world’s largest and most powerful democracy in standing up to this wicked regime and to ensuring that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are countered,” the statement read.
“While Israel is proud of its historic and close relationship with America, we are proud of our ability to confront this wicked Iranian regime in the face of the Iranian regime’s aggression and oppression.”
Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter: @LauraGeggel