President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head Homeland Security is a blunt-talking retired Marine general who would become part of a small but influential team of former military officers with powerful influence over security policy in the next administration.
John Kelly is a widely respected combat leader who served as an enlisted Marine before becoming an officer and retiring this year after more than 40 years in the service.
“There could be no better choice,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a Marine who served in Iraq. “Marines get stuff done.”
Kelly, 66, is the third retired general and second Marine picked by Trump for top-level administration positions. Trump also chose Jim Mattis, a retired Marine four-star general, to be Defense secretary and retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as national security adviser.
During the campaign, Trump suggested that President Obama had suppressed advice from top military commanders. Now the president-elect appears to be drawing on some of those overlooked leaders.
Trump has said he wanted to overhaul the U.S. strategy to defeat the Islamic State and has spoken favorably of iconic World War II commanders George Patton and Douglas MacArthur.
Kelly and Mattis, along with Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, currently chairman of theJoint Chiefs of Staff, served together in the 2003 Iraq invasion, an experience that drew the men close and helped shaped their views as they rose to top military positions.
Trump appears to be seeking men with combat experience who understand the resolve needed to defeat an enemy on the battlefield. Kelly would replace Jeh Johnson, a lawyer who has served in top government positions, as secretary of Homeland Security.
Those who know Mattis and Kelly say they are thoughtful strategists aware of the limits of military power.
“Words like ‘won’ or ‘victory’ really do not apply when speaking of counterinsurgency operations,” Kelly wrote in an official Marine Corps history. “Insurgencies grow from problems and discontent within a given society.”