Donald Trump’s impending appointment of retired Marine four-star general James Mattis has gotten generally good reviews on both sides of the aisle. The so-called “warrior monk” is one of the most highly respected military men of his generation. As we should we have expected, though, substantive attacks on Mattis are on the rise, and they echo the reason why President Obama fired him from his command at CENTCOM in 2013: his belief that Iran is a strategic threat to the United States and his refusal to acquiesce to a policy of appeasement of Tehran.

Mark Perry puts forward this view of Mattis as being irrationally obsessed with Iran in a Politico Magazine piece published on Sunday. It attributes his attitude toward Iran as the inevitable result of Marine tribal grudges that date back to the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut as well as to the casualties suffered by the Corps during the Iraq war. In both cases, Iranian-backed terrorists were the culprits and, according to Perry—who quoted numerous administration sources—that gave the general a distorted perspective on the Middle East. Yet if the worst anyone can say of Mattis is that he remains unconvinced by the idea that Iran wants, as President Obama put it, “to get right with the world,” then having him at the table in the White House situation room sounds like a good idea.

Perry’s thesis is that Marines can’t let go of their loses at the hands of terrorists financed by Iran. So, he says, Mattis finds Iran’s unseen hand in unrelated calamities like the rise of ISIS, even if the supporting evidence is scant. Perry believes Mattis couldn’t let go of the idea that Iran was an ally of ISIS rather than an enemy. He sees this sort of thinking as a rerun of George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” thesis, in which all of America’s terrorist foes were viewed as being somehow connected rather than as distinct pieces on a complex foreign-policy chessboard. He also sees Mattis’s hostility to Iran as blinding him to the even more potent strategic threat posed to the U.S. by a resurgent Russia.

However, one doesn’t have to be unconcerned about Russia to understand the serious nature of the threat from Iran. In fact, as the Obama administration often forgets and Donald Trump seems not to know, Iran and Russia are now working toward the same cause in Syria. Their joint efforts will keep Bashar al-Assad in power in Damascus, something that ensures that ISIS will continue to be seen by Sunnis as the only force defending their interests. Both have also concentrated on helping Assad slaughter the non-ISIS rebels while ignoring the forces of the Islamic State in Syria.

Moreover, while not every threat in the world can be traced back to Tehran, the fact remains that even Obama’s State Department continues to assert that Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran’s drive for regional hegemony, aided by Obama’s appeasement and the collapse of international sanctions against the regime, seems to be quite compatible with Vladimir Putin’s effort to reconstruct the old Soviet empire.

As for the institutional memory of the Marines that Perry seems to deprecate, much of the last eight years of U.S. foreign policy hinged on a willingness to ignore history or to pretend that it is meaningless. That’s what led the administration to throw away all of the West’s leverage over Iran in exchange for a deal that, at best, only postpones their quest for a nuclear weapon for a decade.

Mattis seems to be enough of a student of history to be able to tell the difference between mindless antagonism and a healthy skepticism about an Islamist state that remains bent on extending its reach throughout the Middle East. While Mattis has been justly chided for mimicking the conventional wisdom of the foreign-policy establishment about Israel and the Palestinians with regard to unfair and one-sided criticisms of the Jewish state, his views on Iran seem grounded in both reality and sound analysis. Time will tell as to whether his performance as secretary of defense lives up to the expectations that his Marine career has set for him. If he remains suspicious of Iran, that will already be an improvement on some of his predecessors.

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