News and Commentary

5 Things You Need To Know About Trump Homeland Security Pick John Kelly

It is being reported that President-elect Donald Trump will select retired Marine Gen. John Kelly to be his Homeland Security Secretary. Trump has not made the offer to Kelly yet, but will announce it next week when Kelly returns to the United States.

Here are five things you need to know about Kelly.

1. He has an extensive military career. Kelly was in the Marines for 40 years. During that timeframe, he commanded the United States Southern Command, covering 32 countries in the Latin America area and focusing on “issues such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as programs to train local militaries,” according to the New York Times.

Kelly also served in Iraq, where he was promoted to brigadier general and led forces in Tikrit, Fallujah and Ramadi. He earned four stars during his time in the Marines.

2. Kelly is a Gold Star father. Both of Kelly’s sons enlisted in the Marines to follow in the footsteps of their father. Unfortunately one of his sons, Robert, was killed from stepping on a mine in 2010 while he served in Afghanistan.

Kelly was scheduled to speak at a Marine Corps birthday celebration four days later, and despite his son’s death, Kelly came through with “one of the most powerful American speeches of the last decade and a half of war”:

Even though most in attendance knew about his loss, as a courtesy it was not mentioned by the officer introducing him, who opened instead with the jaunty anecdote, “Let me share my favorite line from General Kelly when we were in Iraq. .  .  . ‘We’re the United States Marine Corps. We took Iwo Jima. Baghdad ain’t s—.’ ” Taking the podium to raucous applause, Kelly drew a clear moral line from 9/11 through to the fights in both Afghanistan and Iraq: “Our enemy fights for an ideology based on an irrational hatred of who you are. Make no mistake about that no matter what certain elements of our ‘chattering class’ relentlessly churn out.” Kelly expressed dismay about weak support for the war, and about how small the proportion of Americans who served was, before turning to the character of the current generation of Marines.

And what are they like in combat? They’re like Marines have been throughout our history. In my three tours in combat as an infantry officer, I never saw one of them hesitate, or do anything other than lean into the fire and, with no apparent fear of death or injury, take the fight to our enemies. As anyone—and many of you have—who has ever experienced combat knows, when it starts, when the explosions and tracers are everywhere and the calls for the Corpsman are screamed from the throats of men who know they are dying—when seconds seem like hours and it all becomes slow motion and fast forward at the same time, and the only rational act is to stop, get down, save himself. But they don’t. When no one would call them a coward for cowering behind a wall or in a hole, none of them do.

Kelly paused a number of times, clearly fighting back emotion, but never succumbed. He then made the only reference in the speech to Robert: “Like my own two sons who have fought in Iraq and, until last, this week in Afghanistan, they are also the same kids that drove their cars too fast for your liking, and played that God awful music of their generation too loud, but have no doubt they are the finest of their generation.”

Both a video of the speech and a draft of the remarks are available online. In the text, which was presumably written before November 9, the above line reads, “Like my own two sons who are Marines and have fought in Iraq, and today in Sangin, Afghanistan, they are also the same kids .  .  .” Surely that is the cruelest edit that ever had to be made before the delivery of a speech.

Kelly being a Gold Star father contributed to Trump’s decision for selecting him as Homeland Security Secretary, as Trump “wanted people on his national security team who understood personally the hazards of sending Americans into combat,” according to the New York Times.

3. Kelly is “a border security hawk.” His views on border security were looked upon favorably by Trump’s top adviser Steven Bannon, which earned Kelly a meeting with Trump for the Homeland Security position. Kelly testified in 2015 that immigration is “a national security” issue, noting that those who smuggle illegals across the border could do the same for terrorists. Kelly also warned about the presence of the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah terrorist organization in the Latin American region.

“The terrorist group Lebanese Hezbollah, which has long viewed the region as a potential attack venue against Israeli or other Western targets, has supporters and sympathizers in Lebanese diaspora communities in Latin America, some of whom are involved in lucrative illicit activities like money laundering and trafficking in counterfeit goods and drugs,” Kelly said.

4. Kelly has defended Guantanamo Bay. Kelly was actually supposed to enact the Obama administration’s policy of closing down Gitmo, but he vehemently disagreed with the policy and was vocal about it:

“Every one has real, no-kidding intelligence on them that brought them here,” Kelly told the Military Times in November. “They were doing something negative, something bad, something violent, and they were taken from the battlefield. There are a lot of people that will dispute that, but I have dossiers on all of them, built and maintained by the intelligence community, both military and civilian.”

“There are no innocent men down there,” he added.

Kelly has also defended the use of enhanced-interrogation techniques at Gitmo, telling the Washington Post in 2014: “Let’s say it’s all true. That there were excesses and all that kind of thing. I don’t think that changes the balance of what America’s human rights record is at all…I don’t think it changes, certainly, the way we do business in SOUTHCOM.”

5. Kelly has blasted the Obama administration for letting women serve in all military combat jobs. “There will be great pressure, whether it’s 12 months from now, four years from now, because the question will be asked whether we’ve let women into these other roles, why aren’t they staying in those other roles?” Kelly told reporters in January. “If we don’t change standards, it will be very, very difficult to have any numbers — any real numbers — come into the infantry, or the Rangers or the SEALs, but that’s their business.”