When President Donald Trump let loose with a fiery threat this week to North Korea about further threats to the United States, the mainstream media were aghast.

But Trump was a diplomat compared to the man he appointed to run the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary James Mattis is the retired Marine Corps general who used to be known by the nickname “Mad Dog,” and one of his most famous quotes that’s back in the public square lately makes Trump’s threat of “fire and fury” seem like a Sunday school picnic.

The quote was first reported by Thomas Ricks in his book about the 2003 Iraq invasion “Fiasco.” From the name alone, a reader can tell that Ricks was no fan of the invasion itself, but in the segment excerpted by Armed Forces Journal in 2006, a grudging admiration is clear for Mattis, who was a Marine major general at the time.

“After the invasion he sent home his tanks and artillery pieces and went to Iraqi military leaders in each area his troops were in,” Ricks wrote, setting the scene. Then he dropped the bomb:

“I come in peace,” Mattis said. “I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes, if you f*** with me, I’ll kill you all.” 

This isn’t to downplay the power of Trump’s outrage against the North Koreans on Tuesday. (“They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” he said at a brief news conference in New Jersey.)

But for sheer deadliness, for absolute cold-blooded sincerity, it would be just about impossible to beat a Marine Corps general looking an enemy military leader in the face to say, “I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes …”

We’ll remember the rest.

Thanks to Ricks, that’s not the only memorable Mattis statement that’s been recorded for posterity.

Some advice he gave his troops in Iraq included gems like this one:

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” It’s hard to see the Barack Obama inner circle coming out with something like that (except for Valerie Jarrett and maybe Rahm Emmanuel.)

And this one, on the importance of human life and the Marine mission:

“The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some a**holes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, cunning, obedience and alertness, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim …

“It’s really a hell of a lot of fun. You’re gonna have a blast out here!”

Those are the words of a warrior, and exactly the kind of man the United States needs running the Pentagon in the world we live in.

“Celebrity Apprentice” nonsense aside, Donald Trump built a business empire by choosing exactly the right people for exactly the right job. When it comes to Mattis, he chose exactly right again.

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