WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump incorrectly claimed to have coined former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ well-known “Mad Dog” nickname because “Chaos” was not a good enough one for the four-star Marine Corps general.
The comments came during a lengthy speech on Saturday before the annual Conservative Political Action Conference meeting. Trump was speaking on the military’s involvement in the Middle East when he said Defense Department generals “are perfect people” and he wanted to make more of them famous.
“Just like I did with Mattis,” he said. “I said we’re going to give you a new nickname, because ‘Chaos’ is not a good nickname. So we changed it to ‘Mad Dog.’
"But Mad Dog wasn’t working too well (as secretary)."
But news reports referred to Mattis by the moniker — which he has publicly said he does not like — as far back as 2004, when he was commanding general of the 1st Marine Division.
Mattis addressed his "Mad Dog" nickname at his Senate confirmation hearing for defense secretary in January 2017.
"That nickname was given to me by the press, and some of you may have experienced similar occasions with the press where perhaps they didn't get it quite right," Mattis said during his testimony, according to CNN.
“Mattis acquired the nickname ‘Mad Dog’ — a moniker that is not used by people who know him, friends say — after he made comments such as ‘be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet’ and ‘a good soldier follows orders, but a true warrior wears his enemy’s skin like a poncho,’ " CNN reported.
Mattis has said on several occasions that his call sign of “Chaos” came from troops saying behind his back that the “colonel has an outstanding solution,” a dig which he used as a reminder to listen to his troops.
Mattis resigned from the defense secretary post in December after saying Trump deserved a Pentagon leader “whose views are better aligned with yours.” The two men sparred over Trump’s planned withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan, as well as a series of surprise policies on transgender recruits and a new military space force.
Trump did give Mattis an original nickname last fall, labeling him as “moderate dog” as tensions between the two men grew.
In the weeks since Mattis’ departure, Trump has offered several different versions of what happened in their relationship. He has called Mattis’ departure a retirement and a firing, and said he was “not too good” at the job despite extensive past praise of Mattis’ work.
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has served as acting defense secretary since Jan. 1. Trump has yet to offer a nominee to fill the role permanently, which has drawn concern from lawmakers who say that kind of stable leadership is needed to ensure military focus and readiness.
During the CPAC speech, Trump on several occasions said his policies were helping to rebuild the military, although he’d like to reduce the Defense Department budget.
“(It’s) $716 billion (for fiscal 2019),” he said. “I have no choice. I’d like to spend much less. (Former President Barack) Obama was spending much less, but our military was being depleted.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.