Trump picks tough talking Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as Secretary of Defense

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President-elect Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to head the Department of Defense, a move that could signal the incoming administration's tougher positioning with nations such as Iran.

Trump made a surprise announcement of the expected appointment during a rally in Cincinnati on Thursday night, as the crowd cheered wildly.

"We are going to appoint Mad Dog Mattis as our secretary of defense," Trump said theatrically.

He then added: "But we're not announcing it till Monday, so don't tell anyone — Mad Dog. He's great. He is great."

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Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis
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Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis walks out after a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, N.J. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence greet retired Marine General James Mattis for a meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine General James Mattis departs as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump walks back into the main clubhouse following their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with retired Marine Gen. James Mattis following their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis and Operation Gratitude Founder Carolyn Blashek speak during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Egyptian Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Anan shakes hands with US Commander of the Central Command James Mattis during a meeting in Cairo on March 29, 2011.

(KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis speaks during the DIRECTV and Operation Gratitude day of service at the fifth annual DIRECTV Dealer Revolution Conference at Caesars Palace on July 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James 'Jim' Mattis, former commander of the U.S. Central Command testifies before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee on 'Threats Posed by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), AQ (al Qaeda), and Other Islamic Extremists' on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., September 18, 2014. Yesterday the House approved President Obama's plan to train Syrian rebels to counter ISIL.

(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Marine Corps General James Mattis, commander of the US Central Command, appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, March 1, 2011. Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would first require a military operation to destroy the north African nation's air defense systems, top US commander General James Mattis warned Tuesday. A no-fly zone would require removing 'the air defense capability first,' Mattis told a Senate hearing. 'It would be a military operation,' he added.

(CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Joint Forces Command Commander James Mattis speaks during the 2010 Atlantic Council awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on April 28, 2010 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)

Kuwait Major General James Mattis, a high ranking Marine commander who also led troops into Afghanistan, visits Living Support Area one in Kuwait near the Iraqi border where troops are poised to begin a war against Iraq if called to do so by the President of the United States.

(Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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Mattis, a tough talking retired Marine general nicknamed "Mad Dog" who during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 famously led the 1st Marine Division's rapid drive into Baghdad. Among his peers, Mattis has a reputation as a blunt military strategist.

During a 2005 panel discussion in San Diego, Mattis once said that he enjoyed "brawling" and enjoyed killing the enemy in war.

"Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot," Mattis said. "It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling."

Mattis, a former commander of U.S. Central Command, which covers the Middle East, is considered a hardliner on Iran. His confrontational style on the matter was frowned up by the Obama administration, U.S. officials told NBC News.

He once accused "the highest levels" of the Iranian government of being involved in an assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador at a Washington, D.C. restaurant.

"On Iran, General Mattis takes a very hard line view," said James George "Jim" Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral and the current dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. "He would say we need to use hard power to prevent Iran from ever having a nuclear weapon.

He is also considered a "warrior monk," who thinks deeply about military strategy. He once told his Marines "The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears."

Mattis' confirmation by the Senate is not assured. Only three years out of uniform, he would also need a Congressional waiver for a 1947 law that requires a seven year wait.

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