John “Jack” Keane served in the military for nearly four decades. He was a four-star Army General, served as acting Chief of Staff of the Army and continued to serve as an advisor after formally retiring in 2003. Keane is known to Fox News viewers as a Senior Strategic Analyst.
In November 2016, now-President Donald Trump asked Keane to serve as Secretary of Defense. But Keane turned him down, citing personal reasons; his wife of more than 50 years, Theresa Keane, had died a few months prior. Instead, Keane suggested Trump go with either Jim Mattis or David Petraeus.
Keane’s name has come up again as a potential permanent replacement for Mattis, who announced on December 20, 2018, that he was resigning. (You can read his resignation letter here). On December 23, the president announced that current Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan would serve as Acting Defense Secretary beginning January 1, 2019.
75-year-old Keane told Fox News Radio on December 21 that he is not interested in taking the Defense Secretary job. When asked about it, he replied with one sentence: “I’m not going back into public service and I’ve made that very clear.”
Here’s what you need to know.
1. General Keane Agreed With Secretary Mattis That the U.S. Should Not Withdraw From Syria & Said Doing So Would Be to Repeat an Obama-Era Mistake in the Middle East
If General Jack Keane was interested in becoming Secretary of Defense, he has the qualifications for the job. But considering that James Mattis resigned due to policy differences with the president, the administration may be hesitant about Keane because his views largely align with Mattis.
The most recent issue is U.S. involvement with Syria. Mattis’ resignation came on the heels of the president’s announcement that the 2,000 U.S. troops stationed there would be pulled out.
Keane says President Trump and his administration are making a “huge strategic mistake” in regards to Syria and says he’s confident the president would come to regret the decision to withdraw U.S. troops. “Clearly, we’re repeating the Obama mistake of premature withdrawal which got us ISIS. It is a misstatement to say that ISIS is defeated in Syria… in my judgment, we need to stick to it and finish the job.”
He added, “When Senator Paul and other supporters of the President’s decision say that the United States has got to stop doing the heavy lifting in the Middle East, we got to leave the fight to the people in the Middle East, that’s exactly what we have been doing. The primary fighters are Syrians, Kurds, and Arabs, day in and day out, fighting as light infantry on the ground engaging the ISIS fighting forces for the better part of a year now. What we have there are advisors, 2,200, who are helping to put together the plans to conduct that fight and also are coordinating air power and artillery support. And that has been decisive.”
Keane also argued that by leaving Syria, the U.S. would leave the entire area open to Iran.
2. Jack Keane Has Praised President Trump’s Rhetoric Against Iran & Supported Decertifying the Iran Deal
Jack Keane has been outspoken in regard to his distrust of Iran. In interviews, he has argued that former presidents did not do enough to counter Iranian aggression.
In July 2018, he praised President Trump, stating, “Finally, we have a president who’s not coddling them like Obama was for 8 years, who is standing up to them.” Keane pointed out that the Trump administration issued sanctions against Iran in 2017 after they test-fired a ballistic missile. Keane added, “I think this president is moving in the right direction. He’s got a no-nonsense attitude about it. He and his team are trying to convey that to the Iranians so they stay out of trouble.”
In June 2017, Keane gave an interview to the Cipher Brief in which he referred to the Iran nuclear deal as a terrible mistake. “It is a horrible deal because Iran has been given over $100 billion, and its strategic objective is to dominate and control the Middle East and to undermine the Sunni Arab states. That has been its strategy since 1980, and it will use that money to do that very thing.”
3. Keane Has Argued That Active & Retired Military Members Should Stay Out of Partisan Political Debates & Refrain From Endorsing Political Candidates
General Jack Keane believes that the military should stay independent from politics. During the 2016 election, he said it was “inappropriate” for retired military members like Michael Flynn to endorse any political candidate.
Keane told Fox & Friends in August 2016 that having high-ranking former military leadership on a political stage could “erode the American people’s confidence” in the military. “The United States military serves our national leaders regardless of their political perspective, regardless of their policies… we do not want ever to have those national leaders, those civilian leaders, ever look at the United States military as a partisan organization.”
Keane shared that during the election, at least six presidential candidates sought his advice on national security issues. He said he had a “moral obligation” to provide advice based on his nearly four decades in the service. But Keane said it was also vitally important for him to neither comment on the views of candidates or issue any endorsements.
“You’re not calling me Jack. You’re not calling me Mr. Keane. You’re calling me General. You’re doing that because of my previous association with a remarkable institution and because of your respect for that institution, you’re carrying my rank with me in a way you address me. I think as a result of that, we have a public responsibility to be very careful about maintaining independence.”
4. General Keane Retired in 2003 After 37 Years of Service Which Included Time Spent as the Acting Chief of Staff of the Army
General Keane is a four-star general. He served for 37 years, beginning in Vietnam. His command positions included leading the 101st Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps. He served as second-in-command of the U.S. Army, as the Vice Chief of Staff and also served as the acting Chief of Staff.
Keane’s awards include the Silver Star, two Defense Distinguished Service Medals, five Legion of Merits, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Joint Chiefs Service Badge. According to his bio with Congress, Keane “directed 1.5 million soldiers and civilians in 120 countries, with an annual operating budget of 110 billion dollars” as the chief operating officer of the Army. He retired from military service in 2003.
But his role as a key advisor continued long after his official retirement. Keane has visited Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times since 2004 and advised on strategy. Keane “played a key role in formulating and recommending the
surge strategy in Iraq.”
Keane currently serves as the chairman of the Institute for the Study of War, which is a policy research organization. He has served as the director of General Dynamics, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, and the Smith Richardson Foundation. Keane was also a member of the Secretary of Defense Policy Board.
5. General Keane is a New York Native, Attended Fordham University & Had Two Sons
Jack Keane was born February 1, 1943, in New York City. He attended Fordham University, graduating in 1966 with a degree in accounting. But it was his participation in the ROTC program that would set the course for the rest of his life.
He told the Fordham News in 2017, “I joined the ROTC program essentially because the country was at war and we knew that we would likely be joining it. In the mind of myself and my friends, it made sense to do that as officers, although none of us had ever had a family member who was an officer… By the time I graduated, I came to recognize that I had an aptitude for it. And I liked the idea of serving the country.”
Fordham honored Keane in 2015 with the establishment of the General Jack Keane Outstanding Leader Award. He has said he felt humbled by distinction and said the true legacy of a great leader is in how much of an impact you have on the people serving under you. “Our legacy is not how well we run these organizations because there’s another guy or gal standing behind us who could run it even better. The real legacy is the growth and development of the people in these organizations. If you focus on their growth and development, and if you have programs that support that, the organization will take care of itself.”
Keane met his wife, Theresa Winifred Doyle, on a blind date when they were both 18 years old. They tied the knot on June 12, 1965. They were married 51 years; she passed away in 2016 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. They adopted two sons, Matthew and Daniel. Matthew suffered from cerebral palsy and died at age 40.