Following his lecture on the Middle East and Iranian aggression, Mattis, the former four-star commander of U.S. Central Command and a current fellow at the Hoover Institution in California, implied he was mystified by the buzz surrounding his hypothetical candidacy.

“It’s been going on for 15 months. Since coming back from overseas, this is more of a foreign country than the places overseas,” he said. “I don’t understand it. It’s like America has lost faith in rational thought.”

He declined to comment on the current field of candidates, saying that 40 years as a naval officer had ingrained in him an aversion to taking a partisan stance.

Nonetheless, his talk Friday contained stern indictments of U.S. foreign policy and President Barack Obama himself, and hinted at his feelings regarding at least one presidential front-runner. Despite Mattis’ refusal to publicly entertain the possibility of a candidacy, his speech is unlikely to dampen the excitement of many who would like to see him run.