Thomas Ricks has a piece in Foreign Policy (a subscription only site) warning that the Obama Administration is firing Marine General James Mattis, the current head of Central Command. Why? Because he had the audacity to push back against chicken hawks (civilians who have not served in the military) that are eager to go to war with Iran. According to Ricks:
Why the hurry? Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way — not because he went all “mad dog,” which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran. Some of those questions apparently were uncomfortable. Like, what do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf? He kept saying, “And then what?
Inquiry along these lines apparently was not welcomed — at least in the CENTCOM view. The White House view, apparently, is that Mattis was too hawkish, which is not something I believe, having seen him in the field over the years. I’d call him a tough-minded realist, someone who’d rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.
Those are the kinds of questions that no Generals asked Bush before launching the ill-fated invasion of Iraq.
Ricks makes the same point. Military leaders, good ones at least, have the duty to ensure that civilian leaders understand the consequences of initiating a war and the full costs required to sustain a campaign in order to achieve victory. To put this in biblical terms, it is called “counting the cost.”
Mattis’ role in the invasion of Iraq is portrayed in part in Evan Wright’s book, GENERATION KILL (full disclosure, Evan is a friend and his book is terrific).
Evan discussed General Mattis with NPR’s Alex Chadwick back in 2005. You can listen to the link here.
Mattis is a solid, sound General. Doing his job to protect his Marines and Soldiers and, ultimately, his country.
Ricks goes on to put his finger on the heart of the problem with the Obama Administration:
But I am at the point where I don’t trust his national security team. They strike me as politicized, defensive and narrow. These are people who will not recognize it when they screw up, and will treat as enemies anyone who tells them they are doing that. And that is how things like Vietnam get repeated. Harsh words, I know. But I am worried.
This is remarkable criticism from Ricks. He is a longstanding Obama cheerleader. He is right to note that the civilians surrounding Obama reflect their boss–they bring limited experience to national security and have no military experience. Most probably have never fired a firearm. It is a weak, dangerous group and, confronted with the likes of Mattis, can only soil themselves and push Mattis out the door in hopes of replacing him with a toady willing to drink the Obama kool-aid.