He led Marines in two wars, is highly respected and reportedly convinced the president-elect to rethink the use of torture in less than an hour.
Retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis is known as “Chaos,” “Warrior Monk” and “Mad Dog.” The names reflect his blunt way of speaking — and his ability to cut through bullsh–t to get results. A man whom many would like to see run for president himself, he is Donald Trump’s expected pick for secretary of defense.
Mattis, who retired with four stars in 2013, met with Trump as a candidate on the short list to direct the Defense Department. Afterward, the president-elect called the 66-year-old “impressive” in a tweet.
The general led Task Force 58 into Afghanistan in 2001 — the first large U.S. ground force to enter the nation, as a one-star general based at Camp Pendleton.
Mattis went on to lead San Diego County Marines in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the bloody Fallujah campaign of 2004. He later had a hand in writing the counterinsurgency doctrine that helped turn around the deadly Al Anbar district after 2006 with Army Gen. David Petraeus — who is also being considered for a post in the new administration.
The Marine icon — a legend, even — is known to speak truth to power, and has a few thoughts on how to make America great again.
America is not an island
America now is built on the ideology of the post-WWII generation, meaning the institutions of this country, and its attitudes toward the rest of world, revolve around one idea: the world works best when countries work together to stop global threats.
“The constructed order reflected the wisdom of those who recognized no nation lived as an island and we needed new ways to deal with challenges that for better or worse impacted all nations,” Mattis told Congress in 2015. “Like it or not, today we are part of this larger world and must carry out our part… The international order built on the state system is not self-sustaining.”
Prioritize threats accurately
Who exactly is America fighting? Why? What exactly is America fighting, ideology-wise? These questions are unclear — and they need to be answered in order to best allocate resources, manpower and funding under the Trump administration.
“Murky or quixotic political end states can condemn us to entering wars we don’t know how to end,” Mattis says.
He called on the intelligence committee to “delineate and provide an initial prioritization” of all current threats to the U.S. in order to solve these questions, including “rigorously defining the problems” and creating a “more intelligent and focused use of resources.”
The biggest physical threat Mattis identifies is the Middle East as a whole, where he notes “our influence is at its lowest point in four decades.”
Because our influence is waning, Mattis urges the American military to take a relaxed leadership position where we “recognize that regional counterweights like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council can reinforce us if they understand our policies and if we clarify our foreign policy goals beyond Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
The biggest ideological threat Mattis identifies is defining Islam vs jihadists.
“Violent terrorists cannot be permitted to take refuge behind false religious garb and leave us unwilling to define this threat with the clarity it deserves.” he states. That is a tall order for an issue that is political to its core in the post-9/11 era.
Yet, he offers a few questions that will help the administration clarify its dealings: “Is political Islam in our best interest? If not what is our policy to support the countervailing forces?”
Stop cutting military budgets and refocus resources
The biggest challenge to the U.S. military isn’t ISIS, according to Mattis: it’s sequestration. Sequestration, or “spending limits on the federal government,” per The Hill, “mandates $1.2 trillion in cuts across federal agencies to include $500 million to the military over the next decade,” as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Gen. Mattis is not a fan — but his answer isn’t to bulk the military back up.
“With less military available, we must reduce our appetite for using it,” he explains. “Tiered readiness with a smaller force must be closely scrutinized to ensure we aren’t merely hollowing out the force.”
He continues with specific applications for the Army, Air Force, and Navy:
“With the cutbacks to the Army and Air Force and fewer forces around the world, military aspects of our strategy will inevitably become more naval in character… Are the Navy and our expeditionary forces receiving the support they need in a world where America’s naval role is more pronounced because we have fewer forces posted overseas?”
Most shocking of all, Mattis advises the Trump administration to do that without increasing the national debt.
“If we refuse to reduce our debt or pay down our deficit, what is the impact on national security for future generations who will inherit this irresponsible debt and the taxes to service it?” Mattis said. “No nation in history has maintained its military power while failing to keep its fiscal house in order.”