James Mattis on War & Peace



U.S. should keep a small force in Iraq

In [Mattis' new book, "Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead,"] Chapter 15, entitled "Snatching Defeat From The Jaws of Victory," Mattis goes on at length about his advice that the U.S. should have kept at least a small force in Iraq rather than pull out completely in 2011. Mattis was then head of Central Command, overseeing the U.S. war efforts in Iraq. However, "beginning with President Bush and continuing through the Obama administration, the White House was set on a total troop withdrawal, for political reasons," Mattis writes. "I argued strongly that any vacuum left in our wake would be filled by Sunni terrorists and Iran."
Source: NPR Morning Edition on Trump Cabinet , Sep 2, 2019

U.S. should keep a small force in Syria

He left the Trump administration after the president declared that he wanted to pull U.S. forces out of Syria. Those U.S. troops helped drive the Islamic State out of the territory it once held, but Mattis and other military leaders have indicated they would like to keep at least a small force in Syria--which remains the case so far.
Source: NPR Morning Edition on Trump Cabinet , Sep 2, 2019

U.S. should keep a small force in Afghanistan

President Obama said in 2011 that he would draw down troops in Afghanistan (in addition to the complete withdrawal in Iraq). "I had been assigned two contradictory objectives," Mattis writes. "The forces under my command at CENTCOM were to degrade the Taliban while building up the Afghan army. They were also to withdraw on a strict timetable, independent of circumstances on the ground. We could do one or the other, but not both."
Source: NPR Morning Edition on Trump Cabinet , Sep 2, 2019

Led Marines in Iraq, Afghanistan, and overall Mideast

Secretary Mattis enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve at the age of 18. After graduating from Central Washington University in 1971, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

During his more than four decades in uniform, Secretary Mattis commanded Marines at all levels, from an infantry rifle platoon to a Marine Expeditionary Force. He led an infantry battalion in Iraq in 1991, an expeditionary brigade in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terror attack in 2001, a Marine Division in the initial attack and subsequent stability operations in Iraq in 2003, and led all U.S. Marine Forces in the Middle East as Commander of the U.S. Marine Forces Central Command.

During his non-combat assignments, Secretary Mattis served as Senior Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense; as Director, Marine Corps Manpower Plans & Policy; as Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command; and as Executive Secretary to the Secretary of Defense.

Source: DOD official website for Trump Cabinet biographies , Dec 31, 2018

Resigns in wake of announcement of withdrawal from Syria

Just two days after US Secretary of Defense James Mattis quit, the top US envoy leading the global coalition fighting ISIS, Brett McGurk, also resigned as Washington reeled from US President Donald Trump's dramatic announcement that he planned to pull US troops out of Syria.

McGurk, in his resignation letter, said that the militants were still on the run but not yet defeated, and that the early withdrawal of American troops from Syria would re-create the conditions that gave rise to ISIS. Mattis did not mention Syria specifically in his resignation letter, but he did speak of a difference of opinion between himself and Trump.

"You have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects," Mattis wrote. "I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed," he added.

Source: Jerusalem Post on 2018 Trump Cabinet , Dec 22, 2018

Keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely to defeat ISIS

In April, President Trump vowed to bring American troops home from Syria. "I want to get out," he said during a press conference. The United States had spent trillions of dollars in the Middle East over the past 17 years, he complained. "We get nothing-- nothing out of it." He called it "a horrible thing." The US had been "very successful against ISIS," he said, "but sometimes it's time to come back home."

By then, 95% of the ISIS pseudo-caliphate in Syria and Iraq--once the size of Indiana--had been liberated. No longer. ISIS is now making a comeback. Two stunning reports this month--by the United Nations and Trump's own Defense Department--both contradict earlier US claims that most ISIS fighters had been eliminated. The Pentagon report [says] ISIS has successfully morphed from a proto-state into a "covert global network, with a weakened yet enduring core" in Iraq and Syria.

So the Trump Administration has reversed course; it is now keeping U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely.

Source: The New Yorker on 2018 Trump Cabinet , Aug 30, 2018

Keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely to defeat ISIS

[In light of two UN and DOD reports about the resurgence of ISIS], the Trump Administration has reversed course; it is now keeping US troops in Syria indefinitely.

The US has three missions to complete before it can withdraw. "One, we have to destroy ISIS. The President's been very clear that ISIS is to be taken out," Secretary of Defense James Mattis said on August 28th. "We also have to have trained local troops who can take over."

The Trump Administration also does not want to withdraw U.S. troops, Mattis said, until a peace process is under way to end the war in Syria and map the country's political future. "We need the Geneva process--the UN-recognized process--to start making traction towards solving this war," Mattis said. "Now, if the locals are able to keep the security, obviously during this time we might be reducing our troops commensurate with their ability to deny ISIS a return, but it really comes down to finding a way to solve this problem of Assad's making."

Source: The New Yorker on 2018 Trump Administration , Aug 30, 2018

Shift from war of attrition against ISIS to annihilation

The US was already at war with ISIS prior to Trump's election. Progress was undeniably slow and, days after being inaugurated, President Trump signed an Executive Order requesting a Pentagon-led review be provided on how ISIS could be defeated.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis outlined that President Trump "delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities." This meant that when those on the ground requested airstrikes, fewer layers of sign-off were required; the approval process was decentralized and, subsequently, faster.

Mattis has also said that another change was a "shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS." The purpose behind this, Mattis outlined, was to dry up the flow of foreign fighters leaving the region.

Source: Heritage Commentary on 2018 Trump Administration , Jan 29, 2018

North Korea must be stopped, but by diplomatic means

Mattis was reminded by a reporter that as commander of US forces in the Mideast several years ago, he considered Iran to be the biggest threat to U.S. interests. Asked how he would deal with Iran as secretary of defense, Mattis called Tehran a problem but quickly pivoted to condemning North Korea and described the isolated, communist country as the more immediate threat.

"This is a threat of both rhetoric and growing capability," Mattis said, alluding to the North's recent progress in building nuclear bombs and developing an intercontinental ballistic missile to deliver such weapons to U.S. soil. The Trump administration has been conducting a broad policy review of North Korea that includes military options, but Mattis stressed other approaches. "We are working diplomatically, including with those that we might be able to enlist in this effort to get North Korea under control," he said. "But right now it appears to be going in a very reckless manner. That's got to be stopped."

Source: Associated Press on 2017 Trump Administration , Mar 31, 2017

Iran is single most enduring threat to stability and peace

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asked Mattis about his views on the Iran nuclear deal. Mattis, in April 2016, called Iran "the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East." In response to Reed's question, he said, "I think it is an imperfect arms control agreement--it's not a friendship treaty. But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies." In March 2016, Trump said, "My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran."
Source: Ballotpedia.org: 2017 Trump transition confirmation hearings , Jan 13, 2017

Supports the Iran nuclear agreement

Highlights from Mattis' confirmation hearings:

Mattis said he supported the Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump has repeatedly criticized.

Source: N.Y. Times on 2017 Trump transition Confirmation Hearings , Jan 12, 2017

ISIS has metastasized & remains a resilient movement

As Director Clapper acknowledged at the beginning of 2016: "There are now more Sunni violent extremist groups, members, and safe havens than at any time in history." ISIS remains a resilient movement, has metastasized, and shockingly has controlled major urban centers in the Middle East for well over two years. Whereas a few years ago , we focused on stemming the flow of foreign fighters going to Syria and Iraq, today , the concern is making sure they, and those they inspire, are prevented from expanding their reach , returning home , or slaughtering more innocent people.

Syria is a failed state and has become one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the 21st century. This conflict has led to the rise of extremism, sectarianism, instability in the region and Europe , and the worst refugee crisis the world has faced in recent memory.

Source: 2017 Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearings , Jan 12, 2017

Iran is the leading state sponsor of terror

Iran--the leading state sponsor of terror--has become an emboldened, disruptive player in the Middle East, fueling tension with our Sunni allies. Russia has reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine , threatening Europe, and doing nearly nothing to aid in the destruction of ISIS. North Korea has dangerously accelerated its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, with little regard for international pressure.
Source: 2017 Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearings , Jan 12, 2017

Pentagon was aware that 2003 Iraq invasion was a mistake

President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of defense called the 2003 invasion of Iraq a "mistake," according to a recording obtained by The Intercept. "Ladies and gentlemen," Mattis said, "we will probably look back on the invasion of Iraq as a mistake--as a strategic mistake."

Mattis was one of the Iraq campaign's most important ground commanders. He led the 1st Marine Division during the invasion and later oversaw the bloody retaking of Fallujah from insurgents in 2004.

As for the Pentagon's view on the Iraq invasion at the time, Mattis said this: "I think people were pretty much aware that the U.S. military didn't think it was a very wise idea. But we give a cheery 'Aye aye, sir.' Because when you elect someone commander in chief--we give our advice. We generally give it in private." Mattis's comments came during a question-and-answer session after a keynote delivered last year at ASIS International, a conference for global security professionals.

Source: The Intercept coverage of 2016 Trump transition , Dec 5, 2016

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