James Fallows on CENTCOM Commander James Mattis

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Some are saying that The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg’s digital pen brought down CNN veteran Middle East editor Octavia Nasr. It’s clear that Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings brought down Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal — perhaps with a strong assist from this piece.
Now James Fallows may have helped play an assist in the ascendancy of General James Mattis, widely viewed as brusque and brilliant. Alternatively, all of the aforementioned writers, James Fallows and yours truly included, may have just had their moment as accurate calculators of power and inevitability.
On June 22nd of this year, Fallows wrote of Mattis, who has just been selected by President Obama as David Petraeus’s successor as CENTCOM Commander:

First, the textbook point: if national strategy for a war rises or falls on one officer, that’s a bad sign for the strategy. Banal point, but had to say it.
But the more useful corollary: as several military correspondents have observed today, there happens to be another widely respected warrior-commander who has first-hand experience in the CentCom area and is deeply steeped in the COIN strategy McChrystal has been trying to apply. This person is, of course, the four-star Marine Corps general James N. Mattis (Wikipedia photo at left). He was in the news last week for not being chosen as the next commandant of the Marine Corps. This could be serendipity, in making him available for other duty.
Relevant point when it comes to the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan: two years after the invasion of Iraq, Mattis was a leader, with David Petraeus, in the effort to develop a new military approach based on awareness of everything that had gone wrong in the invasion and its immediate aftermath. For accounts of that effort, see here and here. For the resulting Field Manual 3-24, the doctrinal Bible of COIN, you can get the 13MB PDF here.
Relevant point more generally: I have never met or interviewed Stanley McChrystal, but I have interviewed Mattis repeatedly over the years and have always been impressed by his intelligence and character. Tom Ricks testifies to that effect here. While he has made waves for his blunt-spokenness, it is hard for me to imagine him being as reckless as McChrystal has recently been.

I have only briefly met General Mattis on one occasion in Brussels and not long enough to form a real opinion — but Fallows’ endorsement is a strong and important one.
The one thing I will say is that the current CENTCOM Deputy Commander John Allen, who once served as Commandant of the Naval Academy and led the relief efforts after the Southeast Asia tsunami, is solid and sensible — and gets both the Arab region and non-Arab Muslim region really well, far better than most other three stars or higher. It will be an interesting test to see if Mattis can live comfortably with someone of General Allen’s talents.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

13 comments on “James Fallows on CENTCOM Commander James Mattis

  1. Brent says:

    Don Bacon – Mattis is a hero who gave rules of engagement to his men that attempted to minimize civilian casualties. Fallujah was an excellent operation considering the enemy used civilians as human shields – now that is a real war crime. Your anti-American rhetoric is disgusting. US Marines fought a valiant battle.

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  2. Brent says:

    Sanitychecker – Mattis has far more awards than Marshall for a valid reason – he is a combat commander, whereas Marshall was a staff man. Marshall never saw combat.

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  3. David says:

    Fallujah was a war crime of the first order. Problem is the winners determine what is and what is not a war crime.
    War is a crime, for chrissake, and the only defense for any participation in any war is the necessity defense, namely that one had to commit a crime (killing German, Italian, and Japanese civilians) to prevent a larger crime (the Axis assault on the entire planet). I happen to think we had to fight and win WWII once it came. I also think that it is inexcusable that international relations, and the interests driving them, were such that we were treated to WWI, WWII, the Cold War, Korea, Viet Nam, and god only remembers how many small resource and ideology wars. And before that, the Spanish-American War, the gd Civil War, the genocidal wars against Native Americans, and that panoply of wars we studied in history classes in which we learned about the ingenuity and valor of the winners throughout history. I still love the moniker Alexander the Great. And I remember my 10th grade history teacher going on and on about the brilliance of whoever won whatever historic battle. It took the pictures of Matthew Brady to cement for me once-and-for-all the sheer insanity of war.
    Our history is primarily that of rapacious creatures killing each other and devastating the planet in our “march toward civilization.” There are, to be sure, moments of progress and civilization in our history, but war, lust for resources, and greed instantly run roughshod over them. People like Eleanor Roosevelt understood that. Business interests made sure she and her ilk did not effectively upset the status quo. And Ayn Rand garnered a large and adoring audience with her idiot blather.

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  4. Warren Metzler says:

    Drew I can’t determine if you are one of the most ignorant people in the world or a master of subtle humor.
    If you were to read people who know about a region;for Iraq I suggest Juan Cole and Nir Rosen; you would realize COIN in Iraq was a dismal failure. COIN never works, the only possible exception in the world is the British and the communist guerrillas in Malaysia back in the 1950’s. But since that country is ruled by a dictator pretending to be a democratic prime minister, and you can be arrested for drinking alcohol if you are just a cultural Muslim, I wouldn’t call that a success.
    To talk about a less violent attack on Fallujah after the town was decimated in the earlier attack is to audition to be a permanent of the garden party in Alice in Wonderland.
    COIN in Iraq was a total failure; whatever violence drop that occurred was primarily due to paying the Sunnis a salary to be on our side, and that most of the areas in which former violence occurred had already been ethnically cleansed.
    And when an counter-insurgency is successful, a successful government emerges. The current Iraqi politicians can’t form a government after five months. And even the chief US general in Iraq admits, the odds are extremely high that as soon as the US vacates Iraq (if it ever does), it won’t be long before the Kurds and the Sunni’s or Shites are killing each other. They are already frequently engaging each other is combat.
    If there are men who slap women, it is the antithesis of authentic feminism those men should be killed. A real feminist would want them captured, re-educated and allowed to become a productive member of society. It is totally non-masculine males that believe killing people is a viable solution for sexist behavior. I assume you would approve all misogynists in this country being executed.
    If you are for real, I can see this country is headed for serious moral depravity.

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  5. Drew says:

    Sanitychecker, you left out the money quote, which makes
    Mattis’ comments all the more interesting, if not humorous and
    truthful:

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  6. Drew says:

    The Iraq COIN strategy was the most successful, most rapid, least
    violent counterinsurgency initiative in the history of war.
    Similarly, the second battle for Fallujah, which was several orders of
    magnitude less violent than Hue or Grozny, or any urban clearing
    operation in the history of warfare, will be studied for centuries.
    Whether or not the objectives of the Iraq Ware justified these efforts
    is a legit question, but it is foolish not to note the extraordinary
    innovation in COIN and urban combat, to which Petraeus and Mattis
    were direct contributors.

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  7. Warren Metzler says:

    How is it, that we get to be so enthusiastic about COIN, when it has never once been shown to work? Just because it is described by a long document, and filled tons of data, doesn’t mean it actually works. And are people not aware of what a major drain on our economy, and what a major hindrance it is in terms of the US returning to being admired by the rest of the world, for us to continue to have a huge military all over the world? As far as I know over 700 bases outside the US.
    This country is in a serious moral crisis; abandoning our basic constitutional rights more and more everyday; attracting presidential candidates who are fluent of tongue but sorely lacking in moral fiber (which is essential for actual actions that produce change); moving further and further down the road of a nanny state; etc.
    Do you seriously believe we are ever going to return to a repeated non-deficit fiscal year without a fundamental change in the mind-set of what most citizens see as the role of government?
    It is fine to have generals to lead, when we have genuine wars to operate. But to act as if generals, people who have to love to kill people to make the military a career, are men of character and should be lauded as leaders in our society, I consider insanity.
    For sanity checker, I suggest that medal inflation began in the Vietnam war, and like all other military items, once in place only escalates.
    I served in Vietnam, and every unit (from company level upwards) had an officer tasked to ensure everyone got as many medals as they could. One of my company commanders, in Vietnam, and his executive officer, put themselves in for a bronze star, after they stopped a truck that was going down a hill because the driver left the emergency brake off;(on a major military base). Another career captain in my unit stubbed his toe on the sidewalk running for a bunker during a rocket attack, and put himself in for a purple heart.
    I feel really sad for the US.

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  8. Water walking ball says:

    General Mattis led the brutal attack on Fallujah in 2004. The actions there constituted a war crime and so General Mattis is a war criminal. One can research the studies on the destruction and massacres of a city the US military “liberated” and get all the gory details.

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  9. sanitychecker says:

    Fallows tells us how impressed he is by Mattis’s intelligence and character: From Wikipedia again, the man in his own words:
    “So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”
    Intelligence and character… Fallows nailed it.

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  10. sanitychecker says:

    Check out the medals, the 8 rows of ribbons!
    Now compare with the architect of US victory in WWII, 5-star general George Marshall:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Marshall
    (How does it work now? You get an extra row of decorations for every war you lose?)

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  11. Don Bacon says:

    US Central Command (CENTCOM)
    Mission:
    With national and international partners, U.S. Central Command promotes cooperation among nations, responds to crises, and deters or defeats state and nonstate aggression, and supports development and, when necessary, reconstruction in order to establish the conditions for regional security, stability, and prosperity.
    That sounds benign enough — but here’s General Petraeus on what CENTCOM actually does (recent congressional testimony).
    US CENTCOM is, as you know, now in its ninth consecutive year of combat operations. It oversees the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and the assistance to Pakistan, as well as a theater-wide campaign against al-Qaeda. We are also, of course, working on numerous contingency plans. And, we continue the effort to build partnerships throughout the area of responsibility (AOR), working in concert with our diplomatic colleagues as part of

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  12. Don Bacon says:

    General Mattis led the brutal attack on Fallujah in 2004. The actions there constituted a war crime and so General Mattis is a war criminal. One can research the studies on the destruction and massacres of a city the US military “liberated” and get all the gory details.

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  13. WigWag says:

    I like Fallows alot, but it would surprise me very much if the Commander in Chief was basing his decisions on who to promote to Centcom Commander based on what he read in the Atlantic Magazine (or blog).
    No, wait a second; I forgot that Barak Obama is Commander in Chief.
    Considering Obama’s level of experience and sophistication he could very well be basing his promotion decisions on 200 word blog posts or 2,000 word magazine articles.
    If he is, at least we can take some comfort from the fact that Obama is reading the brilliant Atlantic bloggers like James Fallows instead of the idiotic ones like Andrew Sullivan.

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