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