Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mattis departure - less than meets the eye

By Donald Sensing

Thomas Ricks, by no means a member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, says that USMC Gen. James Mattis, commander in chief of US Central Command, is being prematurely ushered out the door because he asks too many strategic questions the administration doesn't want to worry about.
Word on the national security street is that General James Mattis is being given the bum’s rush out of his job as commander of Central Command, and is being told to vacate his office several months earlier than planned.

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.
So I shot a note off to a highly-connected former Marine infantry officer I know well, with extensive experience in CENTCOM's area of operations and who served close alongside many of the Marine generals in these kinds of key positions. He replied that while he's no fan of Ricks, he doesn't think Ricks is right. Specifically,
Let me absorb this. He was already at the end of his career...so now he's fired??!! I am dubious... He was an old timer, not the future, and had already outlived his political (but not operational) relevance.

The administration says the average command in combat is 2.7 years, and March will be 2.6 for Mattis. I LOVE the general, but he does indeed have a reputation for being relentless and obtuse when questioning a plan -- but shouldn't they all be?
So there may well be less to Mattis' looming retirement than meets Ricks' eye, especially since four-star command assignments' durations are never precisely calendared anyway. A month before the average is small beer.

In 2005, Gen. Mattis, then a major general, gave the media vapors when he said that it was "a lot of fun" to shoot the Taliban. After the invasion of Iraq was complete, Mattis, commanding a USMC division, sent his tanks and artillery away from his operational area, then sent this message to every Iraqi leaders in his area: "I come in peace. I didn't bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you [snipwith me, I’ll kill you all." More Mattis quotes here.

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