This story is based on two sources–one at Breitbart.com on Monday and one at The Weekly Standard on Tuesday. Both sources report that General James Mattis, the current commander of U.S. Central Command, is being moved out of his job before that would normally happen. What was his crime?
The Weekly Standard reports:
…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. The White House view, apparently, is that Mattis was too hawkish, which is not something I believe, having seen him in the field over the years. I’d call him a tough-minded realist, someone who’d rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.
This is not a White House that embraces the idea of secondary consequences of their actions. If the White House had looked at secondary consequences, it is possible that the Arab Spring might not have turned into the Arab Winter.
The article at Breitbart reports:
Mattis also expressed concern over the consequences of certain aspects of the U.S. approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It seems this line of reasoning didn’t sit well with National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.
The Obama Administration does not seem to take kindly to people who ask probing questions.
The article at the Weekly Standard concludes:
We should all be worried. The combination of President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense—to be his hatchet man to slash the defense budget without regard to geopolitical realities—and the early retirement of a general renowned for his powerful blend of strategic sense and candor, bodes ill for the security of the United States. With a yes man as secretary of defense and a signal to the uniformed military that the frank and forceful presentation of the military’s view throughout the strategy-making and implementation process is not welcome runs counter to the principles of sound civil-military relations.
Of course, a president has every right to choose the generals he wants, but it is also the case that he usually gets the generals he deserves. By pushing Mattis overboard, the administration is sending a message that it doesn’t want smart, independently minded generals who speak candidly to their civilian leaders. The message that generals and admirals may receive that they should go along to get along, which is a bad message for the health of U.S. civil-military relations.
By removing Mattis, the President has taken a wise voice out of defense discussions. Because we currently live in a very dangerous world, that is not a good thing.