James Mattis, the General Who Couldn’t


W.J. Astore

James Mattis is making the talk show rounds, promoting his new book, “Call Sign Chaos.”  Interestingly, while openly critical of President George W. Bush for being unprepared for the Iraq War, and President Barack Obama for lacking a strategy and being too soft toward enemies like Iran, Mattis is remarkably circumspect about his service as Secretary of Defense under President Donald Trump.  Perhaps Trump’s non-disclosure agreements really do pack a punch?

I’ve written about Mattis before.  Trump may have picked him in part because he looks a little like George S. Patton of World War II fame.  While serving under Trump, Mattis was deferential but not as big of an ass-kisser as most of Trump’s subordinates.  Mattis was a disappointment nonetheless, bought off by all the money Trump and the Republicans (and Democrats as well) shoveled to the Pentagon.

Mattis, among several generals Trump called “his” own, did nothing to end America’s disastrous overseas wars and the profligate spending on them.  He also did nothing to curb the U.S. military’s desire to spend $1.7 trillion on genocidal nuclear weapons.  He had no vision for a U.S. military that would be less imperial, less wasteful, and, in two words, less stupid.

Mattis was more interested in better relations with allies than was Trump, especially NATO, but that was about the only notable difference.  That and the fact that Mattis seemed even more dedicated to using the U.S. military in debacles like Afghanistan and Syria, whereas Trump, displaying his usual fickleness and ignorance, waxed between total destruction and total withdrawal.

Strategic chaos has been the result of Mattis’s service under Trump, so the book’s title is unintentionally accurate.  If only retired generals would do what they used to do way back when, such as fishing and golfing, enjoying a sinecure or two but otherwise doing no harm.  But, sadly, that’s no longer the American way.  Too many generals, retired or otherwise, are spoiling the Democracy, and Mattis is one of them.

Among noteworthy American generals who could, men like Patton and Ike and Grant and Sherman, Mattis is yet another pretender like David Petraeus, a man who couldn’t.  He couldn’t win a major, enduring, victory, and he didn’t define a new course forward that would truly safeguard America’s national security.  Call sign chaos, indeed.

9 thoughts on “James Mattis, the General Who Couldn’t

  1. I couldn’t agree more about General Mattis. His public appearances are baffling – more dishonoring his service than embellishing it. In one, he said President Obama gave him conflicting objectives when he was CENTCOM commander in 2011 – train up the Afghan Army and degrade the Taliban so U.S. troops could leave by the end of Obama’s presidency. Mattis complained he was not given an open-ended commitment to stay forever – even as the security situation keep getting worse under his watch as both the CENTCOM commander and then the SecDef as he spent several hundred billion in OCO funds. Every job I’ve had in the private sector when I was spending corporate funds, I had time and cost constraints. If you did get it done, you were fired and replaced. The proponents of the military-industrial complex are never accountable in this fashion – which is why they keep repeating their mistakes and we have endless wars. Apparently, Trump took advice from Lindsay Graham, Gen Petraeus and Gen Keane that caused him to renege on his promise to get all US troops out of Afghanistan. Wow! These are probable the three individuals most responsible for the ill-conceived wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the “surges” that did not work. (I was part of both of them.) Why are they still being held up as national security experts? Totally amazing a society that is supposed to have an objective and inquiring media that provides the electorate with factual information on which to base their voting. We need another Walter Cronkite who called the Vietnam War a lost cause in 1968 when the facts on the ground belied what the generals were claiming.


    1. Excellent point about the lack of accountability. Indeed, losing money is almost a point of pride for these men, as long as the money is spent and you get more the next year. The worst thing is to save money and then get less in the future. What a system!


  2. https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-madness-of-james-mattis/

    Maj. Danny Sjursen makes the following comments:
    “In Trump’s America, reflexive hatred for the president has led many in the media to foolishly pin their political hopes on generals like Mattis, leaders of the only public institution the people still trust.”

    As he notes in his own op-ed (By Mattis), “Institutions get the behaviors they reward.”

    Since resigning his post, Mattis has burst through the “revolving door” of the arms industry, reclaiming his seat on the board of the fifth largest defense contractor, General Dynamics.
    Mattis is a prime example of how easily senior officers transition from the military to civilian life: From Wiki:

    Mattis, retired in March 2013. Since retirement from the military, Mattis has worked for FWA Consultants and also served as a member of the General Dynamics Board of Directors.

    As Mattis retired from the military in 2013, his nomination required a waiver of the National Security Act of 1947, which requires a seven-year waiting period before retired military personnel can assume the role of Secretary of Defense.

    The waiver for Mattis passed 81–17 in the Senate, and 268–151 in the House. Mattis was subsequently confirmed as Secretary of Defense by a vote of 98–1 in the United States Senate on January 20, 2017.

    August 8, 2019, Former U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is rejoining General Dynamics’ board of directors, the company announced Thursday in a news release.

    The aerospace and defense company named Mattis as a director of the corporation. General Dynamics ranks sixth on the Defense News Top 100 list with 66 percent, of its $36 billion in revenue coming from defense.

    The zeal of anti- President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence critics lowers the bar when someone like “Mad Dog” Mattis can be considered the “Adult” in the room.


    1. Yes — those six-figure pensions aren’t enough, ML. Generals must now cash in with seven-figure positions on corporate boards.

      Where is the honor, General Mattis? Instead of “learning to lead,” his subtitle should be “learning how to make money after retirement.” But of course he’ll be praised for being a “capitalist”!


  3. Just saw this today: “Former Defense Secretary James Mattis was a bit more direct on advocating a substantial increase in US troops, saying the US cannot leave Afghanistan, and should put more “boots on the ground” now that peace is cancelled.

    This would be the second escalation of the Afghan War in just President Trump’s first term in office. The first escalation went poorly, and the losses had been mounting so much the US was starting to get desperate for a way out. Now that they know the terms of peace, they seem to be prepared to keep engaging in an unsuccessful war as long as they can.”

    File under “The Stupid: It Hurts”



    1. Speaking of Chaos, President Trump just tweeted that he fired John “the warlock Walrus” Bolton as his National Insecurity Adviser. Bolton, naturally, tweeted that he had offered to resign and that President Trump had not asked this of him. Which inveterate liar to believe, if either? All this shortly after President Trump blew up his own negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gleefully boasted about killing “a thousand Taliban in just the last ten days.”

      And former general Mattis wants to — once again — increase the target density of US enlisted personnel — making it harder for the Taliban to miss them — in Afghanistan? Just like a career jarhead bullet-catcher, the one who levelled the Iraqi city of Fallujah (and it took him two tries) in a bloody fit of revenge over the deaths of four dogs-of-war mercenaries from Blackwater, Inc. And having Marine Corps groupie sycophant Bing West ghost-write his book for him does not surprise me at all.

      What a bloodthirsty nest of incompetent vipers President Trump has appointed to make him look like he couldn’t run an elementary school lemonade stand let alone a country. All-About-Him did save us from You-Know-Her, however, so I’ve got to give him that …

      Anyway as we in the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent used to say back in the now-defunct Republic of South Vietnam:

      “We lost the day we started and we win the day we stop. So just stop.”

      “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here because …”

      “If they knew what to do, they’d have done it already. If they could have, they would have; but they didn’t, so they can’t. Time’s up.”

      You can’t do a wrong thing the right way.

      Representative Tulsi Gabbard’s prospects look brighter which each day that President Trump doesn’t end the bloody stupid bungle in the foothills of the Hindu Kush (for starters). And he apparently knows this.


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