Monday, January 6, 2014

Gen. James Mattis on American Security

Four Star General James Mattis has been called "the most revered Marine in a generation," and his career included a stint as head of Central Command in 2010-2013. He recently gave the keynote address at a conference staged by the Jamestown Foundation, a thinktank with neocon leanings. Here is Jon Basil Utley's summary of Mattis' thoughts on America's military situation:
 –America doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest.
 –We have no overall strategy about how to defeat our enemy.
 –We don’t understand our enemy. (Utley: This refers to Sun Tzu’s classic dictum for war, “Know Thyself and Know Thy Enemy.” Americans have scarce interest in understanding the Muslim world’s history, wants, and fears.)
 –Violent Jihad is gaining, not losing ground.
 –We need a strategy which does not drive young Muslims to al-Qaeda.
 –We must develop a persuasive counter narrative to that of our enemies. (Utley: With communism America held the moral high ground; today our Middle East wars have taken it away.)
 –Al-Qaeda’s narrative is vulnerable, its strategy has its own poison pills. . . .
–Irregular warfare must become a core competency of our military; also our new weaponry must be focused on this new kind of war.
 –We must be more attentive to our allies’ sentiments and needs. We ignore them and then wonder why they won’t later do what we want.
 –We must do a better job explaining and talking to the American people about our objectives.
 –Palestinian peace process—two-state solution –Washington must address and promote this issue.
 –First think how we are going to end the fight before getting involved in wars. Democracies don’t know how to end wars. How much longer will there be public support for the war? American are not war weary, but rather are confused.
Mattis is reportedly being eased into retirement for asking too many questions about a half-hearted attack on Iran; he is one of many military experts who have said that if we are going to attack we must go the whole way, i.e., invade the country and overthrow the government. Since Obama will never authorize that, Mattis' policy would mean no military action.

Anyway, I found a couple of things about Mattis' talk interesting. First, he insists that our most important enemies are still al Qaeda and related Muslim radicals. Yet most of our arsenal is built around fighting stand-up wars against an enemy like Russia or China, and we are spending hundreds of billions on fighter planes and missiles that are no use against terrorists or militias.

Second, the American military really thinks that our support for Israel is a major problem for our security, and that the ongoing Palestinian crisis is a major source of support for al Qaeda and our other Muslim enemies. This is one of many points on which our military officers oppose the policies of conservative Republicans.

Bush and Obama both tried to establish the "narrative" that America is on the side of Arab freedom and democracy. Sadly, the events in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria have badly strained this narrative, since there isn't much left of Arab democracy and the situation in all these countries is too complicated for us to act in a way that obviously promotes the good. Which side in Egypt represents the people? Which militia in Libya is the good guys? What possible outcome of the Syrian civil war would be better for the people than the situation before the fighting started? If you ask me, the best thing we could do is get out and let events unfold without us for a while. I just don't see how our being more involved anywhere in the Middle East would help anything.

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