I have been very excited about the possibility of General Mattis as potential Secretary of Defense in the new administration, and the closer we get to an official announcement, the more my excitement increases. In fact I've been buzzing like a school girl about it, and an old friend the other day asked me why. That's when I was once again reminded that not everyone automatically has the same knowledge as me, and that sometimes I need to explain myself rather than just flamboyantly tap dance around waving a flag and yelling "Whoo hoo!"
So I'll use part of my response to her here, and I'll flesh it out a bit more as well, about why I (and many other members of the Defense community) are acting like kids on Christmas morning about this possible pick:
General Mattis is renowned throughout the Marine Corps (and the military community in general) as being a very pragmatic man, who knows how to get things done, has the best interest of the country and his people at heart, and isn't afraid to step on bureaucratic toes. He embodies the "warrior scholar" ideal, he is well read and very intelligent. He doesn't have any interest in anything but doing the job the right way, and is seen as a leader who will make good decisions even if they are politically unfavorable (a big deal in an era when many members of the flag ranks are seen as being willing to sacrifice ideals for politics in order to secure a civilian job after they retire). He is (as far as I can tell) universally respected, and a very rare man. He also has an amazing sense of humor and is known for his non sequiturs. A great leader and man. Here is an article that has an email he wrote in response to someone asking what to do when they said their officers didn't have time to read.
I love the fact that he is so well read and employs his knowledge of history handily and without pretense, and travels with a library of books. He fully appreciates the importance of history in warfare, and in human nature. I feel that we haven't had the best luck in Defense Secretaries for having their fingers on the pulse of the military, and he would definitely not have that problem. He fully understands all levels of military life (check out one of my favorite stories about him) and hasn't let his position ever erode his humanity. He also has a fundamental understanding of the enemy, and I absolutely love how candid he is about it.
In an era of people saying whatever it takes to get the job, no matter their true beliefs and with nary a care for hypocrisy, General Mattis is a true throwback in his honesty. He knows his job, he loves it to his core, and he won't mince words about it. He's so good at being in Command that he rose to the top despite this time being one that mostly rewards people for checking boxes and glad-handing even in the highest levels, and he never let go of the truth to do it. That is a very large breath of fresh air. We've had several SecDefs who were definitely more political than actual, and while I usually like balance (a civilian SECDEF is in many ways a good thing, to balance out the bias that can come from a military background), in this case I'm sure he will do such a good job that I don't mind having a fully military person in the position. He's so informed, well-read and well-rounded that he has a pocketful of invisible civilian advisors riding on his shoulder at all times (as long as you are willing to listen to the wisdom of greats like Marcus Aurelius and Gertrude Bell). It's so refreshing to have someone who understands the importance of classical thought and teaching, instead of a MBA from an ivy league university.
I know I'm gushing here, but I can't help it. I've followed his career for years, and was very sad when he retired and wasn't made Commandant. This development is unforeseen and even better, so I'm on cloud nine. I've managed to get this far without stating the fact that he's a very formidable enemy to anyone who would go against us on his watch, but the man is known for his tenacity and true embodiment of the "devil dog" spirit. I can't hide my enthusiasm for this pick, and I figured I'd flesh it out a bit for those who might not have known more detail.
In parting, here's a list of some of his best quotes, which cut straight through bs and right to the heart of every matter they are addressing:
“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
-Gen. Mattis gave this piece of advice to Marines in Iraq, as quoted in “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq”
In a similar vein, Mattis has also said:
“There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot them. I don’t think you do. It’s just business.”
“There is nothing better than getting shot at and missed. It’s really great.”
On the flip side, the general would rather not be on the receiving end of it.
“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people.”
Mattis said this during a 2005 panel in San Diego, California, according to a CNN transcript. Later, his boss Gen. Hagee chastised his frank speech, saying Mattis “should have chosen his words more carefully.”
“The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some a**holes in the world that just need to be shot.”
This was a line in a motivational address to his Marines at Ayn al-Asad Airbase, an Iraqi Armed Forces and U.S. armed forces base located in western Iraq.
“I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f*** with me, I’ll kill you all.”
Mattis reportedly said this to Iraqi tribal leaders.
“PowerPoint makes us stupid.”
Mattis, then Joint Forces commander, said this at a military conference in North Carolina, April 2010.