Slate has a great interview with Jim Mattis, one of our great unsung generals. I first met him in Iraq in 2003 when he was commanding the 1st Marine Division in the south. It was also on this trip that I met another two-star general named David Petraeus who was commanding the 101st Airborne Division in the north. Petraeus has since become world famous — and for good reason. Mattis isn’t as well known, although he’s also a four-star general. But he isn’t in charge of Central Command, Iraq, or Afghanistan — the most high-profile operational commands a military officer can have today. Instead he runs the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is charged with preparing troops for deployment, for enhancing joint operations between the services, and for shaping the doctrine and training of the armed forces. (Full disclosure: I serve on a civilian advisory board at JFCOM.) In that position he has been grappling with some of the most basic challenges confronting the United States as it seeks to preserve its power and influence in the 21st century.
You can see some of the results in this thoughtful document: the “Joint Operating Environment 2010.” For more of a flavor of Mattis the man, read John Dickerson’s profile in Slate. Mattis, like Petraeus, has an unusual gift: He is both a deep thinker and a decisive battlefield commander. He is a soldier who is engrossed in military history but, even as a general, doesn’t hesitate to plunge into the middle of a firefight.
The U.S. Armed Forces can ill afford to lose Mattis, who is due to retire later this year. (It has been reported that he will be succeeded at JFCOM by the outstanding Ray Odierno, fresh off his stint as the top commander in Iraq.)