The Obama administration may regret pushing General James Mattis, the brilliant and blunt-talking Marine who is head of Central Command, into retirement for a variety of reasons—not the least of them being that, with his impending retirement looming, he has felt free to voice undiplomatic truths.
In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, he was asked whether sanctions and diplomacy were preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear arms. His blunt answer: “No, sir” He followed up by explaining: “That should not be in any way construed as we should not try to negotiate. I still support the direction we’re taking. I’m just — I’m paid to take a rather dim view of the Iranians, frankly.” Needless to say his “dim view” is a lot closer to reality than the daydreams of political staffers in the White House who imagine that some kind of diplomatic breakthrough with the mullahs is likely.
In January, Max Boot wrote about the unfortunate decision of the administration to push out one of the country’s top soldiers: Marine General James Mattis, the head of the nation’s crucial Central Command. As Max said, it appeared that “the White House does not appreciate his blunt advice and thinks he is too hawkish on Iran.” Yesterday, we got a good example of the blunt advice Mattis has been offering up when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee “sanctions and diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities are not working”:
General James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran has a history of denial and deceit and is enriching uranium beyond any plausible peaceful purpose. While it may still be possible to use sanctions and other pressure to bring Tehran to its senses, he added, Iran is using the negotiations to buy time.
Mattis is obviously right about what has happened in the last decade as the United States wasted time on foolish attempts at engagement, weak diplomacy and loosely enforced sanctions as the Iranians ran out the clock, getting closer every day to realizing their nuclear ambition. But the question that should be on the minds of Americans is whether the people who showed the general the door understand this commonsense evaluation.
When history judges President Obama for the schizophrenic debacle that America’s AfPak strategy has become – and it will – his inability to integrate the advice of military leaders will figure prominently:
The president ordered his advisers to start making plans for a U.S. exit. “This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.”… the planning process would be left to those who agreed with the president. Dissenters were not invited. It’s hardly the picture of a harmonious policy process or a “tough-guy” leader in sync with the military that the White House was eager to sell….
Max’s post from earlier this week outlines how Obama put his “own political calculations front and center in making national security policy,” from ignoring his generals on the Afghan surge to shutting them out totally from withdrawal planning. The president, having pushed Afghanistan as “the good war” during the election to deflect from his Iraq defeatism, had to at least make a token gesture at trying to stabilize the country. That political necessity clashed with his genuine desire to withdraw, and the combination resulted in the worst possible policy: more American troops in harm’s way, but not enough to win.