Read it slow. It is the very essence of where we are today.
By Jim Mattis
I had time on the cross-country flight to ponder how to encapsulate my view of America’s role in the world. On my flight out of Denver, [I just flew into metroparkcentralis from Denver yesterday] the flight attendant’s standard safety briefing caught my attention: If cabin pressure is lost, masks will fall…Put your own mask on first, then help others around you. In that moment, those familiar words seemed like a metaphor: To preserve our leadership role, we needed to get our own country’s act together first, especially if we were to help others.
Afterward, the president-elect escorted me out to the front steps of the colonnaded clubhouse, where the press was gathered. I assumed that I would be on my way back to Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, where I’d spent the past few years doing research. I figured that my strong support of NATO and my dismissal of the use of torture on prisoners would have the president-elect looking for another candidate. [I'm not sure why he thought that because I've worked for a number of people with whom I had enormous differences of opinions but none of them slowed down the urgency and success of completing the missions we were assigned.]
Standing beside him on the steps as photographers snapped away, I was surprised for the second time that week when he characterized me to the reporters as “the real deal.” Days later, I was formally nominated.
.... Still, having been raised by the Greatest Generation, by two parents who had served in World War II, and subsequently shaped by more than four decades in the Marine Corps, I considered government service to be both honor and duty. When the president asks you to do something, you don’t play Hamlet on the wall, wringing your hands. To quote a great American company’s slogan, you “just do it.” So long as you are prepared, you say yes.
When it comes to the defense of our experiment in democracy and our way of life, ideology should have nothing to do with it. [He is very very wrong here. Ideology has EVERYTHING to do with it.] Whether asked to serve by a Democratic or a Republican, you serve. “Politics ends at the water’s edge”:
We were at war, amid the longest continuous stretch of armed conflict in our nation’s history. I’d signed enough letters to next of kin about the death of a loved one to understand the consequences of leading a department on a war footing when the rest of the country was not. The Department of Defense’s millions of devoted troops and civilians spread around the world carried out their mission with a budget larger than the GDPs of all but two dozen countries.
On a personal level, I had no great desire to return to Washington, D.C. I drew no energy from the turmoil and politics that animate our capital. Yet I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the job’s immensities. I also felt confident that I could gain bipartisan support for the Department of Defense despite the political fratricide practiced in Washington.
My career in the Marines brought me to that moment and prepared me to say yes to a job of that magnitude. The Marines teach you, above all, how to adapt, improvise and overcome. [Best expressed in the movie Heartbreak Ridge with Clint Eastwood] But they expect you to have done your homework, to have mastered your profession. Amateur performance is anathema. [Everywhere!]
The Marines are bluntly critical of falling short, satisfied only with 100% effort and commitment. Yet over the course of my career, every time I made a mistake—and I made many—the Marines promoted me. [See my page at the right on learning by making and letting others make mistakes. Too often now the military is a zero tolerance kind of place. No learning takes place where there is no forgiveness for mistakes.] They recognized that these mistakes were part of my tuition and a necessary bridge to learning how to do things right. Year in and year out, the Marines had trained me in skills they knew I needed, while educating me to deal with the unexpected.
Beneath its Prussian exterior of short haircuts, crisp uniforms and exacting standards, the Corps nurtured some of the strangest mavericks and most original thinkers I encountered in my journey through multiple commands and dozens of countries. The Marines’ military excellence does not suffocate intellectual freedom or substitute regimented dogma for imaginative solutions. [Neither did my father's Army or my first 10 years in the Navy.] They know their doctrine, often derived from lessons learned in combat and written in blood, but refuse to let that turn into dogma. [I believe I mentioned earlier that DOGMA is a great movie!]
Woe to the unimaginative one who, in after-action reviews, takes refuge in doctrine. The critiques in the field, in the classroom or at happy hour are blunt for good reasons. Personal sensitivities are irrelevant. No effort is made to ease you through your midlife crisis when peers, seniors or subordinates offer more cunning or historically proven options, even when out of step with doctrine. [Except of course how DEEP BLUE treated General Ripper. That was hate piled on hate.]
In any organization, it’s all about selecting the right team. The two qualities I was taught to value most were initiative and aggressiveness. Institutions get the behaviors they reward. [What he failed to mention that nobody ever in my 30 years in the NAVY let me pick 'my team'. I got what was handed me and had to mold it and shape it to be an instrument effective at carrying out the mission. He should have said so here.]
During my monthlong preparation for my Senate confirmation hearings, I read many excellent intelligence briefings. I was struck by the degree to which our competitive military edge was eroding, including our technological advantage. We would have to focus on regaining the edge. [After my years at SPAWAR I'm here to tell you 90+% of our hardware is made in China.]
When you’re going to a gunfight, bring all your friends with guns.
An oft-spoken admonition in the Marines is this: When you’re going to a gunfight, bring all your friends with guns. Having fought many times in coalitions, I believe that we need every ally we can bring to the fight. From imaginative military solutions to their country’s vote in the U.N., the more allies the better. I have never been on a crowded battlefield, and there is always room for those who want to be there alongside us. [Our putative allies in NATO don't support us on any battlefield and never in the UN. General Mattis missed the boat on this one.]
A wise leader must deal with reality and state what he intends, and what level of commitment he is willing to invest in achieving that end. He then has to trust that his subordinates know how to carry that out. Wise leadership requires collaboration; otherwise, it will lead to failure. [Hitler had a vast number of allies yet he led Germany into failure. Let's not go there with allies like that.]
Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither. Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy. At this time, we can see storm clouds gathering. A polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed. Returning to a strategic stance that includes the interests of as many nations as we can make common cause with, we can better deal with this imperfect world we occupy together. Absent this, we will occupy an increasingly lonely position, one that puts us at increasing risk in the world. [I'd recommend Thucydides to him because he has clearly forgotten it. Hard to believe Stanford and the Hoover Institute dropped Thucydides from their reading list. Athens had lots and lots of 'allies'. That's what you take away from reading the book.]
It never dawned on me that I would serve again in a government post after retiring from active duty. But the phone call came, and on a Saturday morning in late 2017, I walked into the secretary of defense’s office, which I had first entered as a colonel on staff 20 years earlier. Using every skill I had learned during my decades as a Marine, I did as well as I could for as long as I could. When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign, despite the limitless joy I felt serving alongside our troops in defense of our Constitution. [The problem General was that you were trying to keep faith with allies that manifestly were not keeping faith with us. President Trump understood that and acted on that basis. You let your 40 years as a Marine influence your 'concept' of what our 'allies' do. President Trump doesn't play that game.]
We all know that we’re better than our current politics.
Unlike in the past, where we were unified and drew in allies, currently our own commons seems to be breaking apart. What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness. We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions. [While I have enormous disdain for the progressives and democrats who have feelzzzzz for the likes of antifa and the PLO, I have not parted from my country or the oath I swore again and again every time I was promoted in the Navy. There is truly a split but it wasn't anything that I or mine did. I am and remain a strict Constitutionalist. I'm not the one promoting revolution, spinning race as a weapon or crippling our public education system.]
All Americans need to recognize that our democracy is an experiment—and one that can be reversed. We all know that we’re better than our current politics. Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment. [There is just one party that supports tribalism]
Hope that helped. BTW, I have enormous respect for that man.