#RealTalk: Mattis at the Aspen Security Forum

Here at  War on the Rocks, we are great admirers of General James Mattis, who retired in May of this year. General Mattis spoke at the recent Aspen Security Forum on the Middle East and Southwest Asia – a part of the world he understands well from his tenure as Commander of CENTCOM.

There are so many gems, but I will just offer a few and let you watch the rest. On Syria, General Mattis argued,

This war needs to be ended as rapidly as possible, that’s the bottom line. But if the Americans go in… it’s going to be a full-throated, very very serious war. And anyone who says its easy, that we can do a no-fly zone and it will be cheap, I discount that at the outset….We need some sort of international imprint, whether it is the Arab League or the GCC, we need the region to provide some sort of framework within which we would operate. Then we need to be very clear about our military end-state contributing to what political end-state.  Otherwise you’re liable to invade a country, pull down a statue, and then say, “Now what do we do?”

General Mattis then says, “Let’s have a reason for what we’re going to do.”  This is basic common sense, but common sense is rare in Washington these days.  We have yet to see the White House articulate a clear and coherent policy on Syria.  I am, perhaps, more of an intervention-skeptic in the case of Syria than General Mattis, but his commentary is enlightening and refreshing.

On end-states, he continued:

The U.S. military is quite capable of giving our enemies their longest day and their worst day if ordered to do so.  But we cannot fight wars, we should not fight wars without a clearly defined end-state that has gone in front of all of you and you nod and say “As bad as war is, that’s what I want our sons and daughters  to do.”

Watch General Mattis here.  Kudos to the Aspen Institute for putting together such a great program every year.