Saturday, 15 July 2017

In A Time of Peace . . .

The US Secretary of Defense and the High Schooler

This is an interesting story on a number of levels.  The first is to acknowledge that a high school reporter in the US managed to score  a personal interview with Secretary of Defense, James Mattis.  Another aspect is the apparently quirky way the mind of the Secretary works--that he would grant the time for an interview.  A third facet is the way Mattis does not talk down to the high school student, but answers in an adult fashion.  And, finally, there is the content itself.  

High School Reporter’s Interview With Secretary Of Defense James Mattis


No matter how one feels about Donald Trump being elected president, I think it’s safe to say that most Americans are pleased with his selection of James Mattis for Secretary of Defense.

With that, back in May when the Washington Post published a photo with James Mattis’s phone number on it, a motivated reporter called the number, and then texted Mattis to request an interview. To the young high school reporter’s surprise, Mattis said yes. Teddy Fisher is a reporter for the Mercer Island High School Islander newspaper.

The interview took place on Memorial Day, but did not appear in the school paper until late June. Here are a few excerpts from the excellent, content-rich and informative interview. Subjects covered, and providing much to chew over, include foreign policy, national policy, political ideologies, the Middle East, Iran, and advice for high schoolers. But if you think the interview is geared for high schoolers, think again: “I speak the same to high schoolers, college grads, or congressmen,” [Mattis] said. “I’ve found high schoolers to be plenty bright.”

TEDDY: You said as a nominee for secretary of defense that the military had to be more lethal, but how does diplomacy play a role in your position when dealing with foreign powers?

MATTIS: The way that you get your diplomats listened to in an imperfect world is you make certain you back them up with hard power. The reason I say that is, as much as I’d like to live in a world where people who are out to do others harm would be willing to listen to rational thought, not everyone is.

So what you have to do is make certain that your foreign policy is led by the diplomats, not by the military. I meet for breakfast once a week with Secretary of State Tillerson and I’ll advise him on the military factors for his foreign policy, but I do not believe that military issues should lead in foreign policy. I think that’s where diplomats lead and the military then reinforces the diplomats.

TEDDY: How will the U.S. help rebuild Arab countries after ISIS is inevitably defeated? How can the U.S. avoid creating power vacuums?

MATTIS: Well the first thing, I think is your thesis, Teddy. Secretary Tillerson ran a conference here about seven weeks ago on Washington D.C. and it was the Defeat ISIS Coalition, so of course I spoke at it because I coordinate the military aspects. It was 65 countries, it was Interpol, the international police organization that tracks the foreign fighters for all the world’s police departments. It was the European Union, the Arab league, and also now NATO as of last week, has joined the Defeat ISIS Coalition. The point I would make there is that, you don’t have to have the Americans do it all. There are many nations that said, if you will lead, we will contribute. For example, we had contributions, donations, committed to heavily by the Sunni Arab nations to the tune of several billion dollars.

I think what you want to do is, the Americans can lead it in terms of organization because many nations don’t trust each other as much as they trust America, no matter what you read in the newspapers right now. We spent 85 percent of the Defeat ISIS meeting not talking about the military aspects, but talking about what you’re asking about, which is how do we stop this from just sprouting a new group. And that’s going to be an international effort and we likened it, if you’ve read about the Marshall plan after World War II when the Americans, three years after we defeated the fascists in Germany, the Nazis in Germany the fascists in Japan, we turn around three years later, 36 months later, and offered to help them rebuild.

And look at us today, where Germany and Japan are two of our strongest allies in the United Nations, in NATO, in the Pacific. I think what you want to do is look at the Marshall Plan, but instead of the American’s carrying the full burden or even the heaviest burden, look at all the nations in the world since many nations have become wealthy since World War II, and see it as being an international effort.

TEDDY: Is Iran the most dangerous country in the Middle East?

MATTIS: It’s certainly the country that is the only reason Assad has been able to stay in power. For example, for so long when Russia vetoed the United Nations so they couldn’t do anything about it, the only reason that Assad is still in power and has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people and allowed the terrorists a place to set up camp and millions, literally millions of people, forced out of their homes with nothing but what they could cram into a car or put on their back, it’s all because of Iran.

Iran is certainly the most destabilizing influence in the Middle East and when I would travel to Cairo or Tel Aviv or Riyadh and from Arabs from Jews, all the people in the region, that is their view of Iran. It certainly was my biggest problem when I was the commander of U.S. Central Command. But again, it’s not Iran, it’s the Iranian regime. Most of the Iranian people--I’ve known enough Iranian people or talked to Americans who grew up in Iran and it’s not them, it’s the regime.

(Q: Did any “professional” journalists think to contact Mattis directly and request an interview?)
One encouraging aspect is that Mattis appears to hold the view that in a time of peace the US Department of Defense is subordinate to the lead of the State Department.  It supports the diplomatic strategy and effort.  It does not lead it.  That is the right position to hold.  Given that Mattis has been such a skillful and celebrated warrior he shows that he is of the ilk of those who know the limits and boundaries of the use of armed force.

All to the good.


Anonymous said...

I like what Mattis says but I think he is ignoring Islam's fundamental issues and that is when they are not fighting within their own factions they are looking to conquer the west. I see no easy answer without relegating Islam to Islamic countries until it can behave in a civilised fashion. They will be in the wilderness for a long time I think.


Anonymous said...

By "a civilised fashion" do you mean a western country wanting an 'eastern" country to adopt its more reasonable democratic systems where the majority accept homosexual marriage, killing of unwanted infants in the woom by burning them with saline solution or partial birth where the feet and torso are removed up to 9 months age then a spike to back of head so as not to be confused with murder or our socialist leaning governments wanting to rob hard working folk to fund their socialist agenda?

Not saying I want to live in an Islamic country but don't want us (the West) to portray that we are any less guilty when we stand before God to explain our acceptance of "civilised" behaviour.

Anonymous said...

You are correct that Western Civilisation has much wrong with it but we are faced with a stark choice of what we have with relative lack of corruption and the rule of a relatively impartial legal system based on Christian principles (although drifting away on occasion) and a culture mired in the brutality of the ancient world.

It is clear from both scripture and history that the world has always been a bit of a mess and we struggle on as best we can with what we have available. Jesus saves us as individuals and the Gospel is a message of personal repentance and salvation. We at least have the vestiges of that in the west but Islam has nothing worth seeking because it's "god" is nothing like the Christian God. Jesus was clear that His kingdom was not of this world.