James Norman Mattis (born 8 September 1950) is a retired United States Marine Corps general who was the 26th United States Secretary of Defense, serving in the Cabinet of Donald Trump. Mattis was previously the 11th Commander of United States Central Command during the presidency of Barack Obama, and was responsible for American military operations in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, and Central Asia.
- Good afternoon, Marines. Thank you for your attention so late on a Friday. I know the women of Southern California are waiting for you, so I won't waste your time.
- Opening remark in an address of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion Marines at Camp Pendleton (September 2002), as quoted in One Bullet Away : The Making of a Marine Officer (2005 by Nathaniel Fick, p. 163)
- For decades, Saddam Hussein has tortured, imprisoned, raped and murdered the Iraqi people; invaded neighboring countries without provocation; and threatened the world with weapons of mass destruction. The time has come to end his reign of terror. On your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind. When I give you the word, together we will cross the Line of Departure, close with those forces that choose to fight, and destroy them. Our fight is not with the Iraqi people, nor is it with members of the Iraqi army who choose to surrender. While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam’s oppression. Chemical attack, treachery, and use of the innocent as human shields can be expected, as can other unethical tactics. Take it all in stride. Be the hunter, not the hunted: never allow your unit to be caught with its guard down. Use good judgment and act in best interests of our Nation. You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon. Share your courage with each other as we enter the uncertain terrain north of the Line of Departure. Keep faith in your comrades on your left and right and Marine Air overhead. Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit. For the mission’s sake, our country’s sake, and the sake of the men who carried the Division’s colors in the past battles-who fought for life and never lost their nerve-carry out your mission and keep your honor clean. Demonstrate to the world there is "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy" than a U.S. Marine.
- Mattis' words in a message to the 1st Marine Division (March 2003), on the eve of the Iraq War, as quoted in "Eve of Battle Speech" in The Weekly Standard (1 March 2003); also quoted in War Stories: Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) by Oliver North, p. 53
- For all the ‘4th Generation of War’ intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc., I must respectfully say, ‘Not really’: Alexander the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying — studying, (versus) just reading — the men who have gone before us. We have been fighting on this planet for 5,000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. ‘Winging it’ and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession.
- Addressing the detractors of untested Marine tactics in Iraq (20 November 2003), as quoted in "Fiasco", Armed Forces Journal (1 August 2006)
- None of the widely touted new technologies and weapons systems "would have helped me in the last three years [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. But I could have used cultural training [and] language training. I could have used more products from American universities [who] understood the world does not revolve around America and [who] embrace coalitions and allies for all of the strengths that they bring us."
- Speaking at a professional conference on military transformation, urging the Pentagon to invest in efforts that would "diminish the conditions that drive people to sign up for these kinds of insurgencies." As quoted in "Breaking the Warrior Code", by John R. Guardiano, The American Spectator (11 February 2005)
- Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.
- One of the rules to live by which he gave his Marines in Iraq, as quoted in Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (2006) by Thomas E. Ricks; as excerpted in Armed Forces Journal (August 2006)
- I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.
- After the invasion of Iraq — and after sending his tanks and artillery home — Mattis sent this message to the Iraqi leaders in every area his men served in, as quoted in Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (2006) by Thomas E. Ricks; as excerpted in Armed Forces Journal (August 2006)
- The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, cunning, obedience and alertness, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim. It’s really a hell of a lot of fun. You’re gonna have a blast out here!
- Addressing a gathering of 200 Marines in al Asad, as quoted in "Fiasco", Armed Forces Journal (1 August 2006)
- You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling.
- Panel discussion in San Diego, California (1 February 2005) as quoted in "General: It's 'fun to shoot some people'" CNN (4 February 2005); a contextualized explanation of his remarks occurs in an essay by one of the Marines who served under Mattis: "Breaking the Warrior Code" The American Spectator (11 February 2005) by John R. Guardiano
- There is only one ‘retirement plan’ for terrorists.
- As quoted in "Fiasco", Armed Forces Journal (1 August 2006)
- PowerPoint makes us stupid.
- Referring to the presentation software at a brief in North Carolina (April 2010), as quoted in "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint" (2010) by Elisabeth Bumiller, The New York Times (27 March 2010)
- In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony — even vicious harmony — on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.
- At the May 2010 JFCOM Conference Ares blog, Aviation Week (June 2010)
- "I have the forces to squash the Iran military if I need to; but I've seen a lot of war and really don't want to kill young Iranian boys,"
- Responding to a question during a conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in the spring of 2011.[specific citation needed]
- Treachery has existed as long as there’s been warfare, and there’s always been a few people that you couldn’t trust.
- In response to a question during a congressional hearing about whether the U.S. should modify its Afghan strategy in response to six U.S. soldiers being killed by Afghan soldiers between Feb. 23 and March 1. As quoted in "Key commanders have their say on Afghanistan" by Walter Pincus, The Washington Post (7 March 2012)
- When you were the commander of the Central Command, how much time, worry did you have on Iran? Was that your primary concern?
I don't have worry and stress. I cause worry and stress.
- CNN journalist Wolf Blitzer and James Mattis (20 July 2013), in an interview conducted live on CNN about Mattis, his experiences as a senior commander in the Marine Corps, and his perspectives on modern issues of defense.
- Combining al Qaeda's significant fighting capabilities with a stronger focus on the administrative capabilities that might permit it to hold ground, the Islamic State copied the latter from Hezbollah's model. Basically, Islamic State is a combined al Qaeda and Lebanese Hezbollah on steroids, destabilizing the region, dissolving borders/changing the political geography in the mid-east, and hardening political positions that make mid-east peace-building more remote by the day.
- John Dickerson: What keeps you awake at night?
James Mattis: Nothing, I keep other people awake at night.
- Exchange in an interview between John Dickerson and James Mattis on CBS' "Face the Nation" (28 May 2017)
- That China “harbored long-term designs to rewrite the existing global order,”...The Ming Dynasty appears to be their model, albeit in a more muscular manner, demanding that other nations become tribute states kowtowing to Beijing.
- Speech at the Naval War College's graduation ceremony (21 June 2018) Mattis compared Xi’s China to the Ming Dynasty. Xi might be happy to hear it.
- Remember, I don't have stress; I create it.
- Speech at the Virginia Military Institute (25 September 2018)
- I think the rewards for moral courage are promotion. ... Any institution gets the behavior it rewards. Now if the institution gets rotten, you can have a problem with this. It's happened to institutions, it's happened to corporations. It's why you have to be very alert to this to keep your personal and managerial integrity.
- Today’s violent assault on our Capitol, an effort to subjugate American democracy by mob rule, was fomented by Mr. Trump. His use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice.
Our Constitution and our Republic will overcome this stain and We the People will come together again in our never-ending effort to form a more perfect Union, while Mr. Trump will deservedly be left a man without a country.
Address to US Congress (2013)
- If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition, ultimately. So I think it’s a cost-benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.
First Message to the U.S. Department of Defense (2017)
- Official message (20 January 2017), the day he was sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Defense. Release No. NR-020-17
- It’s good to be back and I’m grateful to serve alongside you as Secretary of Defense. Together with the Intelligence Community we are the sentinels and guardians of our nation. We need only look to you, the uniformed and civilian members of the Department and your families, to see the fundamental unity of our country. You represent an America committed to the common good; an America that is never complacent about defending its freedoms; and an America that remains a steady beacon of hope for all mankind. Every action we take will be designed to ensure our military is ready to fight today and in the future. Recognizing that no nation is secure without friends, we will work with the State Department to strengthen our alliances. Further, we are devoted to gaining full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense, thereby earning the trust of Congress and the American people. I am confident you will do your part. I pledge to you I’ll do my best as your Secretary.
Hold the line memo (2018)
- Official message (19 January 2018), as the U.S. government prepared to shut down due to a failure to pass a budget bill on time in U.S. Congress.
- MEMORANDUM FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
- SUBJECT: Guidance on the Government Shutdown
- Our government will shutdown at midnight tonight. We in the Department of Defense will continue carrying out our fundamental responsibility to defend our Nation and the American people. We will continue to execute daily operations around the world – ships and submarines will remain at sea, our aircraft will continue to fly and our warfighters will continue to pursue terrorists throughout the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. While training for reservists must be curtailed, active forces will stay at their posts adapting their training to achieve the least negative impact on our readiness to fight. I recognize the consequences of a government shutdown. You have my personal commitment that the Department’s leadership will do our best to mitigate the impacts of the disruptions and any financial burdens to you and your families. Steady as she goes – hold the line. I know our Nation can count on you. STAY ALERT.
Farewell message (2018)
- Official message sent on his last day as Secretary of Defense to all members of the U.S. Department of Defense (31 December 2018).
- MEMORANDUM FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
- SUBJECT: Farewell Message
- On February 1, 1865, President Lincoln sent General Ulysses S. Grant a one sentence telegram. It read: "Let nothing which is transpiring change, hinder, or delay your military movements, or plans." Our Department's leadership, civilian and military, remains in the best possible hands. I am confident that each of you remains undistracted from our sworn mission to support and defend the Constitution while protecting our way of life. Our Department is proven to be at its best when the times are most difficult. So keep the faith in our country and hold fast, alongside our allies, aligned against our foes. It has been my high honor to serve at your side. May God hold you safe in the air, on land, and at sea.
Letter of Resignation (2018)
- Letter to President Donald Trump resigning as Secretary of Defense (20 December 2018) 
- Dear Mr. President,
- I have been privileged to serve as our country's 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.
- I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department's business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.
- One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO's 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.
- Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
- My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
- Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department's interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability Within the Department.
- I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.
- I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.
- This book was co-written by Jim Mattis and Bing West (Francis J. West), but is written from Mattis' first-person perspective.
- To all who serve in defense of our values.
- You don't always control your circumstances, but you can always control your response.
- p. 6
- To risk death willingly, to venture forth knowing that in so doing you may cease to exist is an unnatural act. To take the life of a fellow human being or to watch your closest comrades die exacts a profound emotional toll.
- p. 31
- In my military judgment, President George H. W. Bush knew how to end a war on our terms. When he said America would take action, we did. He approved of deploying overwhelming forces to compel the enemy's withdrawal or swiftly end the war. He avoided sophomoric decisions like imposing a ceiling on the number of troops or setting a date when we would have to stop fighting and leave. He systematically gathered public support, congressional approval,and UN agreement. He set a clear, limited end state and used diplomacy to pull together a military coalition that included allies we'd never fought alongside. He listened to opposing points of view and guided the preparations, without offending or excluding any stakeholder, while also holding firm to his strategic goal. Under his wise leadership, there was no mission creep. We wouldn't discipline ourselves to be so strategically sound in the future.
- p. 37
- Reading sheds light on our dark path ahead. By traveling into the past, I enhance my grasp of the present.
- p. 42
In Union There Is Strength (2020)
- Statement published in "James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution" by Jeffrey Goldberg, in The Atlantic (3 June 2020) · Statement at NPR
- IN UNION THERE IS STRENGTH
I have watched this week's unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words "Equal Justice Under Law" are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand — one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values — our values as people and our values as a nation.
- When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.
- We must reject any thinking of our cities as a "battlespace" that our uniformed military is called upon to "dominate." At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.
- We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.
- Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that "The Nazi slogan for destroying us...was 'Divide and Conquer.' Our American answer is 'In Union there is Strength.'" We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis — confident that we are better than our politics.
Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.
- We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln's "better angels," and listen to them, as we work to unite.
Only by adopting a new path — which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals — will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.
Quotes about Mattis
- Sorted alphabetically by author or source
- The second Syria Principals Committee meeting convened at one thirty and again consisted largely of the various agencies reporting on their developing planning and activity, all consistent with a strong response. I soon realized Mattis was our biggest problem. He hadn't produced any targeting options for the NSC or for White House Counsel Don McGahn, who needed to write an opinion on the legality of whatever Trump ultimately decided. From long, unhappy experience, I knew what was going on here. Mattis knew where he wanted Trump to come out militarily, and he also knew that the way to maximize t he likelihood of his view's prevailing was to deny information to others who had a legitimate right to weigh in. It was simple truth that not presenting options until the last minute, making sure that those options were rigged in the "right" direction, and then table-pounding, delaying, and obfuscating as long as possible were the tactics by which a savvy bureaucrat like Mattis could get his way. The Principals Meeting ended inconclusively, although Mattis gave some ground to McGahn in the end after a little temper-flaring around the Sit Room table. I was determined that this obstructionism would not happen, but Mattis had clearly dug in. I didn't think he was over the line yet, but he was right on it, as I said to both Pence and Kelly after the meeting.
- John Bolton, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir (2020), p. 50-51
- On December 20, as Pompeo later told me, just hours before his resignation, Mattis gave Pompeo not only his resignation letter but also other documents, one particularly important here. This was a draft public statement on the operational plans for the Afghan withdrawal, which basically preempted whatever Trump might say about it in his January State of the Union speech. Stunned, Pompeo told Mattis he simply could not release such a document and that there was no way to edit it to make it acceptable. Mattis asked if he would at least send it along to me, and Pompeo said he know I would agree with him. Neither Pompeo nor I knew at the time that the Defense Department had drafted an "execute order" elaborating what the draft statement said, and distributed it to US commanders and embassies worldwide, all part of Mattis' resignation scenario. We obviously understood all this only hazily in the confusion, but it produced an explosion of press stories. It reflected a common Mattis tactic, one of spite, to say, in effect, "You want withdrawal? You've got withdrawal." They didn't call him "Chaos" for nothing.
- John Bolton, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir (2020), p. 220-221
- Personnel management issues, also critical to policy development, portended a series of dramatic changes following the November 2018 congressional elections. Jim Mattis and his staff, for example, had a masterful command of press relations, carefully cultivating his reputation as a "warrior scholar." One story I was sure the media hadn't heard from Mattis was one told by Trump on May 25, as Marine One flew back to the White House after Trump's graduation speech to the Naval Academy. He said Mattis had told him, regarding Trump's appearing in a scheduled presidential debate just days after the Access Hollywood story broke in the press, that "it was the bravest thing he had ever seen anyone do." Coming from a career military man, that was indeed something. Of course, Trump could have been making it up, but, if not, it showed Mattis knew how to flatter with the best of them.
- John Bolton, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir (2020), p. 236
- "What do you think of Mattis?" Trump asked, in line with his management style, which almost no one believed was conducive to building trust and confidence among his subordinates. But he did it all the time. And only a fool would not assume that if he asked me questions about Mattis, he was surely asking others about me. I gave a partial answer, which was both true and important: I said Mattis was "good at not doing what he didn't want to do" and that he had "a high opinion of his own opinion." With that, Trump was off, explaining that he didn't trust Mattis and how tired he was of constant press stories about Mattis's outwitting Trump. I didn't say it to Trump, but this was the biggest self-inflicted wound by the "axis of adults." They thought themselves so smart they could tell the world how smart they were, and Trump wouldn't figure it out. They were not as smart as they thought.
- John Bolton, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir (2020), p. 236-237
- Jim Mattis I first met when I went to the Pentagon. He was a young colonel. And as Senator Nunn has pointed out, he had a reputation even then. This is somebody to watch. He is young. He is smart. He does not really belong behind a desk, although he may belong there right now, but at that time, he wanted to get out into the field. He is a warrior by nature... But that is really not why we are here. If he were only a great warrior, you would say, well, there are a lot of other warriors as well. He comes because he is a man of thought, as well as action. And sometimes it is said you can judge people by the friends he makes, the company he keeps, but also by the books he reads. General Mattis has some 6,000 books in his library, most of which, if not all of them, he has read, and he can refer to either Alexander the Great, General Grant, Sun Tzu. And I suspect he is probably the only one here at this table who can hear the words “Thucydides Trap” and not have to go to Wikipedia to find out what it means. And so he is a scholar as well and a strategic thinker as well as a great warrior.
- William Cohen, U.S. Senator from Maine, 1979-1997, in his remarks to the U.S. Senate during Mattis' confirmation hearing for his nomination for Secretary of Defense (12 January 2017)
- Farther down the line, in the middle of a gravelly flat near the runway's end, I approached another fighting hole, careful to come from the rear and listen for the verbal challenge. It was an assault rocket team, and there should have been two Marines awake. In the moonlight, I saw three heads silhouetted against the sky. I slid down into the hole with a rustle of cascading dirt. General Mattis leaned against a wall of sandbags, talking with a sergeant and a lance corporal. That was real leadership. No one would have questioned Mattis if he'd slept eight hours each night in a private room, to be woken each morning by an aide who ironed his uniforms and heated his MREs. But there he was, in the middle of a freezing night, out on the lines with his Marines.
- General Mattis arrived a few minutes later, clearing the atmosphere like a thunderstorm on a humid afternoon. Mattis is kinetic. The troops who knew him from Afghanistan loved him, and everyone else loved him by reputation. Stars on a collar can throw a barrier between leader and led, but Mattis' rank only contributed to his hero status. Here was an officer, a general, who understood the Marines, who, in fact, was one of them. I caught Wynn's eye and leaned toward him to whisper a question: "You know what Mattis's call sign is?" He shook his head. "Chaos. How fucking cool is that?"
- Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005), p. 162
- General Mattis closed with a divisionwide directive: no Marine in the First Marine Division would deploy with more personal gear than was allowed to an infantry lance corporal. No cots, no coffeepots, no Game Boys, CD players, or satellite telephones. Every man would sleep on the ground, and every man would shoulder an equal portion of the daily hardship. It was a Spartan concept, quintessentially Mattis, and I liked it.
- Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005), p. 164
- The National Security [Council] Staff had, in effect, become an operational body with its own policy agenda, as opposed to a coordination mechanism. And this, in turn, led to micromanagement far beyond what was appropriate... I told General Jim Mattis at Central Command that if Lute ever called him again to question anything, Mattis was to tell him to go to hell.
- Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (2014), p. 482
- Here’s a story that would be reported only in passing and remain remarkably uncommented upon by the punditocracy or anyone in Congress: seven months after that resignation, Mattis took up a position on the board of General Dynamics, one of the nation’s largest defense contractors, with all the perks involved. (Admittedly, he had been on that same board from the moment he retired from the military in 2013 until the president gave him the proverbial Trumpian bear hug and appointed him secretary of defense in 2017.) There were no columns about it. No pundits raised a storm. Nobody of any significance said much of anything.
- If confirmed, General Mattis would have the honor of leading a team of Americans who represent everything that is noble and best in our Nation. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines do everything we ask of them and more. They make us proud every day. Our many defense civil servants also sacrifice day in and day out for our national security and rarely get the credit they deserve. I am confident that no one appreciates our people and values their sacrifices more than General Mattis.
- John McCain, U.S. Senator from Arizona, in his remarks as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee during Mattis' confirmation hearing for his nomination for Secretary of Defense (12 January 2017)
- Mattis was an obstacle to Trump’s desire to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan (and remains in position to spike Trump’s orders).... But withdrawal of ground troops is supremely sane, and Mattis was and is a large problem. And, for good or ill, Trump — not Mattis — was elected president.
- Ray McGovern in Send the Mad Dog to the Corporate Kennel, Consortium News, (21 December 2018)
- The U.S. Constitution and international law suffered a stinging blow last night at the hands of an odd coalition... As was the case 15 years ago when the U.S. and UK launched a war of aggression against Iraq, the pretext was so-called “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) — this time the claimed use on April 7 of chlorine (and maybe the nerve agent sarin — who knows?) in Duma a suburb of Damascus...
The attacks by the Gang of Three came hours before specialists from the UN Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were to arrive in Syria to study soil and other samples in Duma. The question leaps out: Why could the Gang not wait until the OPCW had a chance to find out whether there was such an attack and, if so, what chemical(s) were used? U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis could only say that he believes there was a chemical attack and that perhaps sarin, in addition to chlorine, was involved. Serving until now as the only available “evidence” are highly dubious reports from agenda-laden “social media.” What is clear is that the U.S./UK/French Gang wanted to strike before the OPCW investigators had a chance to ascertain what happened. Hmm. All the earmarks of “Sentence first; verdict afterwards.”
- Jim Mattis is a rare combination of thinker and doer, scholar and strategist. He understands, respects, and loves the men and women in uniform and their families. He also understands the structure and the organization of the Pentagon, and he knows what the building has to do to give the troops the tools they need to do their job of protecting our Nation’s security. Jim also knows the awesome powers and responsibility of our military forces and the challenges of our complex and very dangerous world. He understands that our military cannot be our primary tool to meet every challenge, and he strongly supports the important role of diplomacy and has been outspoken in the important need of giving the State Department the resources they need to be fully effective.
- Sam Nunn, U.S. Senator from Georgia 1972-1997, introducing Mattis to the United States Senate at Mattis' confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense (12 January 2017)
- Mac mentioned a distinguished guest who would soon be joining us. At first I didn’t pay much attention to the name and rank. The room was already full of high-ranking officers, and I was thinking about how normal they all looked. They were not in uniform; they looked like ambitious and enterprising professionals; but one felt that their modest demeanors fronted warlike spirits. Their conversation was quiet, but their laughter was loud. As soon as the guest stepped into the pub — looking like everyone else, trim and neat in his blue jeans, open shirt, and blue blazer — all eyes turned to him. This, I realized, was General James N. Mattis. A four-star general, one of only four in the Corps, he led the rapid, seventeen-day drive toward Baghdad in 2003 and, a few months later, conducted a slower, careful response to insurgent attacks in Fallujah. I’d heard of his forthright manner. He is said to have told tribal leaders in Iraq: “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But, I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you screw with me, I’ll kill you all.” So, how does a run-down professor with unkempt hair shake hands with a renowned warrior? When in doubt, improvise. So I said, “Hi, I thought you’d be taller.” To this he replied, “And I thought you’d look smarter.”
- Peter W. Schramm, PhD, professor of history and government at Ashland University, on a meeting with Mattis in August 2010, posted in his online publication series On Principle.
- You would not mistake this man for a Roman, or a Russian, or even an English general. An entirely American character, he is disposed to look at things from the inside rather than from without, and certainly not to look down on those of us he is sworn to protect. He understands that in this country all men may rise, that distinction is based only on merit; and he demonstrates gratitude for the opportunity to labor in his field.
- Peter W. Schramm, on a meeting with Mattis in August 2010, posted in his online publication series On Principle.
- When General Mattis asked me about my son and how he is getting along in the Corps, I told him some of what John had said about his work and routines, and added that John felt honored to serve. I also told him that soon after my son joined up I recounted to him the story told about a venerable gunnery sergeant in the 1930s. When he was asked by a young lieutenant how the Corps got its reputation as one of the world’s greatest fighting formations, the sergeant said: “Well, they started telling everybody how great they were. Pretty soon they got to believing it themselves. And they have been busy ever since proving they were right.” “Semper fi,” rejoined the general. Indeed. And God-speed.
- Peter W. Schramm, on a meeting with Mattis in August 2010, posted in his online publication series On Principle.
- One week later Bremer issued CPA Order Number 2 disbanding the Iraqi Army. This too was contrary to what Garner had planned and took CENTCOM by surprise. “We were working with the Army when we were told to disband them,” said Marine Major General James Mattis. Overnight some 385,000 soldiers, plus another 285,000 employees of the Ministry of the Interior- the home of police and domestic security services- were without jobs. Abruptly terminating the livelihood of these men created a vast pool of humiliated, agonized, and politicized men, many of whom were armed. It also represented a major setback in restoring order. As Colonel John Agoglia, the deputy chief of planning at Central Command, said, “That was the day we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and created an insurgency.”
- Jean Edward Smith, Bush (2016), p. 373
- The fighting in Fallujah was fierce. And the reaction among Iraqis to the American offensive was uniformly hostile. Members of Bremer’s Governing Council threatened to resign if the attack continued, imperiling the handover of authority to Iraqis now scheduled for June 30. At this point Bremer blinked, then Rice blinked, and then Bush blinked. Late on April 8, just one day after his blistering pep talk, the president instructed Abizaid and Sanchez to halt the offensive in Fallujah. The following day, the troops were ordered to stand down. The Marines were furious. Thirty-nine Marines and U.S. soldiers had been killed in four days of fighting, and combat commanders believed they were relatively close to seizing their final objectives. “If you are going to take Vienna, take fucking Vienna,” Mattis snarled at Abizaid, updating a famous comment made by Napoleon. Bush had scarcely provided the robust leadership he advertised. One minute he was tough, the next he knuckled under. General Sanchez called it a strategic disaster for the United States.
- Jean Edward Smith, Bush (2016), p. 398
- General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General's General!
- Donald Trump, in a Tweet after a meeting with Mattis in Bedminster, New Jersey (20 November 2016)
- I didn't like his 'leadership' style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!
- Mattis still saw Iran as the key destabilizing influence in the region. In private, he could be pretty hard-line, but he had mellowed. Push them back, screw with them, drive a wedge between the Russians and Iranians, but no war. Russia had privately warned Mattis that if there was a war in the Baltics, Russia would not hesitate to use tactical nuclear weapons against NATO. Mattis, with agreement from Dunford, began saying that Russia was an existential threat to the United States. Mattis had formed a close relationship with Tillerson. They tried to have lunch most weeks. Mattis's house was near the State Department and several times Mattis told his staff, "I'll walk down and say hello to him." McMaster considered Mattis and Tillerson "the team of two" and found himself outside their orbit, which was exactly the way they wanted it.
- Bob Woodward, Fear: Trump in the White House (2018), p. 132
- White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who was a commander in the Naval Reserves, tried several times to persuade Mattis to appear on Sunday talk shows on behalf of the administration. The answer was always no. "Sean," Mattis finally said, "I've killed people for a living. If you call me again, I'm going to fucking send you to Afghanistan. Are we clear?"
- Bob Woodward, Fear: Trump in the White House (2018), p. 133
- Mattis, Tillerson and Coats are all conservatives or apolitical people who wanted to help him and the country. Imperfect men who answered the call to public service. They were not the deep state. Yet each departed with cruel words from their leader. They concluded that Trump was an unstable threat to their country. Think about that for a moment: The top national security leaders thought the president of the United States was a danger to the country.
- Bob Woodward, Rage (2020), p. 387
- In 2013, after being fired by Obama, Mattis returned to Richland, Washington, a civilian for the first time in over four decades. Over the years, he had written more than 800 letters to the families of those who had died under his command. These were the Gold Star families. He would often get replies from the families asking him to come see them. Or someone in the fallen Marine's unit would forward a copy of a handwritten note or letter. Mattis would have someone investigate to make sure it was authentic, and if so, would forward it to the family with a note from him: Here's what we found out about your son or husband. Often the family would then say, please come see us. Then, with time on his hands, Mattis hit the road in his light brown 1998 Lexus sedan. He would stop to speak at organized groups of veterans or Gold Star families, or to an individual family. He would pull into a town, get a hotel room, read the folder about the fallen Marine or soldier, put on a suit and go pay his respects. Sometimes this led him to a mobile home, sometimes to the home of a very wealthy family.
- Bob Woodward, Rage (2020), p. 134
- He especially remembered a visit to a family in Utah with a large, beautiful home. He drove up a winding hill. Inside, he took a seat. Tall windows fronted the house. The father, a doctor, was home early. The mother, a professor at a local college, had perfectly painted nails and every hair just right. They were stoic. Their son had a four-year college football scholarship but had joined the Marines instead. He had died in combat years earlier. The mother talked about their deceased son, the mountains he had climbed. They took Mattis to a boy's bedroom still fully intact, preserved almost as a museum. They showed Mattis all the pictures- their son as a baby, grammar school, high school, the prom. The full American story. Mattis could only listen so long. There was only so much to say. After an hour, the visit was petering out. The mother said General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, had asked for 40,000 more troops in 2009, and President Obama had given 30,000. She had her history correct. If there were more, a million troops available, she asked, why didn't McChrystal get 80,000? Mattis mumbled something about how the president had to weigh options. Finally, Mattis said, "You know, I can't give you a good answer other than we thought that was probably sufficient."
- Bob Woodward, Rage (2020), p. 134-135
- "Were you trying to make it fair for the enemy?" she asked. There was no anger in her voice, just sorrow, as if the wounds of the loss would never heal. All of a sudden the father became enraged and looked directly at Mattis- an unforgettable look. "We certainly weren't trying to do that," Mattis answered defensively. "We've studied you," said the mother. "We've read all the things you've done." Mattis was not the problem. "We know you were trying to be loyal." The father stood and shook Mattis's hand, holding it for what seemed like 30 seconds, straining for some connection. The mother- cultured, refined, proper, educated- had one final thought about Washington: "General, no one in that town back there gives a fuck about what our family lost."
- Bob Woodward, Rage (2020), p. 135
- "We must not declare victory," said France's Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, leaning forward, "and walk away and wonder why it comes right back at it." On the verge of victory was the time to stay the course and avoid the temptation of a premature withdrawal. Everyone seemed to be nodding. Perfect, thought Mattis. Everyone was on board. He could ignore his written talking points. He wouldn't have to say a word. The sale was made. Finally the meeting was turned over to him as the representative of the lead nation. Mattis summarized the others' points and said he couldn't agree more strongly. Then they all discussed how they would keep their troops there, the exact words to explain the essential rationale underlying their plans: They had to persist because the fight against ISIS was not over. My God, this is great, Mattis thought. He called White House chief of staff John Kelly. "John, the nations are with us. They're not pulling. They're going to stay on the ground. It's time to force it into the Geneva peace process"- to support the Kurds, who had done most of the fighting. "I'll talk t o Mike Pompeo." Back in Washington on Wednesday, December 19, Mattis saw a tweet pop up from the president: "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency." Later that day, Trump released a one-minute video and tweet underscoring his earlier message: "After historic victories against ISIS, it's time to bring our great young people home!" The United States was withdrawing from Syria.
- Bob Woodward, Rage (2020), p. 137-138
- Mattis was shocked. Once again Trump had not consulted his secretary of defense and made a major announcement with no warning. His first thought: How could we break with our allies? His second was the timing: It was just two weeks after the Ottawa meeting with all the commitments and pledges. He sat there and thought, my God, they're going to think I lied to them. They won't believe I had no idea about this. And now we're going to leave them high and dry. We're going to do what Obama did when he said we're going after the Syrians for the chemical weapons use and the French planes were armed, and they were ready to go when he walked. And the Kurds were going to be left unprotected and possibly slaughtered by Turkey. "John," Mattis said in a call to John Kelly, "I need an hour with the boss." "You got it," said Kelly. Mattis figured that Kelly knew what it was about, but the chief of staff, who had been blindsided by the president so many times and announced ten days earlier that he would soon be leaving, did not ask. Nine months earlier, Mattis had watched Rex Tillerson fired by tweet. The decision announcements by tweet were all wrong, in Mattis's view. Trump lived in his own head and if he wanted, out came an idea or a decision. It did not matter what anybody else thought. Mattis once said, "In any organization you become complicit with what the organization is doing." For nearly two years Mattis had gone along. As commander in chief, Trump called the shots. Mattis decided he was no longer going to be complicit. He went to his Pentagon office and began writing his resignation letter.
- Bob Woodward, Rage (2020), p. 140
- At the White House, Mattis found the president in a good mood. They walked into the Oval Office and sat down. "Mr. President, we've got to come to an understanding here. This enemy is not going away." He noted that he had been through this before, when Obama walked away in Iraq. "These terrorist groups regenerate." The U.S. military had to win not just the fighting but the peace. "Our allies are there, and we can force this thing to closure now if we still have traction, if we still have our troops there." Mattis was like a broken record, repeating that the strongest military presence gave the diplomats the leverage to speak with authority- work with the diplomats, avoid the use of additional military force. "You guys will have us fighting forever," Trump said. "No," Mattis said. "The Kurds have done the fighting. Let's be right up front." "It's cost us billions." "Well, a lot of other nations too- 77 nations plus Interpol, Arab League, NATO." Trump was not moving, Mattis could see. There was no give. He had decided, and that was it. Mattis had seen it before. Nothing. It was over. "We beat them," Trump said. "There's no need." "We're not taking casualties," Mattis said. "But we haven't beaten them. We've done the military part. Now we have to win the part that's going to make sure we don't have to go back in, like your predecessor who pulled out of Iraq too early and we have to go back in." Trump did not agree. Mattis knew he could only quit once. "Mr. President, it's probably best you read this."
- Bob Woodward, Rage (2020), p. 140-141
- The General is a small man in his mid-fifties who moves and speaks quickly, with a vowel-mashing speech impediment that gives him a sort of folksy charm. A bold thinker, Mattis' favorite battlefield expression is "Doctrine is the last refuge of the unimaginative." On the battlefield, his call sign is "Chaos." His plan for the Marines in Iraq would hinge on disregarding sacred tenets of American military doctrine. His goal was not to shield his Marines from Chaos, but to embrace it. No unit would embody this daring philosophy than First Recon.
- In the months leading up to the war on Iraq, battles over doctrine and tactics were still raging within the military. The struggle was primarily between the more cautious "Clinton generals" in the Army, who advocated a methodical invasion with a robust force of several hundred thousand, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his acolytes, who argued for a much smaller invasion force- one that would rely on speed and mobility more than on firepower. Rumsfeld's interest in "maneuver warfare," as the doctrine that emphasizes mobility over firepower is called, predated invasion planning for Iraq. Ever since becoming Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld had been pushing for his vision of a stripped-down, more mobile military force on the Pentagon as part of a sweeping transformation plan. Mattis and the Marine Corps had been moving in that direction for nearly a decade. The Iraq campaign would showcase the Marines' role in Iraq as a rush. While the U.S. Army- all-powerful, slow-moving and cautious- planned its methodical, logistically robust movement up a broad, desert highway, Mattis prepared the Marines for an entirely different campaign. After seizing southern oil facilities within the first forty-eight hours of the war, Mattis planned to immediately send First Recon and a force of some 6,000 Marines into a violent assault through Iraq's Fertile Crescent. Their mission would be to seize the most treacherous route to Baghdad- the roughly 185-kilometer-long, canal-laced urban and agricultural corridor from Nasiriyah to Al Kut.
- Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War (2004), p. 11
- Saddam had viewed this route, with its almost impenetrable terrain of canals, villages, rickety bridges, hidden tar swamps and dense groves of palm trees, as his not-so-secret weapon in bogging down the Americans. Thousands of Saddam loyalists, both Iraqi regulars and foreign jihadi warriors from Syria, Egypt and Palestinian refugee camps, would hunker down in towns and ambush points along the route. They had excavated thousands of bunkers along the main roads, sown mines and pre-positioned tens of thousands of weapons. When Saddam famously promised to sink the American invaders into a "quagmire," he was probably thinking of the road from Nasiriyah to Al Kut. It was the worst place in Iraq to send an invading army. Mattis planned to subvert the quagmire strategy Saddam had planned there by throwing out a basic element of military doctrine: His Marines would assault through the planned route and continue moving without pausing to establish rear security. According to conventional wisdom, invading armies take great pains to secure supply lines to their rear, or they perish. In Mattis' plan, the Marines would never stop charging.
- Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War (2004), p. 11
- Quotes from James Mattis on All Views by Quotes
- James Mattis Sworn in As US Secretary of Defense
- Department of Defense biography
- Official Marine Corps biography
- Full transcript: Defense Secretary James Mattis' interview with The Islander (2017)