James Mattis

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James N. Mattis is a retired United States Marine Corps general who served as the Commander of the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) from 2010 to 2013. He was sworn in as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, January 20, 2017.

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.

Quotes[edit]

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" on May 28, 2017.
"What keeps you awake at night?" "Nothing, I keep other people awake at night."
  • 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.
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.
"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 on July 20, 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.
  • 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 the Armed Forces Journal article "Fiasco", published on August 1, 2006. [2]
There is only one ‘retirement plan’ for terrorists.
  • There is only one ‘retirement plan’ for terrorists.
    • Speaking on the subject of combating insurgents. [3]
  • 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 made by Mattis in an address of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion Marines at Camp Pendleton in September 2002. As quoted by Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005), p. 163.
  • 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, vice 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 competence in our profession.
    • Nov. 20, 2003, Addressing the detractors of untested Marine tactics in Iraq. [4]
  • 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 in 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
Demonstrate to the world there is "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy" than a U.S. Marine.
  • Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.
    • One of the rules Maj. Gen. James Mattis gave his Marines to live by 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)
Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.

  • 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)
  • 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." Breaking the Warrior Code (February 2005)
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.
  • 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.
  • PowerPoint makes us stupid.
  • 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 (2012) by Walter Pincus, The Washington Post

First Message to the U.S. Department of Defense[edit]

Message sent from Mattis on January 20, 2017, the day he was sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Defense. Release No. NR-020-17. [citation needed]

  • 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. MATTIS SENDS

Quotes about Mattis[edit]

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. ~ Nathaniel Fick
  • 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.
    • Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005), p. 118.
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. ~ Nathaniel Fick
  • 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. 162-163
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
  • 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
  • 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, from 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, PhD, professor of history and government at Ashland University, from 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, PhD, professor of history and government at Ashland University, from 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 on November 20, 2016, following a meeting with Mattis in Bedminster, New Jersey that same day.
  • 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.
    • Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War (2004), p. 10.
  • 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 propositioned 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. 11-12.
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.

External links[edit]

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