Because the United States lacks a global strategy, “volatility is going to get to the point that chaos threatens,” a former Central Command (CENTCOM) commander told a Heritage Foundation audience Wednesday.
Speaking in Washington, D.C., retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis said, “the perception is we’re pulling back” on America’s commitment to its allies and partners, leaving them adrift in a changing world. “We have strategic atrophy.”
He said Russia’s military moves against its neighbors—taking Crimea and backing separatists in Ukraine is “much more severe, more serious” than Washington and the European Union are treating it.
The nationalist emotions that Russian President Vladimir Putin has stirred up will make it “very, very hard [for him or his successors] to pull back from some of the statements he has made” about the West. At the same time, Putin faces problems of his own with jihadists inside Russia’s borders that threaten domestic stability.
But Putin also demonstrated Russia’s nuclear capability with long-range bomber flights near NATO countries. His intent is “to break NATO apart.”
Mattis said China “is doing a pretty good job of finding friction points between our allies,” such as Korea and Japan.
While Putin creates instability along Russia’s border, China’s approach is a “tribute model,” Mattis said, executing a “veto authority in each of the countries around their periphery.”
In the Middle East, he described a Sunni and Shi’ia civil war where “terrorism is only part of the problem.” He said there is a more important question: “Is political Islam [in both sects] in our best interest?”
Mattis said it is important “to find the people who want to stand with you.” He cited the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, stepping forward to help fill the gaps in Afghanistan when the United Kingdom and France began removing forces there.
He said since World War II the United States helped create a world order—diplomatically [United Nations] , economically [World Bank and International Monetary Fund], culturally and militarily.
By renewing that combination of inspiration and intimidation, “I have no doubt we can turn this around.”