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Mattis: U.S. Suffering ‘Strategic Atrophy’

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis testifies at a hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 18, 2014. Stars and Stripes Photo

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis testifies at a hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 18, 2014. Stars and Stripes Photo

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.”

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  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    Excellent points Gen. Mattis, but besides having what amounts to ‘NO’ foreign policy, our real problems run much deeper & are ingrained into our corporate military psyche, to the point that we are exemplifying Einstein’s theory of insanity. Our nation cannot continue to throw good $$$ after bad, into archaic crumbling military structures based off WWII models, & honestly expect improved results geared towards a 21st century force capable of meeting not just today’s on-going threats, but those of the future. Our nation’s military must re-organize now into “Functional Area Services,” consolidating redundant missions, equipment, personnel, etc. This streamlining of our nation’s military into a highly effective force will leave no question as to which element should be performing each mission, w/o there being multiple efforts to steal the limelight from each other just to satisfy the budget hawks. We DO NOT need multiple fixed-wing air forces, ship-owning navies, ground forces competing with each other, redundant ‘SOF’ units performing the same job just so everyone can claim a piece of the pie, multiple Installation Management Commands, separate R&D, Supply & Acquisition processes, etc.

    • PolicyWonk

      This is why I’ve been advocating acquisition reform along the lines of what the British do. They use a threat analysis board comprised of military and civilian experts, who review threats, develop strategies to defeat them, and determine the force structures required to execute (weapons, people, etc).

      This: removes redundant research programs; stops the “gold-plated versions for everyone” mentality; stops design changes all the way through the manufacturing (or construction) phases; and would remove congressional meddling, because all they’d be able to do is approve the budget.

      The USA easily gets the lousiest deal for dollar spent in defense in the western world, and fixing acquisition would save the taxpayers a fortune, while still providing the military with the weapons and training they need to accomplish their mission(s).

      • Ming the Merciless

        Ermmmm… looking at what the British have acquired, and how they have acquired it, I wouldn’t exactly recommend them as a model. Programs massively late and over budget include Nimrod replacement (cancelled), Watchkeeper, Astute SSN, Queen Elizabeth CVs.
        What was the last really awesome piece of equipment the Brits fielded, anyway, in terms of military or cost effectiveness?

  • Don Bacon

    Mattis ought to stick to what he knows, which isn’t world politics. These generals get a big head and make up stuff that isn’t true, in this case about Russia and China. Why should anyone take such a political neophyte seriously, at a time when the world has obviously moved on from US world hegemony to multipolar arrangements, which is a healthy development even though Mattis doesn’t like it.

    • PolicyWonk

      Look to whom his audience is/was – the Heritage Foundation: these are the same foreign policy geniuses that cheered the previous incumbent on whilst he caused the worst string of foreign policy and national security disasters in history.

      Hence – sound judgement w/r/t foreign affairs isn’t exactly what they’re good at, at least if history is any indication.

      • sferrin

        “whilst he caused the worst string of foreign policy and national security disasters in history.”

        Wow. And you call yourself a “wonk”? Have you been sleeping the last 7 years?

        • PolicyWonk

          Not at all.

          But perhaps you were in coma during the previous administration. But you can look into that at your own leisure – which I doubt you’ll do.

          Regardless, you could total up ALL of Obama’s foreign policy screw-ups, and all of them together wouldn’t amount to even a decent FRACTION of that foreign policy and national security disaster known as the invasion of Iraq.

          At least – by any *reasonable* measure.

    • Jay

      Great point. Putin is on the verge of being overthrown, his economy is in the tank due to sanctions and dropping oil prices but he’s going to “break up NATO”? And wow — a Sunni-Shia civil war? Who knew that would ever happen? Ask the painter Dim Son Bush and the other neocon imbeciles. And to think that Jeb might be getting the band back together. Generals are always preaching that the sky is falling to fatten their bank accounts.

      • James B.

        Putin may not succeed in breaking up NATO, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try, and it doesn’t mean he will take failure sitting down. That the Soviet Union collapsed without a spasm of desperate violence surprised most analysts at the time, and Putin’s Russia is repeating many of the 1980s patterns.

        • NavySubNuke

          Agreed – people have way too much wishful thinking with how things will work out with Russia because of how well (relatively) it worked out last time — I doubt we will be that lucky twice!

          • Curtis Conway

            Putin is more popular than he has ever been with the nation collapsing around all of them economically, and yet he continues to burn up his old ICBM between Kamchatka and Kola Peninsula several times a month, and replacing them with new more accurate and reliable ones. His armed forces are being upgraded across the board. Not everything but enough. When liberty is challenged in those regions that we cannot ignore and have to reclaim, we will have to pay that debt with BLOOD. Proactive expenditures, though large, are a whole lot less painful, but this generation will mortgage their futures on the backs of their children, and grandchildren, to the point that we have more limited options in the future than ever before. G-d Help Us.

            Don is “On a River in Egypt” (except about the F135 engine in the F-35) . . . and the Egyptians have finally figured it out.

          • NavySubNuke

            You would think people would have learned about what appeasement actually costs – but “peace in our time” is just to easy to choose.

          • Curtis Conway

            There was an Israeli general who was reported to have said that if Israel did not have a conflict at least every 11 years that the country would cease to exist, because that generation would not understand the sacrifice. There is some real truth in that.

    • NavySubNuke

      Yes – look at how well that style of world worked out in the early 1900s – 1945 —- such a “healthy” time for all involved right?
      Or are you one of the nutjobs with your head so far up your a$$ you actually believe the state sponsored Russian and Chinese propaganda about what is happening in Ukraine and the South China Sea?
      We would do well to remember the lessons of the last time the world faced a multi-polar world. One of the most important lessons of that time is that appeasement of bullies only gets you so far – then the bill comes due. But hey by all means keep looking for a “healthy” deal for “peace in our time” – you might be dead before the bill comes due….

      • Andrew Sickafoose

        It all depends on who ends up being the repo man.

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  • Tony

    I’m looking forward to the breakup of NATO. I look forward to the day when the oh-so-smug Europeans have to face Russia in the east and ISIS in the south – without the big, bad Americans to help them. Let the Europeans pay/fight their own way. All we’ve ever gotten for saving their butts in 1917, 1944 and during the Cold War was scorn and derision. Good luck, Europe, you’re really REALLY going to need it.

    • NavySubNuke

      True. Although in the end you know we will swoop in and save their lazy and overly entitled a$$es because that is just what we do. But it will be fun to watch them flail for awhile.

  • NavySubNuke

    As the US continues to recede and retrench the world is only going to grow more dangerous and more brutal. What has happened in Ukraine is a great example of what happens when you leave yourself vulnerable to a great power.
    It will be interesting to see how many new nuclear powers rise in the coming decade. The US has managed to prevent nuclear proliferation among our allies via our extended deterrent commitment but as that commitment becomes less and less credible it will only be a matter of time until a new wave of proliferation spreads.
    Look at what has happened in states like Ukraine – which handed over its nuclear weapons for a handful of magic beans – and Libya and Iraq. Contrast that with what hasn’t happened in North Korea and you get a pretty clear picture of why countries are going to find increasing comfort in having nuclear arsenals of their very own.
    I wouldn’t be shocked if the next decade brought us 5 – 10 new nuclear powers – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and Poland could all easily go nuclear with several others such as Turkey not too far behind.
    Interesting times ahead for sure.

    • Don Bacon

      Actually as US power recedes relative to other nations’ strength, the world is becoming more tranquil not less. The days of the US cooking up “yellow cake ” falsehoods as a reason to invade and occupy a country, causing a million deaths, are hopefully over. Afghanistan was a bust also. Today there are no international conflicts.
      The difficulties in Ukraine were instigated by the US, with Nuland promoting a coup which threatened Russia security. The US intention (and still is) was to move NATO up to Russia’s border, and take Russia’s only warm-water port in the process. It hasn’t worked out that way. There was a revolt in the ethnic Russian portion of Ukraine because of the Nazi-oriented threats from Kiev. So now the rebels control about 3 percent of Ukraine, and Minsk calls for an election. Kerry has just (finally) endorsed the peace process.
      So relax, the glass is more than half full. And we don’t care what wouldn’t shock you, by the way.

      • NavySubNuke

        Wow you certainly have an interesting view of the world. Tell me – in your version of reality, which clearly is different from the one the rest of us are living in – what color is the sky?
        I’m serious here – in this amazing fantasy world you have constructed for yourself where there are no international conflicts – what color is the sky?
        Because here in the real world there are international conflicts all over the place and only crazies and people who actually believe Russian propaganda think the US had anything to do with Russia invading the Ukraine.

        • Don Bacon

          You, like Mattis, ought to stick to what you know, which isn’t world politics. Quoting US press releases and generals is weak. Specifically, you need to learn about Maidan. It’s not difficult, there’s plenty of information out there if you would but access it. “Russia invading the Ukraine” is fine US propaganda, but untrue and therefore unprovable.

          • NavySubNuke

            Nice the naive fool who thinks there is no international conflict in the world right now thinks I don’t know how world politics work. Nice.
            You should realize that just because you are dumb enough to believe Russian propaganda doesn’t mean everyone else is as stupid.
            It really is quite entertaining that you consider yourself both intelligent and knowledgeable about world politics when it is quite clear you are wrong on both counts.
            Seriously though – what color is the sky in your version of reality where there is no international conflict? Because here in the real world there are conflicts and soon to be conflicts occurring all over the place.

          • Don Bacon

            Believing Washington propaganda is a road to stupidity.

          • NavySubNuke

            I know – that is why I believe actual evidence – i.e. the numerous examples of evidence of Russian troops acting in the Ukraine that anyone with a functional brain would recognize.

          • Don Bacon

            What actual evidence?

            Jun 13, 2014
            A convoy of three T-64 tanks, several BM-21 multiple rocket launchers and other military vehicles crossed the border near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne, State Department officials said.

            NOTE: Russia hasn’t used T-64 tanks in years. They might have been Ukraine tanks captured by rebels — 65 tanks and 69 armoured battle vehicles and other military hardware were captured by the Donbass militia over a period of less than 2 months (from June 20 to August 15).

            Nov 12, 2014
            Russian tanks, artillery and air defense systems have poured into Ukraine over the past two days, NATO’s top commander said Wednesday. Nato has seen Russian military equipment and Russian combat troops entering Ukraine this week, its top commander Gen Philip Breedlove says.“We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air-defense systems and Russian combat troops entering Ukraine,” Breedlove said.

            NOTE: No evidence

          • NavySubNuke

            “Russia hasn’t used T-64 tanks in years”
            LOL oh sweetie – you really don’t know anything about Russia do you? But sure, you just go ahead and think the rebels captured those in the Ukraine.
            Also, feel free to keep ignoring all the satellite photos that show Russian troops moving into the Ukraine. Please also continue to ignore all the social media postings made by Russian troops inside Ukranian territory. Oh and who could forget all the dead Russia’s coming home? Feel free to continue ignoring all of them too.
            I must say you really are quite entertaining. You remind me of my 4 year old – he thinks that if he keeps saying something over and over it will make it true too.

          • Don Bacon

            So just like Mattis you don’t have the “actual evidence.”
            I understand.
            One good feature of the blogosphere is the built-in BS filter, to weed out fakers.

          • NavySubNuke

            Oh sweetie, the evidence is out there for everyone to see. I cited three clear examples that you can easily google for yourself and find plenty of references discussing. The fact that you refuse to believe the evidence doesn’t mean it isn’t there – it just means you are an idiot. Nice try though – and you just keep on trusting the blogosphere to tell you the truth —- no one would ever lie on a blog right????
            Seriously though – what color is the sky in your version of reality that doesn’t include any current international conflicts? I really am curious.

        • sferrin

          Dude, I wouldn’t waste your time on him.

          • NavySubNuke

            Don’t worry – I’m poking him on purpose because I find idiots like him hilariously entertaining.

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  • I have pointed to this from Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, where you can find a comment and multiple links including Al Gray’s strategic manifesto from 1989.

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  • Don Bacon


    “the perception is we’re pulling back” on America’s commitment to its allies

    what allies?

    Mattis said it is important “to find the people who want to stand with you.” He cited the United Arab Emirates and Jordan

    UAE and Jordan – two despotic regimes in the Middle East are America’s best allies?
    What a joker.

  • EbolaJenkins

    liberals are like the authoritarian soldier with the knife in “Saving Private Ryan”, slowly pushing it into the heart while they whisper “it’s okay, it’s okay… shhhh…. it’s okay…” as the rest of America watches in fear from around the corner…

  • Evangelical2

    Too bad you’re working with a blithering ldiot. You could have turned it around Mattis, if your Commander-in-Chief were a shrewd and smart woman who overwhelmingly won the popular vote, how do you like that instead your commander-in-chief is a boob who lost the popular vote and whose tweets in the middle of the night unravels decades of hard-won diplomatic moves with China?

    Sigh, Mattis, you’ll never read this…and sadly, you’ll never realize why you’re an ldiot for supporting people who work against your own strategies.