Marcus Aurelius: White House Has Two Strikes With Marine Corps — Could It Be Time for a Professional National Security Advisor in Lieu of a Party / Public Relations Flack?

Corruption, Ethics, Government, Military
Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius

This is the antecedent to my previous post on Gen. Mattis.

The administration’s mishandling of Marine Gen. James Mattis

Posted By Thomas E. Ricks Friday, January 18, 2013 – 9:50 AM

Word on the national security street is that General James Mattis is being given the bum’s rush out of his job as commander of Central Command, and is being told to vacate his office several months earlier than planned.

General James Mattis, USMC
General James Mattis, USMC

Why the hurry? Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way — not because he went all “mad dog,” which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran. Some of those questions apparently were uncomfortable. Like, what do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf? He kept saying, “And then what?”

Inquiry along these lines apparently was not welcomed — at least in the CENTCOM view. The White House view, apparently, is that Mattis was too hawkish, which is not something I believe, having seen him in the field over the years. I’d call him a tough-minded realist, someone who’d rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.

Presidents should feel free to boot generals anytime they want, of course — that’s our system, and one I applaud. But ousting Mattis at this time, and in this way, seems wrong for several reasons:

TIMING: If Mattis leaves in March, as now appears likely, that means there will be a new person running CENTCOM just as the confrontation season with Iran begins to heat up again.

CIVIL-MILITARY SIGNALS: The message the Obama Administration is sending, intentionally or not, is that it doesn’t like tough, smart, skeptical generals who speak candidly to their civilian superiors. In fact, that is exactly what it (and every administration) should want. Had we had more back in 2003, we might not have made the colossal mistake of invading Iraq.

SERVICE RELATIONS: The Obamites might not recognize it, but they now have dissed the two Marine generals who are culture heroes in today’s Corps: Mattis and Anthony Zinni. The Marines have long memories. I know some who are still mad at the Navy for steaming away from the Marines left on Guadalcanal. Mattis made famous in Iraq the phrase, “No better friend, no worse enemy.” The Obama White House should keep that in mind.

I’m still a fan of President Obama. I just drove for two days down the East Coast listening to his first book, and enjoyed it enormously. But I am at the point where I don’t trust his national security team. They strike me as politicized, defensive and narrow. These are people who will not recognize it when they screw up, and will treat as enemies anyone who tells them they are doing that. And that is how things like Vietnam get repeated. Harsh words, I know. But I am worried.

Phi Beta Iota:  Ricks is one of the most gifted observers — and reporters — of the good, the bad, and the ugly in US military mis-management.  When he singles out someone to defend, odds are that Ricks is right and whoever he is concerned about is not just wrong, but severely undermining the legitimacy of whatever they are about.  A quick look at Donilon’s public biography produces these gems:

Donilon worked as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs from 1993 to 1996, and served as the Clinton administration’s Secretary of State’s chief of staff. Although he has no military experience and worked as a lobbyist, Donilon was “intimately involved in many major foreign policy issues, including negotiating the Bosnian peace agreement and the expansion of NATO”.

Donilon figures prominently during formulation of strategy for Afghanistan and associated discussions in Bob Woodward’s 2010 book, “Obama’s Wars.”

Donilon was ‘criticized’ by General Jones, who once disparaged Donilon, for his lack of overseas experience, telling him that as a result: “You have no credibility with the military”, according to Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars”. Jones said that Donilon was not good in his dealings with his staff at the National Security Council, displaying “too little feel for the people who work day and night….”. Donilon did visit Afghanistan March 2010 during President Obama’s six-hour late-night visit to the country.

Donilon is the brother of Mike Donilon, a lawyer and political consultant who is Counselor to Vice-President Joe Biden. He is married to Catherine M. Russell, who is Chief of Staff to Jill Biden, and they have two children.

In disrespecting General Mattis, for the wrong reasons, and without any substantive knowledge of his own, Donilon may have set himself up for dismissal.  If Obama is serious about making the most of his second term, he will need a first string National Security Advisor  — someone of the caliber of Tony Zinni or Stobe Talbott — instead of a party groupie and public affairs flack.

See Also:

Del Spurlock Jr.: Requiem for the All-Volunteer Force — and a Critique of Thomas Ricks’ “The Generals”

General Failure (Ricks in The Atlantic)

Marcus Aurelius: General Failure — Neil Sheehan Reviews Thomas Rick’s New Book Plus Chapter Extract

Marcus Aurelius: Thomas Ricks on Generals “Casual Arrogance”

Mini-Me: General Mike Flynn on Intelligence — Earnest Advance or Better Kool-Aid?

Review: Fiasco–The American Military Adventure in Iraq

We’re getting out of the Marines because we wanted to be part of an elite force

Worth a Look: A Year Ago This Week, Slam on Generals