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In his own words: Mattis on the challenges facing the military

January 15, 2017 (Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday for his confirmation as the next Secretary of Defense. Here’s are excerpts from that testimony, and how he’ll approach some of the biggest challenges facing the military:

** On Russia

“History is not a straitjacket, but I've never found a better guide for the way ahead than studying the histories.

“Since Yalta, we have a long list of times we've tried to engage positively with Russia. We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard.

“I think right now the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and we recognize that he is trying to break (NATO) and that we take the steps -- integrated steps, diplomatic, economic, military -- and working with our allies to defend ourselves where we must …

“I would consider the principle threat (to America) to start with Russia. And it would certainly, include any nations that are looking to intimidate nations around the periphery, regional nations nearby them, whether it be with weapons of mass destruction or unusual, unorthodox means of intimidating them.”

** On NATO

“From my perspective, having served once as a NATO Supreme Allied Commander, (it) is the most successful military alliance, probably in modern world history, maybe ever.

“It was put together, as you know, by the greatest generation coming home from a war to defend Europe against Soviet incursion by their military. Yet, the first time it went to war was when this town and New York City were attacked. It's the first time NATO went into combat.

“So, my view is that nations with allies thrive and nations without allies don't. And so I would see us maintain the strongest possible relationship with NATO…

“If we did not have NATO today, we would need to create it. NATO is vital to our national interests, and it’s vital to the security of the United States, it’s vital to the protection of the freedoms of the democracies that we're allied with.”

** On the Iran nuclear deal

“(The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is not a deal I would've signed … The first thing is I would ask the Congress to have a joint committee from banking, armed services and intel to oversee the implementation of the deal and should there be any abnegation of it.

“Should there be any cheating than the Congress would be kept informed on a routine basis of what's going on so you know what's happening.

“At the same time we're going to have to make certain that our intelligence services are fully staffed to watch over them and that involves working with our allied intelligence services that have unique capabilities to work inside the country.

“Further we'd put together a combined missile defense -- air missile defense capability for our Gulf allies so that they can work together with us. And every time we catch Iran up to some kind of terrorist activity we would take that to the United Nations and display it for the world to see.”

** On ISIS

“I think we have to deliberate a very hard blow against ISIS in the Middle East, so that there is no sense of invulnerability or invincibility there. There has got to be a military defeat of them there, but there must be a much broader approach.

“This requires an integrated strategy so you don't squeeze them in one place and they develop in another and we are really right back to square one. We've to have the integrated strategy on this, and it's got to be one that goes after the recruiting and their fund-raising as well as the delivering a military blow against them in the Middle East.

“That way you slow down this growth and start to rolling it back with and through allies.”

** On sequestration

“I understand the need for solvency and security because no nation in history has maintained its military power if it did not maintain its physical health in good order.

“At the same time, I believe that this country has got to be prepared to defend itself. The idea of a government of the people, by the people, for the people remains a radical thought in many people's minds in this world and we're gonna have to be able to fight for it.

“So as a result of that, I believe that we can afford survival. I don't believe in mathematical calculus that basically makes the Congress spectators as salami slice cuts come in and you do not have control over that.

“If I can't make the argument for you, for why we need a military program then I'm willing to lose it, but if I can make that argument should you confirm me, I don't want the Congress in a role where sequestration is making decisions for you and you're not able to influence this.”

** On women in combat roles

“I think you hit on the point that no standards are changed. The standards are the standards. And when people meet the standards, then that's the end of the discussion on that.

“I would also add that what we're talking about here is somewhere north of 15 percent of our force is made up of women. And the reason we're able to maintain an all-volunteer force with very, very high recruiting standards is because we go to males and females ...

“I'm coming in with the understand that I lead the Department of Defense and if someone brings me a problem then I'll look at it, but I'm not coming in looking for problems. I'm looking for a way to get the department so it's at the most lethal stance.

“And in that regard, it's all about military readiness.”

** On the National Guard

“I share the Chairman's view that we have shrunk our military capability. And one of the things that that forces on us is the awareness, it's not just a strategic reserve any more in the National Guard, it's also an operational reserve.

“That means they have to be ready to go on very short notice. That's just a reality when we've shrunk our military to the point we have yet not reduced our strategic obligations.

“So we are going to have to keep the National Guard and the Reserves of all the armed forecast the top of their game. We can't deploy them without having them at a high state of readiness.”

** On the warrior ethos

“The primitive and often even atavistic aspects of the battlefield test of physical and mental agility of everyone, but most of what it tests is the courage and the spiritual side of the troops we put in harm's way.

“Oftentimes it’s only unit cohesion, leadership and the belief in themselves and their comrades that allows them to go through what they have to go through and come home as better men and women, not as broken.

“And so the warrior ethos is not a luxury, it is essential when you have a military.”


 
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.
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