When dealing with military or national security issues it is important to avoid political discussions. This article is neither an endorsement of President Trump nor General Mattis.
The reality with General Mattis was he was a failure as Secretary of Defense. Here are the reasons why.
1. The SecDef’s Syria and Afghanistan strategies failed to recognize the on-the-ground realities and he became another commander who saw everything as a nail since his only tool was a hammer.
The reality of Syria is that American troops in Syria are there illegally. Americans can not bemoan the loss of the old international order when that order was built on international law that makes it illegal for one country to occupy another country by force under United Nations Charter. The USA is in Syria without the permission of the Assad government and it, whether Americans like it or not, is the government of that territory. Americans do not get to pick which laws they want to follow.
The US military does not have a Status of Forces Agreement with the Assad government. This makes them subject to international charges. The Islamic State has been driven from much of Syria except for isolated pockets in the Syrian Desert; therefore, any pretext for US presence in Syria is gone. The reality is that Assad has enough fire power with the help of Iranians and Russians to handle the Islamic State. The United States view that they are there to stop Iran has no basis in international law and is just another form of imperialism under the new world order that General Mattis seems to pine for.
SecDef Mattis’ strategy of builidng a base in al-Tanf was a suicide mission for US troops and a failed strategy that harkened to Dien Bien Phu or Khe Sanh. Some 2000 troops surrounded by hostile forces on the border of Syria/Iraq can only spell disaster or a trap to provoke further military involvement. It is against the will of the American people who voted for a president who vowed to end the senseless Middle East wars.
Finally, the United States is not part of the Astana Reconciliation process, which is run by Syria, Turkey, and Iran. The Kurds must cope with that situation and look for a peaceful solution. A military solution is not an option and United States support will only cause further death and destruction. President Assad has signaled he is open to autonomy for the Kurds and this may be a viable political solution. Not everything is a nail for the United States hammer.
2. SecDef Mattis has failed to improve the readiness of US troops. I am not denying he was dealt a bad hand after 8 years of neglect but readiness has not improved and General Mattis’ solution of throwing money at the problem is a failure. Today, Air Force readiness hovers at marginal levels. Deployment availability is at a record low. The ongoing naval accidents have not stopped and the epidemic of Naval/Marine air training disasters continue. All of these factors show a military in decline and it is the direct responsibility of the SecDef to fix this problem. SecDef has failed in this area.
3. SecDef Mattis’ Afghanistan strategy, against the wishes of President Trump, did not work. The Taliban continues to take territory and it clear that President Trump’s view seeing Afghanistan as a political problem to be solved by the Afghan people was correct. The old adage applies: When in a hole stop digging. SecDef Mattis kept digging and should resign.
4. Though I agree with the civil rights issues of the transgender and HIV issues regarding deployment, SecDef was part of the politicization of these issues and they could have been handled in a different way. These issues were used as a way to jab at the Commander in Chief and could have been handled by waivers if the politics had been removed.
5. It is time to take the blinders off. President Trump is the Commander in Chief. It is not the place of General Mattis to rebuke him in public, even if he is correct. The overall affect is that the Commander in Chief has been weakened. President Trump was elected and General Mattis was not. He should have resigned for his failures and then if he wanted to enter politics as a private citizen that is his right.