Retired Marine General James N. Mattis gave an insightful talk to a packed crowd at the Aspen Security Forum on Saturday.
The four-star general, who recently retired after leading U.S. Central Command — responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan (among others), spoke at length with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Syria, Iran, Israel, and Egypt — offering commentary on U.S. foreign and military policy, what is happening in the Middle East, and what he sees going forward.
On What’s happening now in Syria:
Mattis made clear that without the support of the Iranians, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad “would have been overrun” by rebel forces. The reason Iran props up the regime, Mattis reasoned — is that if Assad falls, it would be Iran’s biggest political setback in 25 years.
He also expressed dismay over Iran’s free usage of Iraqi airspace to shuttle arms into the country, saying “when we pulled out of Iraq, we certainly didn’t expect” anything like that.
On whether the U.S. should go into Syria:
Mattis continued to harp on having a political endstate and clear goals before any military action — whether that be boots on the ground or no-fly zone — or else he said, “you invade a country, pull down a statue, then say ‘now what do we do?'”
The general told Blitzer the military “is not worn out” and can carry out any mission, but “we should not fight wars without a clearly defined endstate … when you go to war, it can’t be a half-step” — meaning, you have to be fully committed to winning.
On going into Iraq:
When asked whether it was “worth it” to go into Iraq, Mattis was reluctant to directly answer. “There’s a big ‘if’,” he said, on whether Iraq continues with their democracy and flourishes. If that happens, Mattis reasoned, “then yes.”
On Iran’s development of nuclear weapons:
Mattis believes Iran is roughly one year from having a nuclear weapon, and doesn’t believe military action could solve the issue. A strike would only delay it, but he has “no doubt” Israel would strike if they had a bomb.
“The military can buy our diplomats some time,” Mattis said, but it cannot solve the problem alone.
On whether Egypt was a ‘coup’:
Mattis would not directly answer whether or not Egypt was a coup, but said that what happened in Egypt is “a setback for democracy.” He offered no love for the Muslim Brotherhood, he said “brought on [their] own problems.”
On his and the rest of the military’s service:
“I was a Marine for 43 years and it wasn’t long enough,” Mattis said. He told the crowd they shouldn’t thank him for his service, because “we enjoy putting on that uniform.”
“The ferocity and ethical performance of our troops,” he said, ” … sends a message that free men and women can fight.”
There’s much more in the full talk below:
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