Reactions to U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates's recommendation of Marine Gen. James Mattis to head Central Command today are running the usual gamut of opinion, with nearly everyone pointing to his past statements on how "it's fun to shoot some people" and interpreting that in different ways. (For more of the Mattis treatment, check out this NSFW Twitter thread. My favorite? "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." He's kind of like the Poor Richard of counterinsurgency, but with a potty mouth.)
Plenty of folks seem to really like the guy. Gates today called him "one of the military's most innovative and iconoclastic thinkers." Tom Ricks, who floated his name as soon as Gen. David Petraeus took the Afghanistan job, has weighed in enthusiastically. The LA Times calls him "one of the military's premier strategic thinkers" and "a deft political operator." Wired's Spencer Ackerman, perhaps the Internet's premier COIN fanboy, says Mattis "has a larger reputation as a big brain," like Petraeus.
Retired Lt. Col. John Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security, is also a huge fan. He served under Mattis in Iraq's Anbar province in 2004 and helped him write FM 3-24 (pdf), the famous Army/Marine Corps Field Manual, in 2006.
Asked to comment on Mattis's likely appointment, Nagl emailed: "He is a warfighter and a counterinsurgent, a thinker and a warrior, and we are fortunate as a nation that he will oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Mattis, who is currently the outgoing head of Joint Forces Command, testified in March before the Senate Armed Services Committee. No real standout lines in there, but it's clear he's had a great deal of high-level exposure at JFCOM to the types of strategic and tactical questions he'll face at CENTCOM.
At his press conference this afternoon, Gates also had interesting things to say about the Pentagon's relationship with the media, following up on a memo he sent around last Friday that was quickly and predictably leaked.
"I have grown
increasingly concerned that we have become too lax, disorganized, and,
in some cases, flat-out sloppy in the way we engage with the press," Gates said. "Reports and
other documents, including on sensitive subjects, are routinely
provided to the press and other elements in this town before I or the
White House know anything about them." (For the record, military and DoD officials remain welcome to leak important documents and information to Foreign Policy.)
Asked why he hadn't said anything about General McChrystal's classified assessment on Afghanistan that was leaked to the Washington Post last fall, Gates gave this tantalizing answer: "Because I was never convinced that it leaked out of this building." Ahem.
On the infamous Rolling Stone article that led to McChrystal's firing, Gates made this emphatic comment: "General McChrystal never, ever, said one thing or in any way, shape or form, conveyed to me any disrespect for civilian authority over the military. Never. I have never had an officer do that since I have been in this building, in three-and-a-half years." He then went further: "I have never encountered, at any level of the military, any disrespect for civilian authority."