Friday, January 13, 2017

A Couple of Questions for James Mattis

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis made two statements that would benefit from further examination and elaboration.
In documents submitted to lawmakers prior to the hearing, Mattis identified Iran as “the primary source of turmoil” in the Middle East. “Its policies are contrary to our interests.”
Turmoil is a rather broad term.  For national security reasons, I would like more definition.  What actions constitute "turmoil"?  What form do these actions take.  What American interests are at risk from these actions?  What risks to our allies' interests and how are those interests aligned with ours?  are the specific risks to the United States?  To our allies?  What are our options for mitigating those risks?

Simply casting Iran (a nation which has its own claim to exceptionalism) as the "primary source of turmoil" no more useful to creating effective American diplomatic and military policy than are Iran's own denunciations of the US as "the Great Satan" for developing its own policy.  Futher elaboration is essential for Americans to understand what our leaders are doing with tax (or borrowed) dollars and, most importantly, the casualties that often result from our actions.  So, give us more and let us discuss it as informed citizens.
Repeatedly, the nominee made reference to the need to improve military readiness, blaming years of budget cuts for an erosion to technology and manpower.
Mattis identifies a single cause for erosion:  budget cuts.  Along with those budget cuts the multiple wars the US is fighting are also a big source of that erosion.  Personnel, ordnance and equipment get chewed up in war.  If we weren't fighting all of those wars(*) and garrisoning the world the military would not be eroding.  So again I ask why?  To what purpose? How do these wars, special operations and empire of bases contribute to American and world security?

We've been doing this sort of thing since World War II and while it may have been sustainable in the past these days must be evalulated in terms of America's  21st century economic prospects and national priorities.  Even if Congress was inclined to tap this country's vast and concentrated wealth, Americans may well find that other needs, like infrastructure or a cost-effective health care system may well be a higher priority.  In order for us to make that decision, we need complete information if we are to make good use of the funds we do allocate to the military.

That brings me back to my questions about Iran, General Mattis.  I can ask you the same questions about each war and about American interests in each region and each country.  I'm sure that your new position can offer a lot of answers to these questions.  But remember that you will need real justification and explanations not just platitudes and catchphrases.

(*)  NPR identifies Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Lybia.  The US is also active in African wars and in Yemen.

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