Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why General James Mattis Might Not Run For President

You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.

General James Mattis

None of the widely touted new technologies and weapons systems "would have helped me in the last three years [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. But I could have used cultural training [and] language training. I could have used more products from American universities [who] understood the world does not revolve around America and [who] embrace coalitions and allies for all of the strengths that they bring us."

General James Mattis

If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.

William Tecumseh Sherman

There is a movement to persuade General James Mattis to throw his hat (or maybe it is his cover) into the ring in the Presidential race.  There is some reason to think that he will not take the bait, which I intend to discuss, but the allure of his candidacy deserves some discussion.

Altogether Bad Ass

I have to say there is something attractive to a Mattis run.  Since Jim Webb dropped out after mentioning in a debate that he shot somebody who threw a grenade at him, the altogether bad ass has been lacking in the race

Four Or More Stars In the White House

Actually four (or plus) star generals in the presidency has not been such a bad thing as far as people who rate presidencies rate them.  Washington tends to rate consistently high.  Eisenhower's reviews have been mixed, but as time goes on keep getting better. Grant's reviews tend to be on the low side, but not at the bottom, and Lincoln was a tough act to follow and Reconstruction a knotty problem.

You can get a little pedantic on this.  Grant was the first officer to actually wear four stars, but there was legislation around the time of the Bicentennial to the effect that nobody will ever outrank George Washington, so it is really fair to count him.  Eisenhower of course finished with five.

As it happens there are twelve presidents who were general of some sort or other. Probably the least effective was William Henry Harrison, but you really can't fault him for dying after a month in office.


The guy is creative.  According to the Mattis Way of War he ordered six thousand legos for elaborate sand table drills to represent the various vehicles under his command in the race to Baghdad.  And he studies history.  Some operations in Afghanistan were inspired by Grierson's Raid in the Vicksburg campaign.  There was a novel loosely based on the raid which inspired a movie loosely based on the novel.  That movie is none other than The Horse Soldiers

By the way I really enjoyed the Mattis Way of War, but the formatting on the Kindle was awful, which was a little annoying.

Another View

I thought it might be worth checking in with somebody who had actually been in Afghanistan, particularly given General Mattis's remark about deeper cultural knowledge.  Sam Striker who I wrote about here worked for the Army in Afghanistan
Striker is a social scientist in intelligence field operations. He is attached to various U.S. and NATO combat forces, and his work is about the subtle ways the military can become an enabling force rather than an occupying force.
Here is what Sam wrote me:

GEN Mattis for President is indicative of the times and a reaction of the anti-political establishment sentiment sweeping the nation. As a social scientist, I am interested in Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump succeeding. My reasons are purely academic- I wish to test my hypothesis that the system itself is broken. The best way to do that is to put a highly disruptive non-establishment President in place and gauge the success of his ability to change key policies in his tenure. (Mattis might very well be one of these)

He is an excellent GEN who understands the need to comprehend the cultural nuances of the strange places he may find himself, fighting wars. His quote for deeper understanding is not a new one as commanders in both war theaters have been scrambling for this capability for the last 10 years. Simple cultural and language training are a good start...but not enough. Taking it deeper to understanding the cultural dynamics and the interrelated systems of the area is what is truly needed.

As for Mattis for President-
There are reasons why career soldiers do not usually make good Presidents. For one, the highly focused, linear thinking which makes a soldier very effective does not exist successfully in a political arena where flexibility is essential. Not to say that Mattis isn't smart. I don't know any stupid four-stars; but the system in which he was successful (military) is much different than the system he desires to step into (political).

What he needs to win-
A level of perceived threat to safety and security to America on a relatively high scale.
A clear message of how he will protect America
Assurances of economic oversight to 'reign in the evil rich people'
A popular minority running mate (Condeleeza Rice, Collin Powell)
That last name is kind of interesting as we will see.

Why Might He Not Run?

The answer to that question is in a very interesting book which I reviewed hereWays and Means for Managing Up: 50 Strategies for Helping You and Your Boss Succeed: 50 Strategies for Helping You and Your Boss Succeed by Bill Smullen..  The book is a series of anecdotes about being a proactive subordinate, reflecting the fact that most of us, even if quite successful, will spend much of our career reporting to somebody.

Chaper 32 of Smullen's book is titled Expect The Unexpected.  It so happened that for this anecdote Smullen's boss was none other than Colin Powell.  Smullen had been a special assistant to Powell when Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and they retired from the Army together to begin a phase that Smullern referred to as "two old soldiers trying to sell a book".  They had just
completed the "mother of all book tours" promoting My Ameircan Journey when something new came out of left field.

People were encouraging Powell to run for President.  Smullen puts Powell's reaction this way
...as the general always did when making an important decision, he considered all the factors.  Not the least of these were the uncertainties and unknowns.
He had to consider where the money might come from.  There is something floating around to the effect that there are some billionaires ready to back Mattis, but it is still a tough issue.  There was the issue of timing.  The issue came up in November 1995 for the 1996 election.  Mattis, of course, is on an even shorter fuse.  Staffing was another problem. Powell's staff consisted of Smullen and one other person. And here is what is the biggie for Mattis - policies,  What are Mattis's postions on domestic issues? Or on foreign policy for that matter. Another problem was space.  Setting up a campaign headquarters is not easy.

One concern that Mattis, known as the Warrior Monk, might not share with Powell is concern about the effect that the run would have on his family.  The interesting question a Mattis presidency raises is that of first lady.  James Buchanan faced with that problem drafted his niece Harriet Lane Johnston to handle the role.

The other issue was aspirations.  As Smullern put it soldiers (and I imagine we could generalize this to military men) don't want to grow up to be cowboys or even presidents.
When you don't have the desire to be someone or something in life, you can't fake it.  Call it a fire in the belly, call it a need, call it what you will. If your heart's not in it, it's a tough sell to oneself.
Smullen was able to tentatively address many of the practical aspects of a Powell run.  There were people to put up money and volunteer.  Space could be found.  The fire in the belly was the big issue. Powell's conclusion announced at a press conference that Smullern arranged was:
I do not yet have a passion for political life, because such a life requires a calling that I do not yet hear.

The Might Have Been

I have been corresponding with Bill Smullen on another series in this blog and I kind of teased him about the decision, thinking that we might be in better shape today if Powell had taken another course.  He advised, well more like ordered, me to reread Chapter 32 of this book again and insists that the right decision was made.

I still think it would make a great Harry Turtledove novel.

Here Is A Great Fantasy

Powell is even older than Bernie Sanders, so having him as a VP does not really make much sense.  There seems to be something of a sense that Mattis must be a conservative, because of his somewhat controversial tough remarks.  The evidence is otherwise thin.  The ethic of selfless service that he embodies is certainly not for the Ayn Rand ilk of conservatives and it is not inconceivable that he might find economic inequality troubling.  One of the ways that he economized on logistics in Iraq was to have all marines live the same as lance corporals, which meant everybody got to sleep on the ground.

I probably haven't dug hard enough, but you would think that if Mattis had expressed himself on economic and tax issues, it would not be hard to find. I hope a commenter will embarrass me by pointing to something, but I could find nothing.

So it is conceivable that Mattis would be fine with wealthy Americans paying a lot more taxes and a stronger social safety net like that great socialist Dwight Eisenhower that Bernie Sanders always refers to.

It seems pretty likely that President Sanders would be a one termer and Mattis, born in 1950 is young enough to do two terms after Sanders.  So wouldn't it be something to have him be Bernie's VP pick.  That would really shake things up.

Just a fantasy.


Peter J Reilly CPA after rolling out his tax plan consulted his exploratory committee and determined that he would not run for president, for reasons too numerous to mention.

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