Is there anyone else in this world as terrifying and masculine as Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis? The man is a warrior in every sense of the word and he continually proves that he may well be one of President Trump’s most important allies in protecting and defending the United States.
On Sunday, Mattis gave an interesting and very straightforward interview where he was as open and honest as any Washington politico has ever been. RCP has called the interview “explosive,” but the reality is that it was just Mattis being Mattis. The line that will endure with Americans came after CBS’ John Dickerson asked the General “What keeps you awake at night?” In true Mattis style, the warrior responds in the most chilling way possible. “Nothing, I keep other people awake at night.”
Dickerson: "What keeps you awake at night?"
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— RCP Video (@rcpvideo) May 28, 2017
Oh. My. Goodness.
That is both awesome, and slightly terrifying. And it perfectly explains why James Mattis is beloved within our military and why the American people have come to trust him as much as any of our military leaders since the great General, Norman Schwarzkopf.
But this interview won’t just be remembered for that one soundbite. It will also be remembered as the interview that introduced the world to the “annihilation” posture of our war on terror. Mattis explained that the Trump administration had abandoned the Obama team’s “war of attrition” against ISIS (and other radical Islamic jihadists) and had instead adopted a theory and tactic of annihilation instead. How does annihilation differ from attrition (other than the fact that one sounds terrifying and the other sounds… like appeasement)? It’s all about tactics.
James Mattis: Our strategy right now is to accelerate the campaign against ISIS. It is a threat to all civilized nations.
And the bottom line is, we are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot. We have already shifted from attrition tactics, where we shove them from one position to another in Iraq and Syria, to annihilation tactics, where we surround them.
Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa. We are not going to allow them to do so. We are going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate.
John Dickerson: Explain what it means to be moving in an annihilation posture, as opposed to attrition.
James Mattis: Well, attrition is where you keep pushing them out of the areas that they are in, John, and what we intend to do by surrounding them is to not allow them to fall back, thus reinforcing themselves as they get smaller and smaller, making the fight tougher and tougher.
You can see that right now, for example, in Western Mosul, that is surrounded, and the Iraqi security forces are moving against them. Tal Afar is now surrounded. We have got efforts under way right now to surround their self-declared caliphate capital of Raqqa.
That surrounding operation is going on. And once surrounded, then we will go in and clean them out…
John Dickerson: After the annihilation has been done, does that mean you can’t let it fall back into ISIS hands?
James Mattis: Once ISIS is defeated, there is a larger effort under way to make certain that we don’t just sprout a new enemy. We know ISIS is going to go down.
We have had success on the battlefield. We have freed millions of people from being under their control. And not one inch of that ground that ISIS has lost has ISIS regained. It shows the effectiveness of what we are doing.
However, there are larger currents, there are larger confrontations in this part of the world, and we cannot be blind to those. That is why they met in Washington under Secretary Tillerson’s effort to carry out President Trump’s strategy to make certain we don’t just clean out this enemy and end up with a new enemy in the same area.
Secretary Mattis also expounded on the President’s plan to “humiliate ISIS.” While the media mocked President Trump when he commented on the idea of “humiliating” our enemy, Mattis explained that it was all part of the battle to win the hearts and minds of the people who are not currently associated with ISIS.
John Dickerson: President Trump has said, to defeat ISIS, he has said that there has to be a humiliation of ISIS. What does that mean?
James Mattis: I think, as we look at this problem of ISIS, it is more than just an army. It is also a fight about ideas.
And we have got to dry up their recruiting. We have got to dry up their fund-raising. The way we intend to do it is to humiliate them, to divorce them from any nation giving them protection and humiliating their message of hatred, of violence.
Anyone who kills women and children is not devout. They have — they cannot dress themselves up in false religious garb and say that somehow this message has dignity. We’re going to strip them of any kind of legitimacy. And that is why you see the international community acting in concert.
Secretary Mattis also explained that while collateral damage and civilian casualties will always be a part of a fight like this, the American military (and our government) will never find those losses acceptable. The American military will always go above and beyond to limit the opportunity for civilian casualties because that is who we are.
James Mattis: The American people and the American military will never get used to civilian casualties.
We will — we will fight against that every way we can possibly bring our intelligence and our tactics to bear. People who had tried to leave that city were not allowed to by ISIS . We are the good guys. We are not the perfect guys, but we are the good guys. And so we are doing what we can.
We believe we found residue that was not consistent with our bomb. So we believe that what happened there was that ISIS had stored munitions in a residential location, showing once again the callous disregard that has characterized every operation they have run.
Finally, Mattis covered the problems being created by an out of control North Korea. He explained that the hermit dictatorship first posed a very serious threat to its neighbors; South Korea, China, and Russia. He also explained that they also pose a very real, and very present threat to the safety and security of the United States as well. However, war in North Korea was the very last thing that the Trump administration wanted because war in North Korea would likely be the ugliest and most dangerous form of warfare that the USA could find itself engaged in, in today’s world.
James Mattis: A conflict in North Korea, John, would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.
Why do I say this? The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on earth, which is the capital of South Korea.
We are working with the international community to deal with this issue. This regime is a threat to the region, to Japan, to South Korea, and in the event of war, they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well. But the bottom line is, it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into combat, if we are not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means.
There is so much more to this great interview, including Mattis’ iconic line:
John Dickerson: What keeps you awake at night?
James Mattis: Nothing. I keep other people awake at night.
Make sure you watch the whole thing and then share this with other proud Americans.