Report: Obama administration may push Mattis out

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Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, and Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. (Thomas Brown/ Staff)

Last month, President Obama nominated Gen. Lloyd Austin to succeed Gen. James Mattis as the head of U.S. Central Command. The choice and its timing immediately raised questions about Mattis’ future, particularly given his standing as one of the most revered military leaders of his generation.

Mattis was typically stoic when I approached him for a response.

“I’ll remain focused on my job at CENTCOM for now and figure out the rest later,” he said in an email.

U.S. military officials have speculated for months that Mattis could leave his CENTCOM post by this summer and join civilian life. Now, though, a well-connected journalist and analyst is raising questions whether that could happen even sooner.

In a blog post this morning, Tom Ricks suggests that Mattis has been told to vacate his office “several months early” — possibly even by March.

From Ricks:

Why the hurry? Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way — not because he went all “mad dog,” which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran. Some of those questions apparently were uncomfortable. Like, what do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf? He kept saying, “And then what?”

Inquiry along these lines apparently was not welcomed — at least in the CENTCOM view. The White House view, apparently, is that Mattis was too hawkish, which is not something I believe, having seen him in the field over the years. I’d call him a tough-minded realist, someone who’d rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.

Ricks, now an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, is certainly well connected. It seems unlikely that sources would have opened up to him on this topic unless there was some sort of tension behind the scenes.

And therein lies the rub. Obama may have been the commander in chief who authorized the bin Laden raid, but many troops believe he still lacks gravitas on his national security resume. Allowing a smart, critical general with connections to governments all over the world retire early seems foolhardy, at best.

That question, “and then what?” We always need our leaders to ask it. Always.

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About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.

40 Comments

  1. Smedley Butler on

    This is a leader of Marines. He is a real General and not a politician. This is why the administration does not care for him, they do not want to hear from him and rather him fall in line. Thus, the problem with all politicians…they want the Generals to tell them what is politically expedient for them, no more. Semper Fi General Mattis!

  2. I believe that General Mattis could develop a solid strategy for this country to regain financial strength, security, and self pride, under his leadership. Point for him to consider…

  3. I will gladly follow Gen. Mattis to hell and back. He deserves to be P.O.T.U.S. not the nancy boys that are currently in office. Ohrah motivate kill!

  4. One of the very best Flag Officers of our time! Alike to Gen Al Gray, Gen Mattis is a true warrior who pulls no punches and is highly favored by the troops for his candor and respectful nature to enlisted Marines!

    I literally sat in front of this man when he relieved an unsat Battalion Commander in Iraq in 2004 and explained why he did’nt need any officer out running around trying to get his CAR! After his successful command in Iraq this Gen shot upward to the post he now sits in. If the Pres puts Gen Mattis out to pasture he will be losing someone who can keep this country out of serious trouble by wanting to go off rogue into other countries like Iran! Once again we see a Pres who simply does what he wants, and what is good for him – NOT the country he is supposed to represent! Anyone who stands up for what they believe in, like Gen Mattis, is considered a threat and must be put away wet in the broom closet.

    Fair winds and following seas to the best General still wearing the uniform! You shall NOT be forgotten sir!

  5. It’s disgraceful that such an outstanding Marine gets sidelined for speaking his mind on military affairs and not following along with the weak political agenda the white house puts out.

  6. General Mattis is one of the most loved and most admired military leaders the Marine Corps has. Ever since the days of Chesty Puller, there has not been a leader in the Marine Corps who has had the love and dedication to duty as General Mattis has. If he is dismissed it will be out of fear on the part of our president, because he is afraid of anyone who has stronger leadership ability within the military ranks than he has himself.

  7. So he’s being criticized for getting people to prepare and think critically about Iran? Those are the questions he should be asking! To not ask them means if the worst should happen we would be found unprepared and there’s no excuse for that.

  8. The way of the game.. No one ever wants to answer the What IF Questions.. Many Marines, always question WHY!! WHAT IF!!, What happens AFTER THAT. Very serious, yet often snuffed concerns in the REAL WORLD.. Why Invade, What if they really fight back.. WHAT HAPPENS After we complete mission, will we be stuck there forever, guarding poppy fields?? Versus Different Strategy..

    Politicians only look for the results.. Actually planning on an amount of dead Americans.. The Accounting tricks to pay for it.. NOT thinking about, What is the END GAME.. What happens after we complete this mission.. And why on earth would we even want to play the game, when our own government wont let the Military actually do its job..

  9. Mattis cant possibly be the only one questioning an Iran invasion, its his job to pull more military strategists on his side. If he hasnt done that, in all his years as a flag officer, then an early shouldnt be a surprise. Officers know better than to be the only squeaky wheel, this is learned as a boot Lt. Bottom line- there must be another reason fueling the rumored early departure, imo.

  10. Knowing how Gen Mattis is and serving under his command during OIF 1 in 2003, he most likely has other officers on his side, but they aren’t mentioned because they aren’t well known like Gen Mattis. Facists regimes don’t like REALISTS in their ranks because they won’t promote the idealogy that facists want to spread.

  11. An honest-to-God, unselfish, experienced, outspoken LEADER who actually stands tall, leads from the front, and is highly respected by those he leads and has led. Were he also a polished politician of this era, the previous sentence could not possibly apply. Semper Fi, sir!

  12. A single-source “story” of one think-tank employee’s speculation about the meaning of something somebody told him about complex discussions between political and military readers.

    And then the last paragraph reveals all: this is just to get people who don’t read news outside of the MilitaryTimes ruffled because the president is trying to push out a beloved General early. Even though there is literally no solid information in the article other than hearsay to that effect.

    Great “journalism.” Go back to writing about brand new gear or pay cuts or new disciplinary measures.

  13. A REAL General – of course he would be pushed out. We have to have a-kissers like Amos in command under obama that will spend their time destroying our own troops rather than the enemy. Matthis is the real deal, so of course they need to get rid of him.

  14. I served under General Mattis during Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraq Freedom 1&2, stateside and deployed.

    I worked hand in hand with the General on a daily basis, he is the one military mind I respect above all others. If we ever go to war and a “Call to Arms” is made, whatever side Gen. Mattis is on, is the side I will be fighting for, period.

    I have that much trust and faith in his leadership, knowledge, and overall judgement.

    Cpl. USMC

  15. No no, thats good to go… if he isnt a General anymore that just helps pave his way to presidency! MAD DOG 2016!!!!

  16. Phillip Bassett on

    Mad dog – your Marines will always LOVE you, for being you! We would follow you anywhere! Go into politics…PLEASE! This country needs legit leadership!

  17. I worked for the General when he was Deputy Commandant for Combat Development at the Pentagon. This man fully understands the Marine Corps role, its future role and guided us with gental authority and focused purpose. A truely GREAT Marine that will go down in history as “One of the Giants of the Corps”.

  18. Pingback: Is Mattis on the way out at CENTCOM?

  19. I sat in General Mattis’ office at Camp Pendleton – he had his staff around him and he says to me ” all these guys have to call me sir, but you can call me Jim”- YEAH RIGHT – even though a civilian, I sat straight up and my back didn’t touch the back of the chair!

  20. Gen Mattis has served for over 40 years. Every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine must retire eventually, and now may be Gen Mattis’s time…even Ike, MacArthur, Powell, Patreaus, etc had the hang up the uniform. The article implies Gen Mattis may receive the same shabby treatment on the way out given some other recent retiring generals who didn’t toe the party line…Wesley Clark and Shinseki come to mind. This would be a shame after all he has done.

  21. If he is forced out, then I might as well get out of the Marines as well since the Marine Corps is getting soft now a days, thanks to the new Commandant!!

  22. Regarding statement #10 from Ike Oshana Says: regarding the reason why Gen. Mattis may be forced out…”If he is dismissed it will be out of fear on the part of our president, because he is afraid of anyone who has stronger leadership ability within the military ranks than he has himself.”

    If that is the reason, All USMC NCOs would have to be discharged.

  23. This is what happens when politicians think they know more than those around them. Now they will put someone else in place that agrees with their agenda which is dangerous. We need someone who will ask the hard questions.

  24. I strongly suspect that if Gen Mattis feels he is being pushed out for political reasons and not simply part of the long standing policies related to service and retirement, you will hear the words from his mouth.

  25. He had this reputation at JFCOM. And while he could easily make his dolt senior leader subordinates look like utter fools through his astute and pointed questioning, he frequently failed to follow-up by redirecting course. Seen from the ground, OK our Colonel is an idiot (we could have told him that), but is Mattis is just going let this continue? He often did.

  26. Roberta Martin on

    President James Mattis … Someone needs to contact him and ask him to run for President. Declare his intentions like really early…. say tomorrow. Just to watch that schmuck of a president we have now suck up chair he likes to kick back in.

  27. Wow. Lots of asinine comments. Marines follow and respect the office of the POTUS, just as Mattis does. While he’s in uniform you will never him bad mouth the POTUS. The last paragraph in this ‘article’ seemed to com out of ‘right field…

    I served with ‘Major’ Mattis at Marine Barracks Newport. An oustanding Marine who only gets better with age. As another poster stated, if General Mattis feels he is being pushed out by politicians at the Pentagon, you will hear him say so.

  28. Pingback: Battle Rattle - A Marine Corps Times Blog – Could Gen. Jim Amos step down as commandant to head NATO?

  29. This is exactly what Hitler did. Got rid of all the Generals and replaced everyone that would be under his control. Obama is doing the same thing. Just what Morsi is doing to Egypt that used to be our Friend. Control factors so they can bring in Communism and they are saying it is socialism that is only so the Americans will except it. That is how communism is brought in first by Socialism then they bring all in. Are you ready for a Dictator in America??? Our Four Fathers would die for this to stop it immediately.Obama told his Professor America needs another Revolution and that America does not need guns he was 19 year old then. What do you think he believes now??? I think we all know. There has been more books written about this President than any one else and 98 % of them are not good.

  30. Did anyone watch Osamas state of the Union? Ever seen Star Wars episode 3? This is how freedom dies- with thunderous applause. The people are cheering him on, even in the face of tyranny. The next step is a for sale sign on the white house lawn. All you devoted liberals! wake up! this is no longer as battle between 2 parties, it is the battle to keep our freedom! You do not have to be involved in politics to be involved in your country!

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