25 May 2010

Q&A with Gen. James Mattis

Defense News has an excellent Q&A with Gen. James Mattis. Here's the first few questions...

Q. What are the real lessons of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?

A. War is a human endeavor, a social problem, and we have modest expectations that technology is going to solve a problem as complex as warfare.

Second, no war is over until the enemy says it's over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote, as we're often saying in the military.

A third point is that what we cannot do is look towards war today as something that we are going to fight on our own. We are going to be fighting alongside allies of some stripe, and we are going to have to create a military that can easily adapt to other allies fighting alongside it as part of our formations, and perhaps us fighting as part of their formations.

But you can't simply transport the lessons from one theater, even one as recent as Iraq, directly to Afghanistan. It's its own country, the enemy is its own enemy, the terrain is different. Most importantly, the human terrain - the complexity of the human connections, the tribal relationships - is different.

Q. You're changing JFCom's name?

A. I've asked for that change: to Joint and Coalition Forces Command. That decision is not yet made.

Q. You and Petraeus changed how the Iraq war was fought. What did that teach you about change?

A. Gen. Petraeus and I came back from Iraq about the same time, he to Fort Leavenworth for the Army, me to Quantico for the Marines. We worked on this with our staffs, then he went back and changed the face of the war in Iraq. I did not go back as operational commander; I defer that success to him and the troops that were over there. I had at best an indirect, perhaps intellectual or training impact.

The real lessons you learn when you try to change an organization as big as ours is that the first thing you must do is define the problem. If you don't define the problem in very stark terms, then you're going to probably solve the wrong problem. We have too often in the 1990s, and perhaps into the first part of this decade, tried to solve the problem by calling things transforma tional or game-changers. We had not, I think, defined the problem well enough.

What Dave Petraeus and I had as an advantage was we were in the middle of a very clearly defined war in terms of the fact that the old ways weren't going to work. We looked for what was working, accumulated it into the doctrine and passed it out, largely written by NCOs and officers fresh from their searing experiences in Iraq.

By: Brant

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