How does the ‘mad dog’ think?

The next US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has been nicknamed the “mad dog.”

Mamdouh AlMuhaini
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The next US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has been nicknamed the “mad dog.” This is not an insult but praise. He is an enthusiastic hound who is passionate about work and detail oriented. It’s said that he does not like this nickname but he is also described as the “warrior monk” because he never married, has more than 7,000 books in his library and can quote the most famous philosophers and war veterans. When asked why he carried a book with him to the battlefield, he said that technological progress had not changed the nature of war that much as the lesson for winning past wars fought with swords and spears is the same for wars fought with tanks and drones. You must understand your enemy well to defeat him.

This is why Mattis nicely criticizes his superiors in the civilian sphere who did not understand their enemies well and did not specify their targets, thus thwarting major military efforts. During the Iraqi war, US troops succeeded in achieving a swift victory in only three weeks; however, political goals were not clear or realistic and Iraq thus slipped into chaos. Out of the five wars which the US fought after emerging victorious over Nazism in World War II, it only won one. It failed in the Korean, Vietnamese, Afghan and recent Iraqi war and won Operation Desert Shield. Then-political leader George Bush Sr. clearly specified that his political aims were to liberate Kuwait and not to topple Saddam Hussein and he did not involve military commanders in a war which end they were not familiar with.

Mattis is well-known for some famous statements such as: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” However, these sound bites are crafted for media promotion and consumption and the way he actually thinks is more strategic as he has a clearer idea about the role of the US and the biggest evils which threaten the world. This is why he disagreed with President Barack Obama’s vision.

Knowing how the “mad dog,” who joined the army at the age of 18, thinks is necessary to understand the next US administration’s approach under the leadership of President Donald Trump, especially when it comes to predicting the future. Truth be told, the features of the next American administration’s policy has begun to become clearer thanks to Trump’s cabinet picks. The choices indicate a belief in a bigger role for the US in the world and actually oppose Trump’s fiery electoral promises that called for isolation and for making allies pay for the services provided to them.

Mattis aspires to restore American influence in the region and he believes in the perfect moral vision for the world

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

According to the “mad dog,” the regime in Tehran poses the biggest threat. He was once asked about the biggest evils which threaten the Middle East and he repeatedly said: “Iran... Iran... Iran.” Contrary to the views of Obama and his officials who believe in the policy of declawing the mullahs’ regime and dragging it into the international system, Mattis confirms that the Iranian regime does not believe in this liberal system and neither thinks nor acts as states do but operates according to the concepts of revolution and expansion. Confronting Iran is one of the major issues which this veteran general has in mind. In one interview, he said militarily subjugating Iran is not difficult. According to him, it is not Iran but the Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani and terrorist militias which Tehran has established and supported which seek to attain nuclear weapons. His vision of the Iranian role in the world is bigger and more realistic and historic than the vision of analysts and journalists who keep repeating statements about the fallacies of the Saudi-Iranian struggle in the Middle East. During an exclusive interview, he asked one of the journalists a question which the region’s people know the answer to. He asked: “What is the one country in the Middle East that has not been attacked by ISIS?” He did not wait for an answer and said: “One. That is Iran. That is more than happenstance, I’m sure.”

The second threat to Mattis after Shiite political Islam is Sunni political Islam and all the movements which have emerged from it. Once again, his analysis comprehends the roots of the intellectual crisis which is deeply-rooted in history. Extremism is not product of our times but dates back to bygone centuries. The US can militarily defeat al-Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS members but defeating their ideology is not easy and Americans or Westerners cannot perform this task, but Muslims themselves can. Mattis speaks in a friendly manner about moderate Sunni governments and confirms that he’s fought by their side and emphasizes their major future role in defeating terrorism through launching a fierce war on fanatics’ ideas which represent the ideological source of violence and terrorism which distorted the image of Islam and harmed Muslims. When it comes to Iran, his war with a regime that exports terrorism and that does not commit to international standards is a matter of fate and he says that practically, war with the Iranians has been ongoing since 1979. When it comes to Arabs, he supports moderate states in eliminating extremists and instigators.

General Mattis’ character enjoys respect and appreciation. After years of Obama’s term, which is described as a phase of weakness or American withdrawal, a commentator satirically said: “It’s good that the defense minister’s nickname is ‘mad dog’ to scare Iran and Russia.” Mattis aspires to restore American influence in the region and he believes in the perfect moral vision for the world. His biggest confrontation will thus be with Vladimir Putin who disagrees with him on almost everything.

This article was first published on on Dec. 6, 2016.


Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain


Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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