In the Arena

The New General

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I’ve never met Jim Mattis, the new Centcom commander, but he sounds like a pretty interesting guy:

It was the first winter of the war in Afghanistan, when the wind stabbed like an ice pick and fingertips froze to triggers, but a young lieutenant’s blood simmered as he approached a Marine fighting hole and spotted three heads silhouetted in the moonlight. He had ordered only two Marines to stand watch while the rest of the platoon was ordered to rest before an expected Taliban attack at first light.

“I dropped down into the hole, and there were two junior Marines,” the lieutenant,Nathaniel C. Fick, recalled of that overnight operation outside Kandahar. “But the third was General Mattis. He has a star on his collar and could have been sleeping on a cot with a major waiting to make him coffee. But he’s out there in the cold in the middle of the night, doing the same thing I’m doing as a first lieutenant — checking on his men.”

And then there’s this:

Associates of General Mattis offer an explanation for the contradiction of a general who uses “ain’t” in public but devotes his government moving allowance to hauling a library of 6,000 books from station to station, forgoing most personal effects.

He is a reader of philosophy who has patterned his speeches and writings on Aristotle’s famous dictum on effective communications: Know your audience. When he is speaking to Marines, he speaks like a Marine. When he is speaking to defense chiefs or senior government leaders, he uses their language.

He’s got a tough job, supervising U.S. military operations in the world’s most violent region. Sounds like a good fit.