The New York Times notes one thing that the generals President Trump has appointed to top administration positions have in common. Gen. Jim Mattis, Gen, John Kelly, and Gen. H.R. McMaster each, at one point or another, “strode the sands of Iraq, fighting on the unforgiving battlefield of America’s costliest war since Vietnam.” Now “all three will sit around the table in the White House Situation Room, steering a new president through the treacherous crosscurrents of a stormy world.”
The Times’ Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt quote Sen. Tom Cotton, who also served in Iraq though not as a general, as to what this means:
This generation of generals lived through some of the struggles, especially in the ’04, ’05, ’06 time frame in Iraq when we weren’t doing things right. They understand that security and military force are the pre-eminent requirement, but it’s not sufficient. This generation of generals who grew up in the Iraq war probably understands that more than any previous generation.
I think they understand something else that goes unmentioned by Baker and Schmitt. They fully understand the Iranian threat.
All three, I believe, suffered the death of troops under their command as the result of Iranian military involvement in the Iraq war. This experience isn’t required to recognize how evil and how dangerous the mullahs’ regime is. However, it’s unlikely to be lost on a commander.
Mattis has said that the three gravest threats facing the U.S. were “Iran, Iran, Iran.” He has called Iran “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” which seems undeniable, and said that Iran is not really a nation-state at all but “a revolutionary cause devoted to mayhem,” a more controversial proposition.
President Obama replaced Mattis as Centcom commander reportedly because of the intensity of his animosity towards Iran. (I wonder whether Iran even made Obama’s top three list of greatest threats facing the U.S.).
Gen. McMaster is said to be quite wary of Iran too. However, he seems to view the threat in more traditional, “nation state” terms than Mattis does. In a Wall Street Journal article, he said that “Russian, Chinese and Iranian actions” have become “part of a geopolitical realignment that cuts against US interests.”
In my view, the three generals’ realism when it comes to Iran constitutes a huge asset. It should ensure that the Trump administration resets our Middle East policy. This likely will mean, first, a refusal in principle to accept Iranian regional hegemony as Obama seemed to; and, second, a more effective cultivation of Iran’s Sunni enemies in the region (along, of course, with Israel).
That reset is long overdue