John Dickerson conducted an intensely interesting interview with Secretary of Defense James Mattis at West Point this past Saturday for broadcast yesterday (video below). RCP has posted video along with a transcript of the interview here.
Secretary Mattis discussed our progress in the war against ISIS. He noted a shift in our tactics that he describes as follows: “We have already shifted from attrition tactics, where we shove them from one position to another in Iraq and Syria, to annihilation tactics, where we surround them.” That is a memorable formulation. A little further on Mattis states: “[W]e have got to dry up their recruiting. We have got to dry up their fund-raising. The way we intend to do it is to humiliate them, to divorce them from any nation giving them protection and humiliating their message of hatred, of violence.”
Dickerson turned to the subject of North Korea. Mattis declined to draw a red line the crossing of which would provoke an American military response. Here he tacitly drew a contrast with the Obama administration: “We do not draw red lines unless we intend to carry them out.” However, as in the previous administration, we are looking for help from China.
Dickerson took up NATO and Russia. Here again Secretary Mattis highlighted diplomatic efforts to resolve what he described as a quandary: “Right now, we are dealing with Russia, attempting to deal with Russia under President Trump’s direction, in a diplomatic manner. At the same time, while willing to engage diplomatically, we are going to have to confront Russia when it comes to areas where they attack us, whether it be with cyber, where they try to change borders using armed force. And that is admittedly a strategically uncomfortable position…”
He expressed guarded optimism that diplomacy will do the job: “[W]e are going to continue in this mode, and, hopefully soon, our diplomats will work their magic and start moving us out of this quandary we find ourselves in.” If Secretary Mattis thought diplomacy would resolve the quandary, however, I doubt he would have referred to it as “magic.”
On the Paris Accord Secretary Mattis conveyed Trump’s detachment: “I was sitting in on some of the discussions in Brussels, by the way, where climate change came up, and the president was open, he was curious about why others were in the position they were in, his counterparts in other nations.” I infer that we’re pulling the plug.
The interview concluded with what Chuck Ross calls “the quote of the year” (video below). Ross adds it to his catalog of classic quotes from Secretary Mattis.