James ‘Mad Dog ’ Mat­tis’ book of­fers plenty for China to think about

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Tom Plate

A book cur­rently tak­ing the read­ing Amer­i­can pub­lic as if by desert storm has a strange ti­tle and pairs an odd cou­ple of au­thors: U.S. marines, now both re­tired. “Call Sign Chaos” is by James Mat­tis and his long­time col­league Bing West, and of the two, West must be the bet­ter writer be­cause Mat­tis is the more fa­mous.

Un­til Feb. 28, for about two years, Gen­eral Mat­tis was sec­re­tary of de­fense in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, af­ter decades as a star ma­rine ca­reerist widely known as the tough­est of the tough. Not for noth­ing was his fa­mous moniker “Mad Dog Mat­tis.” High praise in ma­rine cir­cles.

Mad Dog may have been too much of an in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic mil­i­tarist even for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, which would be in­ter­est­ing; and while his pre­de­ces­sor Pres­i­dent Barack (“No Drama”) Obama re­spected him, his ten­dency to ex­press ex­actly what he thought, whether in pub­lic or at a pri­vate meet­ing, would put Mad Dog in No Drama’s dog­house.

His style and rep­u­ta­tion as a com­man­der of troops was ex­em­plary. But few ex­pected that he and his pal West would put to­gether an “un­put­down­able” nar­ra­tive of ma­rine train­ing and doc­trine that looks set to be­come an in­stant clas­sic.

Their work, be­gun years ago, is rel­e­vant to Chi­nese read­ers. Those who do not need a trans­lated edi­tion will be as­ton­ished by the level of de­tail about Ma­rine Corps op­er­a­tional phi­los­o­phy and doc­trine, and its can­dor about the dis­turb­ing dis­con­nect be­tween the hefty war ca­pac­ity of the U.S. and its de­clin­ing men­tal ca­pac­ity.

The blunt Mat­tis be­lieves Amer­ica’s patch­work po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is in­ca­pable of mak­ing strate­gi­cally sound de­ci­sions, thus its tragic flaw of win­ning mil­i­tary bat­tles as needed but then los­ing the peace when the smoke clears.

The Chi­nese reader will be par­tic­u­larly sur­prised to learn of the gen­eral’s un­will­ing­ness to flatly de­clare the in­fa­mous 1999 “ac­ci­den­tal” bomb­ing of the Chi­nese Em­bassy in Bel­grade in­dis­putably an ac­ci­dent, though Mat­tis him­self leans to­wards the sim­plest ex­pla­na­tion: al­lied in­com­pe­tence — rather than a planned NATO at­tack.

The gen­eral’s lit­er­ary tone is de­light­fully clear and blunt but not bru­tal or even bit­ter. On the grounds that the sol­dier’s pro­fes­sion is to serve as a sub­or­di­nate of the U.S. pres­i­dent, not crit­i­cize him, the gen­eral has al­most noth­ing di­rect to re­veal about Trump; and few plau­dits about any other pres­i­dent save Harry S. Tru­man and the late Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

The lat­ter is sin­gled out for not per­mit­ting the first Iraq war (to re­claim Kuwait for the Kuwaitis) to bal­loon into a far wider bed­lam, as did the sec­ond one un­der his son, known as “W.” As for Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den, the for­mer vice-pres­i­dent un­der Obama, the gen­eral leaves us the sense he found him ad­mirable and ami­able but stub­born.

He re­mains deeply crest­fallen about Obama’s fail­ure to take Syr­ian dic­ta­tor Bashar al-As­sad to task for us­ing chem­i­cal weapons, even though this bar­baric vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional and hu­man­i­tar­ian law had been ex­plic­itly en­shrined as an un­cross­able red line. “In­stead,” he writes, “the Pres­i­dent de­cided not to strike … This was a shot not heard around the world.”

Mat­tis’ own red line: “I have seen no case where weak­ness pro­motes the chance for peace.” And so he di­vines a di­rect con­nec­tion to the China-U.S. re­la­tion­ship: “Amer­ica’s rep­u­ta­tion had been se­ri­ously weak­ened as a cred­i­ble se­cu­rity part­ner. Within 36 hours, I re­ceived a phone call from a friendly Pa­cific-na­tion diplo­mat. ‘Well, Jim,’ he said, ‘I guess we’re on our own now with China.’”

Against the back­ground of lengthy com­bat ser­vice in Asia — Viet­nam, Afghanista­n and Iraq — the gen­eral is gripped by no doubt about the China threat, de­spite his re­spect for his some­time-tu­tor Henry Kissinger, whose wisely nu­anced views on China some­how seem to es­cape al­most ev­ery­one in the U.S. th­ese days, es­pe­cially along our New York-Wash­ing­ton echo cham­ber.

The prob­lem for China, it seems, is that by stand­ing toe-to-toe with the U.S., es­pe­cially over the tar­iff war (which, I con­cur, is to­tally id­i­otic), Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s ever-hard­en­ing im­age dis­col­ors the over­all im­age of con­tem­po­rary China, in­tended or not.

Is a Sino-U.S. clash in­deed in our des­tiny? If so, then Chi­nese mil­i­tary lead­ers must ab­so­lutely read Mat­tis’ book. They need to un­der­stand that Amer­ica has not “grown soft” and that if they want a fight, there are other “mad dogs” in our mil­i­tary well pre­pared to join the bat­tle.

De­tails about ma­rine train­ing and sys­temic in­ter-ser­vice joint ac­tion re­ceive plenty of at­ten­tion, as do philoso­phies of troop man­age­ment. With­out yield­ing any mil­i­tary se­crets, the book of­fers plenty for China to think about.

But the book should also wake up Amer­ica to the sug­ges­tion that China surely has in its ranks its own very ca­pa­ble “mad dogs,” that China’s young peo­ple and elder com­man­ders will fight equally bravely for what they be­lieve in, and that Chi­nese com­man­ders, un­like some of the Tal­iban mil­i­tarists Mat­tis writes about, are any­thing but “dumber than a bucket of rocks.”

For their part, Amer­i­cans are look­ing for strong but sen­si­ble and co­her­ent lead­er­ship. This is why many see in Mat­tis what ear­lier gen­er­a­tions saw in Ge­orge Pat­ton, Dou­glas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisen­hower. “Only the dead have seen the last of war,” writes our cur­rent hero gen­eral.

May they all rest in peace; but can­not we find Chi­nese and Amer­i­can lead­ers who are will­ing to give the war op­tion a long, well-de­served rest and in­stead work like mad dogs of peace to help the world es­cape apoc­a­lypse?

The pro­lific writer H.G. Wells, who even penned a pair of books on “recre­ational” war games, fore­saw that China would soon ri­val both the United States and Europe. He left us with this thought: “Hu­man his­tory be­comes more and more a race be­tween ed­u­ca­tion and catas­tro­phe.”

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