The appointment of Marine Corps General James N. Mattis to head up Central Command (CENTCOM) is, of course, very good news. Mattis, after all, may well be America’s greatest living general. He certainly is one of the most intellectually formidable advocates of counterinsurgency warfare.
However, Mattis’ appointment –- or, to be more precise, the reaction to his appointment amongst reporters and by the Pentagon leadership — raises troubling doubts about whether the American elite understand and are committed to free speech.
I say this for two reasons: First because the Pentagon has imposed new and more restrictive rules on military media engagements; and second because Mattis himself was not on hand to speak with reporters when, on July 8, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced his appointment.
The Department of Defense and the White House did not want Mattis talking with reporters because he has a history of making colorful and provocative comments. For example, in 2005, Mattis said this at a professional conference on military transformation:
Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight ’em [Jihadists]. You know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you. I like brawling.
You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.
These innocuous comments created a minor brouhaha at the time because without any contextual explication, they are easily misconstrued. But as I explained five years ago in the American Spectator, understood in context, Mattis’ remarks are wholly unobjectionable.