Marine General James Mattis, co-winner of the Atlantic Council’s 2010 Distinguished Military Leadership Award, has been nominated by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to take over Central Command.
AP‘s Anne Gearan and Anne Flaherty:
Mattis would replace Gen. David Petraeus, who is now in Afghanistan as the U.S. and NATO’s top military officer there.
The shake-up comes as the American public questions whether the fight in Afghanistan can be won, and the Defense Department is reeling from losing its top war commander — Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
As head of Central Command, Mattis would oversee U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as across the Middle East, including Iraq and Iran.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that he was impressed with the general’s "strategic insight and independent thinking."
Mattis is a blunt-talking, seasoned war veteran best known for leading troops into the bloody battle of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he has been impressed watching Mattis interact with NATO allies, most recently as Mattis served as head of U.S. Joint Forces Command.
In 2004, Mattis’ Marine division led the assault on Fallujah and he played a key role in helping Iraqi security forces negotiate with insurgents inside the city.
His remarks at the time of the battle suggest his thinking is very much in line with the counterinsurgency strategy pursued by Petraeus and McChrystal, which restricts military operations in order to win the support of the local population. "All along we had intended a softer approach, using civil-military operations… unless someone chooses to fight, and then we would fight," Mattis said in 2004. "Welcome to war with all its complexities and shifting centers of gravity."
In accepting his honor from the Council in April, Mattis issued some of the blunt talk for which he is famous:
Peace is not a passive virtue. Even as we celebrate tonight the continued existence of our experiments that you and I call democracy, our young men and women endure danger and discomfort, our alliance leading more than 40 nations in the defining fight of the decade against an enemy practicing medieval and even primitive values, practicing tyranny dressed in false religious garb.
We didn’t choose this fight; rather, it was forced on us. Those who attacked us on 9/11; those who attacked London on 7/7; attacked Madrid; Beslan, Russia; Mumbai; Bali and scores more – they thought that by hurting us they could scare us. They did not realize that the descendants of Verdun and Normandy are not made of cotton candy.
Congratulations to General Mattis on being selected for such a prestigious post. He faces a daunting, if not insurmountable job. But it’s hard to imagine a better team than Mattis and Petraeus — the 2009 recipient of the same award.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.