This Post report on Gen. Mattis’ tenure as commander of Centcom makes for interesting reading, and it confirms earlier reports that he was extremely preoccupied with Iran:
His preparations for a possible conflict also rattled some U.S. diplomats whom Mattis invited to Central Command’s regional headquarters in Qatar in 2011 for briefings on how Iran might strike back at U.S. allies and facilities. Some of the diplomats had the impression that Mattis was describing a “World War III” scenario, one ambassador said.
Mattis’ record at Centcom would be less of a concern if he weren’t joining an administration that is already overflowing with vocal Iran hawks. The trouble is that other members of the administration, including the president’s top adviser, are similarly obsessed with Iran, and we can see from Trump’s remarks on Yemen over the past year that this obsession has distorted how he views conflicts in the region. We might hope that Mattis’ “Iran, Iran, Iran” focus was simply a product of his being at Centcom and doesn’t mean anything more than that, but there is reason to think that the preoccupation is a much older one dating back several decades.
Given Trump’s interest in intensifying the war on ISIS, the main concern is Mattis’ claim that Iran and ISIS are somehow in league with one another or at least that the two are not enemies when they plainly are. That would be worrying enough by itself, but it becomes more alarming when we remember that Michael Flynn has a habit of imagining Iranian connections to groups and events where no connections exist. If both Trump’s National Security Advisor and his Secretary of Defense are inclined to see an Iranian hand in events where there is none, that potentially makes conflict with Iran more likely and that conflict might happen because of faulty assumptions.
The Post article’s title said that Mattis would now serve as a “voice of caution” once he was confirmed as Secretary of Defense, but it didn’t include anything that would support that statement. I would like to believe that, but it’s not clear why we should assume it is true based on what we know so far. I hope we hear more from Mattis during his confirmation hearings about his view of Iran and its role in the region, since that will give us a better idea of what we can expect from him in the coming years.