By MICHAEL A. WALSH, New York Post
Lost in the inaugural hullabaloo was Tuesday’s news that President Obama has relieved Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the colorful and highly decorated Marine who’s been in charge of the crucial US Central Command, which oversees the various wars in the Middle East, since 2010.
Mattis is famous for his blunt style and blistering aphorisms — “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet” was his clear-headed advice to the Marines he led during the treacherous Iraq War. He’ll retire from both CentCom and the Corps in March, several months short of his expected tour of duty.
But why? Could it be that, as Obama prepares to cede Afghanistan back to the Taliban, the last thing he needs is an obstreperous general gumming up the surrender?
For an administration whose relationship with the military is, to put it mildly, fraught with tension, Mattis is yet another wall trophy, to go alongside the heads of Gen. Stanley McChrystal (fired in 2010 as the commander of the US forces in Afghanistan) and David Petraeus, who left CentCom to be buried alive at the CIA (and later resigned over the Paula Broadwell sex scandal).
Officially, the administration offers a nothing-to-see-here explanation for Mattis’ departure, noting that his tenure in the crucial job was about average for the post.
Maybe. But politics is at play here as well. The brusque Mattis apparently fell afoul of National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, an Obama apparatchik. Why? Because Mattis says things the Obama team doesn’t want to hear, especially about what might well become the next theater of operations — Iran.
Thinking two or three moves down the line, the hard-line Mattis was known for peppering his civilian superiors with uncomfortable questions: What happens in Iran when and if the nuclear threat is neutralized? What if we have to fight a conventional war with the mullahs? Then what?
The line between frank outspokenness and open insubordination is a narrow one, and under our system, even top-level officers must cede to civilian authority. President Harry Truman famously fired the Army’s top general, Douglas MacArthur, during the Korean War for trying to go over his head to Congress in his quest for total victory on the Korean peninsula.