- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On my productive flights to and from Denver last week, in which I did much remedial reading, I also finally read the text of the speech Marine Gen. James Mattis delivered to the recent CNAS conference on the future of the U.S. military officer corps.
Mattis is always interesting. He’s one of the more thoughtful and learned generals I’ve come across, not just with academic credentials, but with genuine knowledge. (The former doesn’t always produce the latter, and actually seems to weaken the ability to write clearly.) There are some people who read this blog who disagree with his handling of the Haditha massacre, in which Marines knowingly shot women and children, but I think he did about as well as anyone could with that horrible mess.
His talk is worth reading for a number of reasons, such as his emphasis on the need for officers to be able to build trust and also be adaptable. But what particularly struck me about this speech was his emphatic call for generals, even those who are retired, to stay away from politics. He sees a need for a "strategic awakening" in our officer corps that includes:
"For our most senior officers, active and retired, awareness that nothing is more important than that they be apolitical in General Marshall’s mold. . . . We need a senior officer corps that returns to its apolitical roots, no matter how vexing it is to remain silent on issues once retired. We are military officers and we have no politics!"
Tom again: I see this as a shot across the bows of all the generals who have been endorsing presidential candidates of both parties in recent years, and even displayed like beauty contest contestants at the nominating conventions.