Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Gen. Mattis warns our military can become overpowering but still irrelevant

Marine Gen. James Mattis, one of the most thoughtful of our military leaders, also spoke at the Chapel Hill conference. He began by making a point about the limitations of conventional firepower: Our military, he said, "must avoid being dominant and irrelevant at the same time." I hadn’t heard that formulation before. Mattis also spoke ...

ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images

Marine Gen. James Mattis, one of the most thoughtful of our military leaders, also spoke at the Chapel Hill conference. He began by making a point about the limitations of conventional firepower: Our military, he said, "must avoid being dominant and irrelevant at the same time." I hadn't heard that formulation before.

Mattis also spoke without any computer graphics. "The reason I didn't use PowerPoint is, I am convinced PowerPoint makes us stupid." I don't know if I'd go that far, but its absence of verbs does seem to me to emphasize aspirations without saying what actions we intend to take to realize them.

Army Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who also spoke at the conference, also took a pop at PowerPoint, saying that when combined with certain ill-advised metrics, it "is really dangerous."

Marine Gen. James Mattis, one of the most thoughtful of our military leaders, also spoke at the Chapel Hill conference. He began by making a point about the limitations of conventional firepower: Our military, he said, "must avoid being dominant and irrelevant at the same time." I hadn’t heard that formulation before.

Mattis also spoke without any computer graphics. "The reason I didn’t use PowerPoint is, I am convinced PowerPoint makes us stupid." I don’t know if I’d go that far, but its absence of verbs does seem to me to emphasize aspirations without saying what actions we intend to take to realize them.

Army Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who also spoke at the conference, also took a pop at PowerPoint, saying that when combined with certain ill-advised metrics, it "is really dangerous."

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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