Here are a few things I have heard since I posted my comments on Friday about the Obama administration pushing General Mattis out at Central Command. Thanks to all who wrote in to make this follow-up possible:
On Saturday I sent the above post over to the NSC for comment. Here, without comment from me, is what NSC spokesman "Tommy" Vietor wrote back:
I greatly appreciate your offer to allow us to comment.
What you describe in your email doesn't at all resemble the rigorous, open NSC process I've been a part of here at the White House. The role of the NSC is to coordinate the interagency and facilitate an all of government process and discussion to ensure each agency has input into national security policy. General Mattis has been a critical part of those discussions about the CENTCOM region, and it's completely inaccurate to say there was any effort to prevent him from airing his views. I'd note that General Mattis prepares a weekly report for the Chairman and SecDef on everything that's happening in his AOR. Tom makes sure that report is delivered to the President each week in full.
With respect to Iran policy, Tom [Donilon] worked directly with CENTCOM's leadership, in particular General Mattis and General Allen, to put together our force posture in the region. Without getting into detail, there has obviously been extensive contingency planning related to Iran and the region, and there has been a policy process that has been deliberately structured to allow for assumptions to be challenged and hard questions to be asked at the highest levels of government.
More broadly speaking, many of DOD's top leaders have said that the process Tom lead to formulate out defense strategy was the most robust, open and inclusive conversation they've been a part of.
To quote Secretary Panetta: "And in my experience, this has been an unprecedented process, to have the President of the United States participate in discussions involving the development of a defense strategy, and to spend time with our service chiefs and spend time with our combatant commanders to get their views. It's truly unprecedented."
Chairman Dempsey: "This strategy emerges from a deeply collaborative process. We sought out and took insights from within and from outside the Department of Defense, to include from the intelligence community and other governmental departments. We weighed facts and assessments. We challenged every assumption. We considered a wide range of recommendations and counter-arguments. I can assure you that the steps we have taken to arrive at this strategy involved all of this and much more. This strategy also benefited from an exceptional amount of attention by our senior military and civilian leadership. On multiple occasions, we held all-day and multi-day discussions with service chiefs and combatant commanders. The service chiefs, who are charged with developing the force for the strategy, were heard early and often. The combatant commanders, charged with executing the strategy, all weighed in time and time again. And we were all afforded extraordinary access to both the president and the secretary of defense."
The bottom line is that we are extraordinarily grateful to General Mattis for his patriotism and his service. He is a critical part of our team, and we look forward to his continued counsel in the months ahead.
Tom Ricks again: That comment struck me as blather that obscured more than it illuminated. I said so to Mr. Vietor, who wrote back to ask me what specifically he hadn't addressed. So I sent over these questions:
Vietor's answer: "I'm going to let General Mattis speak to the timing of his departure."
Vietor's answer: "This won't satisfy you, but both Tom [Donilon] and General Mattis understand that policy debates and advice to the President should remain confidential, so I have no plan to outline their candid advice or views."
Vietor's answer: "The President and Tom both welcome hearing dissenting views. Its crucial to good policy making. I can't speak to an alleged anonymous perception. If you quote someone on the record or something specific, I can try to offer more."
Vietor's answer: "The average tour length of the previous 25 COCOMs is 2.7 years. The longest serving COCOM is Admiral Stavridis, who assumed command of SOUTHCOM in October 2006. The second longest serving COCOM is General James Mattis, who assumed command of Joint Forces Command in November 2007. The President just appointed General Allen SACEUR. The last Marine SACEUR was Jim Jones, who later become NSA. I think that's a pretty strong signal about how much the President values the Marine Corps."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.