Since Jim Mattis accepted the role of secretary of defense, his proverbial rucksack has been loaded up with expectations: convincing President Trump that torture is not effective, defending American internationalism, keeping America’s alliances alive, saving the U.S. foreign aid budget and being the “adult in the room” on the National Security Council. These expectations are absurd and far beyond the writ of any normal secretary of defense. The policy, programming, personnel, process and unknown contingencies will be individually challenging. Managed together, they are staggering—even for someone whose call-sign was once “Chaos.”
Starting with policy, Mattis must oversee major operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the ongoing mission in Afghanistan, and counterterrorism operations around the world. He is also responsible for positioning the Pentagon to respond adequately to Russia’s destabilizing activities against key European allies and partners and China’s increasingly assertive behavior across the Asia-Pacific, as well as contend with conventional and strategic challenges from less predictable regional spoilers like North Korea and Iran.
There are good and pressing reasons to enhance U.S. military posture in Europe, where Russia is moving quickly to consolidate control of Crimean and Eastern Ukraine, threaten its neighbors, undermine NATO and erode the democratic institutions of the broader West, to include the United States. To be sure, a more assertive military posture must be part of a whole-of-government response. In Asia, China is asserting greater influence over its neighborhood and will no doubt continue to use its military investments and posture to chip away at U.S. freedom of military action and maneuver. In the Gulf, the three-pronged challenge of destroying the Islamic State, countering Iran’s destabilizing activities, and determining the future of U.S. policy toward the Assad regime. And finally, America’s longest war — Afghanistan — continues to simmer, with U.S. commanders requesting troops increases to support the security assistance and counterterrorism missions there.
Read the full article at War on the Rocks.