When the news first broke that retired Marine General James Mattis was a contender for the role of secretary of defense, the memes came fast and furiously. American service members have long had a love affair with the man whose nicknames range from the aggressive “Mad Dog” to the intellectual “Warrior Monk,” and they expressed their respect and admiration in the only way millennials know how: by writing funny quips in white block lettering over the same photos of him thousands of times.
But reality rarely lives up to the hype fostered in the meme-ing communities, and James Mattis isn’t a warlord demigod with the power to smite ISIS with his mind, despite what the newsfeeds of most of my old Marine buddies might claim. Although widely recognized as one of the best combat tacticians of our day, one might expect that Mattis would take some time adjusting to his new role, learning the lay of the land, organizing the coin collection on his desk, and forwarding mail to Ash Carter’s new address.
But then again, this is James Mattis we’re talking about. So while the rest of us would be trying to figure out what time lunch is, he spent his first day ordering a series of 31 airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.
According to the official statement from the Defense Department regarding the bombings in Syria, “Attack, bomber, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 25 strikes consisting of 39 engagements.”
The Syrian operations primarily targeted tactical units, headquarters, tunnels, fighting positions, vehicles, and oil well heads under ISIS control, though it has been reported that at least two underground bomb manufacturing facilities were destroyed as well. Additional engagements in Iraq also targeted weapons, vehicles, and tactical units.
Throughout his campaign, President Donald Trump made clear that he intended to prioritize the elimination of ISIS once in office, and it would seem that his choice for SECDEF has taken that directive to heart. Trump has stated that he intends to convene military leaders to establish a plan to “destroy ISIS” within the first 30 days of his presidency. Mattis, who once called Barack Obama’s ISIS policy a series of “half measures,” will be expected to enact such a plan once it materializes, and if his first day in the role is any indication, the man is clearly not gun shy.
Russia also targeted ISIS with airstrikes on Saturday, claiming that at least some of the coordinates they attacked were provided by American cooperation, and that their aircraft participated in the first ever joint American-Russian bombing campaign against a common enemy. Although initially widely reported, U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, a coalition spokesman, dismissed Russia’s claim as “propaganda.” He did acknowledge that a hotline does exist for the sharing of such intelligence between nations, but went on to claim that no such calls were made during Saturday’s airstrikes.
James Mattis, whose appointment was approved by an overwhelming 98-1 vote, has his work cut out for him in the coming years. During his confirmation hearings, it was repeatedly alluded to that Mattis was expected to serve as a check and balance for what some fear is a president who suffers from a shortness of both sight and temper. Stories leaked of tensions between the head of the Pentagon and the head of the executive branch over defense appointments before either ever even set foot in their respective offices seemed to reaffirm that concern.
Only time will tell whether the most popular general in recent history and the populist president can continue to see eye to eye on foreign engagements, but at least as far as first days go, this may have been one for the record books.
Featured image courtesy of AFP