Eli Lake formerly covered national security issues for the Washington Times and the New York Sun.
As Obama Preaches Patience, Mattis Prepares for War With Iran
By Eli Lake
Exclusive: CentCom commander’s call for third Persian Gulf carrier group was rejected, reports Eli Lake.
As Western diplomats meet this week in Baghdad to try to coax Iran’s leaders to disclose its full nuclear program, Gen. James Mattis will be keeping an eye on the Persian military.
Mattis wanted to send a third aircraft-carrier group to the Persian Gulf earlier this year, The Daily Beast has exclusively learned, in what would have been a massive show of force at a time when Iranian military commanders were publicly threatening to sink American ships in the Strait of Hormuz. The four-star Marine Corps general and CentCom commander believed the display could have deterred Iran from further escalating tensions, according to U.S. military officials familiar with his thinking.
But the president wanted to focus military resources on new priorities like China, and Mattis was told a third carrier group was not available to be deployed to the Gulf.
The carrier-group rebuff in January was one of several for the commander responsible for East Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Working for the Obama administration, Mattis has often found himself the odd man out—particularly when it comes to Iran.
Military sources close to the general tell The Beast that Mattis was worried that the president’s decision, announced in November, to fully withdraw from Iraq would leave the U.S. military without access to the country’s bases and with few options to project power in the region. The military had been negotiating with the Iraqi government for continued access to bases there for some intelligence, training, and counterterrorism missions until Obama announced his decision to the press in November.
“General Mattis is a key player in administration debates and a vital implementer of the administration’s policies,” said Denis McDonough, a deputy national-security adviser and one of President Obama’s most trusted advisers on foreign affairs.
Those who have worked with Mattis say his views when it comes to Iran are more in line with those of America’s allies in the Persian Gulf and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than with his own government’s. At a recent charity event for Spirit of America, Mattis, known by admirers as the “warrior monk” and by detractors as “Mad Dog Mattis,” said his three top concerns in the Middle East were “Iran, Iran, and Iran.”