By: David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer
General James Mattis is a person who has been in the headlines quite a few times in the past couple of years. He is often given the nickname “Mad Dog,” and it is a moniker he doesn’t like.
“That’s something the media came up with on a slow news day,” Mattis told David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group and host of his own television show on Bloomberg TV and PBS, during a lunch conversation hosted by the Dallas Citizens Council (DCC) on Dec. 5 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas. He called it a “self-aggrandizing” name, which is not something he would want the loved ones of fallen U.S. Marines to have in mind when they receive a family notification letter from him.
When Rubenstein noted writing such letters is hard, Mattis replied shortly, “Not nearly as hard as it is for the families.”
Notably, in recent news cycles, Mattis had accepted an appointment by President Donald J. Trump to serve as the Secretary of Defense, only to resign the position shortly thereafter due to a policy dispute with the president. Mattis said he outlined his concerns in a letter which has since been released, and that there is not much more to say about the matter.
He has also refrained from criticizing Trump since leaving his position, saying “at the end of the day” Trump is still the Commander in Chief, and that it was not productive to have a former Secretary of Defense making negative statements while his fellow Marines were still out in the field. He is happy to speak publicly about his service, but says he makes a point of passing on “political questions.”
He does, however, express his concerns over the direction of American culture. Recalling the words of Abraham Lincoln, he noted the U.S. would be hard to conquer by outside nations but could fall to political “suicide” from within.
“I am very concerned these days about the contempt, the rancor that I see among some Americans,” Mattis said. “It’s one thing to have a good, strong argument and elections are divisive. You know, you’re supposed to divide; I want you to vote for me and David said to vote for him, and we divide. But when the election is over, you gotta come back together. I’m very worried about how we treat one another in this country.”
He said Texas was better than most places in this regard and joked that he presented himself to an airline mechanic that morning and asked for “political asylum in Texas.”
“I have no time for this contempt for our fellow Americans and calling each other ‘terrorists’,” Mattis said. “I know terrorists. And I know what they look like and I know what they do. I haven’t seen American terrorists, outside of a few (audience applause drowned out the end of the sentence).”
On the subject of terrorism, Mattis said it is an “ambient threat” which will be with the country for a long time to come. He said the U.S. needs to stay engaged on the world stage because not doing so could lead to even bigger problems. He recalled the price U.S. allies such as the Kurds in Syria have paid in recent operations, and how situations a world away will eventually affect the U.S. population at home.
“Remember this, NATO was set up to protect the democracies of Europe,” Mattis said. “I mean, that was initially why we set it up in 1948-49 time frame, to protect those democracies. The first time NATO goes to war is when our country is attacked (on 9/11). And several of those nations have lost more boys per capita than we have.”
The conversation was held as the centerpiece for the DCC’s annual meeting. The gathered crowd was greeted by DCC Chairman Fred Perpall, who provided an outline of the organization’s goals in the coming year. Known for its interest in the city’s economic development, Perpall emphasized the DCC would be pushing for improvements in Dallas which would benefit all residents. Transportation and education were additional areas of interest Perpall said his colleagues would be looking to improve.