'Warrior Monk' General Up For Central Command Post Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis' nomination is being considered Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is likely to face questions about remarks he made in 2005 about killing members of the Taliban.

'Warrior Monk' General Up For Central Command Post

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea, in for Steve Inskeep.


In this country and in Afghanistan, officials are still weighing the fallout from the tens of thousands of secret U.S. military documents published over the weekend by the website Wikileaks. In a moment, we'll get the view from Afghanistan. Questions about the leaked documents are likely to come up today, when Marine Corps General James Mattis goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

GONYEA: As NPR's Rachel Martin reports, that kind of language has gotten him in trouble, and also endeared him to the troops.

RACHEL MARTIN: It was the spring of 2004 in Iraq. Four U.S. defense contractors had been killed and mutilated in Fallujah. Instead of using tactical strikes to retaliate, the Marines were ordered to conduct a major assault on the city to wrest control from insurgents. General James Mattis was leading the charge.

MONTAGNE: He launched an offensive and then was told: Stop doing it.

MARTIN: Tom Ricks is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of the book "Fiasco," in which he details an angry exchange between General Mattis and his commanding officer at the time, General John Abizaid.

MONTAGNE: And what he said to General Abizaid - and I'm quoting - was: If you're going to take Vienna, take (bleep) Vienna. It was typical Mattis, to quote Napoleon in a really profane way.

MARTIN: That same colorful language has gotten Mattis in trouble - most notably, when he said this in 2005, during a speech in San Diego about killing members of the Taliban.

GONYEA: Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you. I like brawling.

MARTIN: Just last month, General Stanley McChrystal was fired for inappropriate comments he made to a Rolling Stone reporter about members of the Obama administration. The comments by Mattis in 2005 were about the enemy, not his civilian leaders, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says General Mattis has learned from his mistake.

S: I think that the subsequent five years have demonstrated that the lesson was learned. Obviously, in the wake of the Rolling Stone interview, we discussed this kind of thing.

MARTIN: Former Marine Captain Seth Moulton describes a speech that he heard Mattis give in Kuwait right before the Iraq war.

MONTAGNE: And he talked to us about, you know, how he would like to be the one to capture Saddam Hussein, and how to deal with our girlfriends and our friends when we went home if they disagreed with the war and didn't respect our service - the kinds of problems that we could see ourselves having. And I think we all left that speech really ready to go.

MARTIN: Again, Seth Moulton.

MONTAGNE: You know, if there's one thing we need in today's world, I think it's leaders who can speak the truth, who aren't just constrained by the politics of the moment. And so to have a leader who has this reputation for not being politically correct, for speaking his mind and telling the truth about what's really going on the ground, that means a lot. That means a lot when you're following someone like that into battle.

MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.

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