James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis knows what he’s doing when it comes to military operations. The four-star general and current Secretary of Defense enlisted in the Marines in 1969, and his career became a long and prestigious one. He saw action in the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan conflict, and the Iraq War, the latter of which he served as major general. Though appointed by the Obama administration to serve as head of U.S. Central Command, CIA director under Obama Leon Panetta wrote in his memoir Worthy Fights that Mattis and Obama had conflict over the level of military readiness, or lack thereof, that he directed toward Iran.
Obama wanted to engage in loosely-overseen treatises that would allow Iran’s nuclear arsenal to be expanded. Mattis, according to Panetta, had a great distrust of Iran’s motives and willingness to adhere to a deal based, essentially, on trust. Mattis’s ideological differences with Obama were, no doubt, secondary to his sterling reputation as a general and student of history, both military and otherwise, when Donald Trump appointed him as Secretary of Defense. But the differences that Mattis reportedly had with Obama concerning Iran are ones that Trump has been unabashedly vocal about.
Having presumably been given free reign to make strategic adjustments to the military – likely a condition under which he accepted the SoD job – Mattis’ decisions can be more or less seen as his own. Though he made it clear that all military personnel and executive cabinet members ultimately answer to the President, it is Trump’s M.O. to put people he trusts in power to operate freely, until he sees them as having betrayed his trust. Mattis, by all accounts, retains the utmost respect of the President.
Under the guise of Mattis’ recommendation, the 2017 omnibus spending bill increased the military’s budget by $21 billion. Mattis was quoted as saying, “Everything from new missiles and ammunition, to facility upgrades, to new aircraft are being funded by this bill.” Many who do not understand the technology and munitions war that a military must constantly fund in order to keep Americans safe would decry Mattis as furthering ‘the military-industrial complex.' Yet, this argument is belied by one of Mattis’ latest formal pleas to close excess military bases, which primarily account for the Pentagon’s findings of a 19% excess infrastructure capacity being run by the military.
Mattis is a true general, and eliminating wasteful spending that could be allocated to more effective ends is clearly among his top priorities. It was reported that Mattis estimated $10 billion would be saved over just five years as a result of these closures. But the closures must be done under the guidelines of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), and must be approved by Congress, who has rebuffed similar efforts to close outdated or unnecessary military bases in the past. But why would politicians who so often, and so disingenuously, decry government-sanctioned financial waste, resist trimming excess military spending?
Disingenuousness alone does not reveal the sum of their motives. Mattis and the Pentagon acknowledge that the gigantic budget that they oversee is wasting money on 19% of its infrastructure. Acknowledgement alone is more than most politicians can claim to have done. But Mattis wants something done about it, so he laid out an evidence-based letter to Congress explaining why infrastructure cuts are necessary. So, what would stop Congressmen from approving such cuts? As U.S. News and World Report have stated, it is Congress that has held up such budget-wise base closures.
‘Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to "raise and support armies" and "provide and maintain a navy," which they do through appropriations and policy authorization bills annually. Through this process, Congress has denied the Pentagon authority for Base Realignment and Closure over the last five years.’
Basically, it comes down to Congressmen looking out for their own constituencies, instead of the nation. The negative perception of a Congressman who votes to close a military base in their own state, and especially their own district, risks losing votes. Because, for many military towns, especially the small ones, a military base is associated with jobs. And for the smallest of towns, the removal of such a base could signal complete economic irrelevance.
It is an understandable position for certain Congressmen to vote against the waste of military funding through unneeded bases and other infrastructure, but it is not right. Putting one state, city, or town over the protection of the nation as a whole can be rightfully seen as selfish. And, the end of wasteful spending in any sector of government, including the military, is what Donald Trump was elected upon and has set out to do. Apparently, Mattis is all-in on applying that mindset to the military which he cares for deeply.
In his letter to Congress Mattis wrote this:
“In general, opponents understand they cannot conventionally match U.S. military power.
Therefore, they will take time to identify U.S. vulnerabilities and act accordingly. We expect
current and future adversaries, both state and non-state, will adopt a range of asymmetric and
grand strategic capabilities and methods intended to circumvent our military advantages. Future opponents will seek to engage us by acting both indirectly and directly along a vast spectrum of domains, including cyber, economic, space, air, land, sea, and undersea.”
These challenges cannot be proficiently prepared for when 19% of military infrastructural spending continues to be of the wasteful sort. The last round of BRAC base closures was in 2005, and Mattis argues with an abundance of facts, figures, and detail that it is past time for another round.
Certainly, he will face the same resistance from many Congressmen that his predecessors have, pushback that makes his proposed closings far from a certainty. But with Mad Dog Mattis and Trump ushering in what appears to be an era of true change, more politicians seem to be falling in line with an agenda for national improvement. Part of that means trimming the fat on military spending and applying it to the realistic, forward-looking threats that our military must lead the world in preparing for.