US Defense Secretary James Mattis is a Marine’s Marine and a respected military scholar. Yet his recent remarks to reporters about US conduct around the world smack of either hypocrisy or woeful misinformation.
Mattis is visiting Indonesia and Vietnam this week, as part of a US effort to expand alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. On his way over to Jakarta on Monday, he held a “press gaggle” on board the plane and, according to transcripts provided by the Pentagon, said this:
I think that what we’re looking for is a world where we solve problems, and we don’t shred trust. We don’t militarize features in the middle of international waters. We don’t invade other countries, in Russia’s case ‒ Georgia, Ukraine. That we settle things by international rule of law, you know, this sort of thing.
Mattis was elaborating on the new US National Defense Strategy, which prioritized “inter-state strategic competition,” over terrorism and called out Russia and China as “revisionist powers” threatening the “free and open international order”created by the US and its allies after World War II.
“Success no longer goes to the country that develops a new technology first, but rather to the one that better integrates it and adapts its way of fighting” – Mattis https://t.co/2X2qtpzW7X
— RT America (@RT_America) January 19, 2018
If anything, Russia and China are actually “reactionary” powers. Both countries have repeatedly said that they seek only to apply the existing rules of international order equally to everyone – including the US, which has held itself exempt from them.
That belief in American exceptionalism is evident in Mattis’s own words, aimed at Beijing and Moscow.
“We don’t militarize features in the middle of international waters”
Here, Mattis is clearly referring to the islands in the South China Sea, claimed by China and a number of nearby nations. China has built military installations on a number of previously uninhabited islands and reefs, and sent naval forces into the area in response to repeated US overflights and maritime patrols.
However, while the People’s Liberation Army Navy operates in its home waters, the US Navy operates around the world – with bases in places like Japan, Bahrain, Spain and Italy, among others.
In pursuit of military bases around the globe, Washington has gone so far as to approve the forcible relocation of Chagos Islands residents so the US could build and maintain a massive base on Diego Garcia. A number of Marshall Islanders were also relocated from atolls in the Pacific because of nuclear tests (e.g. Bikini).
“We don’t invade other countries”
Where to even begin with this one? What was Libya in 2011, then? What happened in Iraq in 2003? Or the NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, which violated both the UN Charter, the NATO Charter, and US law?
— Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko) January 22, 2018
In Libya, the US and its NATO allies grossly abused a UN resolution allowing certain humanitarian actions to launch a full “regime change” operation against the government of Muammar Gaddafi. Nearly seven years later, Libya is a chaotic failed state, with open-air slave markets and terrorists staking claim on territory “liberated” by US-backed rebels.
Iraq was invaded without any legal justification whatsoever, with George W. Bush’s regime-changing “coalition of the willing” acting in stark contrast with his father’s multinational force, which invoked the UN Charter for the 1991 intervention to liberate Kuwait.
Yugoslavia was bombed by NATO for 78 days, until the UN found a fig leaf in the shape of Security Council Resolution 1244 to allow the alliance to occupy Serbia’s Kosovo province. Except that, too, was trampled in 2008, when the US backed an ethnic Albanian government that declared the occupied province an independent state.
— RT (@RT_com) October 30, 2017
Mattis holds up Georgia and Ukraine as examples of Russian “invasions.” Yet it was the US-backed government in Georgia that started the hostilities in August 2008, launching an attack on the breakaway republic of South Ossetia that killed Russian peacekeepers. It’s understandable the Pentagon might be sore that a Russian border army managed to dismantle the entire NATO-trained Georgian military in less than a week, but that doesn’t change the fact that Tbilisi started the war, as even the EU fact-finding mission admitted in 2009. The warmongering president, Mikhail Saakashvili, has since been stripped of citizenship and charged with corruption. He is now in Ukraine.
What of Ukraine, then? Washington has accused Russia of invading and occupying Crimea in 2014. The overwhelmingly ethnic Russian region, reassigned to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, reunited with Russia in 2014, after a US-backed coup in Kiev brought into power a government that included neo-Nazis.
That government, “midwifed” by US diplomats and directed by Washington ever since, responded to popular discontent in several regions by sending tanks against its own civilians. In Odessa, neo-Nazi activists backing the government even set dissenters on fire. The US has sent weapons to neo-Nazi militias fighting the “Russian invaders” in the eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, while Moscow sent humanitarian aid.
Kiev has claimed, and Washington echoed, that regular Russian troops were on the ground in Donetsk and Lugansk. As “evidence” of this, they offered photos of Russian tanks – taken in 2008 in Georgia.
Trying to argue against the Crimean referendum, US President Barack Obama claimed there had been an internationally recognized referendum in Kosovo. That was simply not true.
“…we respect these as sovereign nations”
Another thing Mattis argued was that the US respected national sovereignty and opposed “veto authority” over their decision-making:
One point I want to make is we respect these as sovereign nations with a sovereign voice and sovereign decisions, and we don’t think anyone else should have a veto authority over their economic, their diplomatic or their security decisions.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this sentiment in theory. In practice, however, the US routinely tramples the sovereignty of other countries, and exercises veto powers over their economic and security decisions.
Ukraine has already been mentioned as one example. The US is also pressuring the EU to find a way to stop Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that in a recent anti-Russian report, Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) said would deprive Ukraine of transit fees. What he left out was that it would also remove Kiev’s ability to hold Europe hostage by controlling the flow of Russian gas. Also, does anyone actually believe that Bulgaria decided on its own to back out of the Russian-sponsored South Stream pipeline project?
More recently, in the supposedly “independent” state of Kosovo, the US and UK ambassadors threatened “harsh consequences” if the government there dared vote against an internationally imposed war crimes court. US ambassadors in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina or Serbia routinely dictate to local authorities what laws they need to adopt and when. Local leaders who refuse to obey are sanctioned.
‘Mad Dog’ or ‘Warrior Monk’?
It was the American media that dubbed Mattis “Mad Dog” during the operations in Iraq, when he commanded the Marines that fought insurgents in Fallujah and destroyed the city in order to save it, to paraphrase that one US officer from Vietnam.
Mattis himself reportedly resents the nickname, preferring to be known as a “Warrior Monk,” a scholar with no family who has dedicated his life to the US Marine Corps. What is one to make, then, of his quotes from the flight to Jakarta, which deny observable reality in favor of wishful thinking embraced by his predecessors?
When Mattis was up for confirmation, a number of media outlets published a story about how he took guard duty at Christmas one year in order to have the junior Marine officer spend time with his family. He is clearly someone who cares about the lives of his troops. Yet his misconceptions about US conduct around the world are more likely to get them killed than faulty weapons or the bloated Pentagon bureaucracy, both of which he has set out to fix.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.