But Mattis is expansive on what he describes as “misaligned” U.S. strategy in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The shifting policies and goals of successive administrations have contributed to the long, frustrating conflicts in the region, says Mattis, who is speaking out with the release of his book, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead.
“Sometimes we’ve gone in in order to stop terrorist attacks on America, and then we’ve shifted to ‘We’re going to bring democracy’ and more or less impose democracy on certain countries that may or may not have all of the underpinnings necessary to be successful,” he says.
However, “beginning with President Bush and continuing through the Obama administration, the White House was set on a total troop withdrawal, for political reasons,” Mattis writes. “I argued strongly that any vacuum left in our wake would be filled by Sunni terrorists and Iran.”
After the U.S. withdrew at the end of 2011, the Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim group, seized a large part of western and northern Iraq. President Obama reluctantly sent forces back to Iraq in 2014.
“All this was predicted — and preventable,” Mattis adds.
Mattis tells a similar story about Afghanistan — where the U.S. has been negotiating with the Taliban on an American withdrawal.