“There were children’s bodies cut into pieces, women cut into pieces, men cut into pieces,” recalled Ma’athi Nawaf, one of the few survivors of the 2004 Mukaradeeb Massacre, “The Americans call these people foreign fighters. It is a lie.”
A year into the blood-soaked U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Rakat and Sabah families gathered in the small village of Mukaradeeb in Anbar province for a wedding party to celebrate two marriages. Instead, 42 were murdered when U.S. jets, helicopters and troops armed with machine guns and explosives attacked the party.
When questioned by reporters, the U.S. troops’ commander was unrepentant, “[B]ad things happen in wars. I don’t have to apologize for the conduct of my men.” 12 years later, that commander, General James Mattis, has been nominated by Donald Trump to be the next Secretary of Defense.
Mattis’ time in the military coincides with some of the most horrible crimes of aggression committed by U.S. imperialism. While his peers were taking to the streets to protest the Vietnam War, 19 year-old Mattis enlisted in the Marines in 1969. He went on to lead troops as a Lieutenant Colonel in the first U.S. war on Iraq in 1991, and became a general during the war on Afghanistan.
He was promoted to Major General and led the 1st Marine Division in the second Iraq War, where his troops carried out the Mukaradeeb Massacre. After a stint as a top NATO commander, Mattis was appointed in 2010 to be the head of Central Command (CENTCOM) – the department of the U.S. armed forces tasked with domination of the Middle East. Mattis implemented the Counterinsurgency doctrine much touted by the Obama administration.
Extreme hostility to Iran
However, Mattis was pushed into retirement in 2013 for his opposition to the Obama administration’s approach to Iran. The administration had begun negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the so-called “Iran nuclear deal.” The JCPOA was an attempt by the Obama administration to form a tacit partnership with Iran for the short-term stabilization of the Middle East, which had grown too chaotic for the liking of the managers of U.S. imperialism – even though they themselves were the ones principally responsible for the chaos.
Mattis, however, favored a policy of unmitigated aggression, effectively ending his tenure as CENTCOM commander. He has spent much of his time since leaving the armed forces – apart from his duties as a member of weapons manufacturer General Dynamic’s board of directors – warning about the supposed dangers posed by Iran. While he does not favor the unilateral cancellation of the JCPOA for fear of alienating U.S. junior partners and obstructing the future creation of a united anti-Iran front, Mattis would be another voice in the Trump cabinet advocating for hostility against the country.
Speaking at a prominent think tank event last April, Mattis said, “Among the many challenges the Middle East faces, I think Iran is actually foremost … the Iranian regime in my mind is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.” He also promoted a bizarre conspiracy theory about Iran collaborating with ISIS, “I consider ISIS nothing more than an excuse for Iran to continue its mischief … I would just point out one question for you to look into: What is the one country in the Middle East that has not been attacked by ISIS? One. That is Iran.”
Mattis also has a record of advocating escalation of U.S. intervention in Syria. Iran is militarily committed to the defense of its long-standing ally Syria, and understands that the success of imperialist regime changes efforts there would be a huge blow to all independent governments in the region. To inflict what he called “the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years”, Mattis testified before the Senate in 2012 about the benefits of arming the Syrian opposition – advice that was secretly followed by the Obama administration through the instruments of the CIA and the Jordanian regime.
Mattis is also known for his hostility to Russia. He claimed that the coup and civil war in Ukraine is evidence that Russia was trying to “break NATO apart” – a statement that turns reality upside down as NATO’s steady march towards Russia’s borders pose an existential threat to the country.
Fight back against Mattis and the Trump agenda
Mattis’ nomination for Secretary of Defense is yet another indication that war is part of the Trump agenda. His team may shift focus, target other countries or use different tactics, but the impulse to dominate the world that is a defining feature of capitalism in the United States remains.
Because he has served so recently in the military, Mattis will need 60 votes in the Senate to be confirmed as Defense Secretary instead of the simple majority Trump’s other nominees will need. There are some rumblings about an effort to block his nomination, but we cannot rely on the Democratic Party one bit to stop this or any other part of the Trump agenda. They are more concerned about “giving Trump a chance” and suppressing the protest movement that has emerged since the election than seriously fighting the far right – something that they anyway have proven themselves hopelessly incapable of during the presidential campaign.
If confirmed, Mattis would join National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and CIA Director Mike Pompeo as another belligerent anti-Iran agitator in Trump’s cabinet. Resistance to these war mongers began the day after the election, and mass mobilizations will continue, including on January 20th at the inauguration in Washington, D.C. Opposition to the Pentagon will need to be a key part of the movement to stop Trump.