'Mad Dogs' In An Overheating World

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

Heading into the Trump era, our American world already feels like it's overheating badly. The headlines careen from the president-elect's tweets against Meryl Streep ("one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood...!") to conflicts over conflicts of interest to secret briefings by the intelligence community on highly compromising (but unsubstantiated and possibly completely insubstantial) "personal and financial information" about the president-elect supposedly gathered by the Russians, including sex videos of him with prostitutes in Moscow ("'kompromat,' or compromising material, with the possible goal of blackmailing Mr. Trump in the future"). The Trump-Russian "dossier," paid for by his political opponents, including claims about contacts between his campaign and Russian officials, has reportedly been circulating for some time "among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress, and other government officials in Washington."

In such an extreme hothouse atmosphere, it's not surprising when even the most curious of figures can start to look like -- as one former State Department official testifying before Congress put it recently -- a "stabilizing and moderating force, preventing wildly stupid, dangerous, and illegal things from happening." That was Eliot Cohen discussing retired Marine General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, Trump's nominee for secretary of defense, and it's true that if you're comparing him to retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the new national security adviser, or Mike Pompeo, the prospective head of the CIA, Mattis may indeed look remarkably sane and even moderate.

But let's try to keep things in perspective. Recently, the Washington Post featured a piece by Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous on General Mattis's tenure as the head of U.S. Central Command that, amid the screaming headlines of this moment, came and went unnoticed. Embedded in it was this little gem: in 2011, when Iranian-backed insurgents in Iraq, using Iranian-supplied rockets, were killing American troops, Mattis grew increasingly incensed. As a result, he formulated a plan, which made it to (and was rejected by) the Obama White House, to launch a direct American "dead-of-night" attack on Iran either to take out a power plant or an oil refinery. This "World War III scenario" -- the willingness to take a chance, that is, on sparking a regional conflagration -- and the urge to act preemptively (including against "Iranian swarm boats" in the Persian Gulf) finally led to his being replaced as CENTCOM commander five months early.

This, then, is what we know of the man generally agreed to be the sanest, most down-to-earth figure on Trump's national security team. Keep that in mind as in his latest piece, "Escalation Watch," Michael Klare takes us on a quick tour of our present planetary hot spots (including Iran), any of which could blow sky high as Donald Trump and his team of "mad dogs" take office.