Defending The Nation With Secretary Of Defense James Mattis

interview with General Jim Mattis
Monday, May 14, 2018
Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Uncommon Knowledge
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Uncommon Knowledge

Recorded on Friday, May 11, 2018 in Washington DC.

In his first televised interview in almost a year, Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis sits down with Peter Robinson to discuss a wide range of issues facing the United States Armed Forces at home and across the globe. Earlier this year, Secretary Mattis published the National Defense Strategy, the first such document in a decade. Secretary Mattis describes why the document is an important blueprint for the Armed Forces and what he hopes to accomplish by publishing it.

After a moving story about a captured Iraqi suicide bomber, Secretary Mattis describes the complicated nature of our relationship with China and the possible flash points in the South China Sea. A discussion follows about Europe and how political controversies with Russia affect our military relationship and why Secretary Mattis believes NATO is not a threat to them. Moving on to the Middle East, Secretary Mattis defines our mission in Syria, comments on the use of chemical weapons, and explains why that theater is the most complex security conundrum he’s seen in his forty-year career. He says that the refugees coming out of Syria are more traumatized than refugees he’s seen anywhere else in the world. He discusses the need to work with the international community on the refugee crisis as, “It is a tragedy much worse than anything BBC or CNN can show.”

In the Far East, Mattis describes how a coordinated effort across different departments of the US federal government and allied countries have achieved a dialogue that may lead to the denuclearization of North Korea. Secretary Mattis also makes the case that the Iranian regime and the Iranian people are different constituencies with different priorities and agendas. He relates how he is reforming the Pentagon’s provisioning and spending policies and why it’s important for the military (the seventeenth largest economy in the world) to be a responsible steward of the nation’s tax dollars.

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Peter Robinson: An ascendant China, a bellicose Russia, hostile regimes in North Korea and Iran. This past January, the Pentagon published its plans for protecting the United States against these threats. Here today to discuss the National Defense Strategy, the man over whose signature it appeared, the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, on Uncommon Knowledge now. Welcome to the Hoover Institution's Uncommon Knowledge. Filming today at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, I'm Peter Robinson.  Born in Pullman, Washington, James Mattis enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve at the age of 19. He would spend more than four decades in the Marines, retiring with four stars in 2013. James Mattis commanded in combat in the Persian Gulf War, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. He served as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO for transformation, as Commander of the US Joint Forces Command, and is Commander of the US Central Command. His decorations include Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star with Valor. On January 20th, 2017, the Senate confirmed Mr. Mattis as Secretary of Defense with 98 voting in favor. Earlier this year, Secretary Mattis published the National Defense Strategy, the first such document in a decade. Ladies and gentlemen, the 26th Secretary of Defense, James Mattis. 

Peter Robinson: The attacks of 9/11 took place more than 16 years ago. And ever since, our armed forces have found themselves combating terrorism. In Afghanistan the Taliban, in Iraq, Al Qaeda, and then an array of insurgence, in Syria, ISIS. That is over the course of three administrations, six congresses, and now a whole generation of troops and officers. For that matter, a whole generation of the American people have come of age thinking that what our armed forces do is combat terrorism. The National Defense Strategy, page one, "Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern of US national security." Explain that, Mr. Secretary.

James Mattis: Well, I think for those of you at Hoover Institution, I know there's some of my old colleagues out here, you'll remember George Shultz, Secretary Shultz saying over the last several years we have a world that's awash in change. And any strategy you have must adapt to the world as it exists, not the one that used to exist. In this case, we had not had a defense strategy, ladies and gentlemen, in 10 years. This is the first defense strategy in 10 years. This is your defense strategy. It's not the Pentagon's, it's not the US Department of Defense, we are the United States Department of Defense. You own us and we're accountable to you. We get an awful lot of the nation's treasure, and we needed something to guide us, because without a strategy, without a sound strategy fit for its time, the most brilliant generals, the most well-equipped troop, the most high-tech equipment, fine tactics, none of that works unless your strategy, your framework for what they're doing can actually tie in ways and means together.

James Mattis: So what we did, we looked at why out of 9 out of the last 10 years have we been getting at what's called a continuing resolution? Why were we underfunded? Well, we never had a strategy where we could go to the Congress, the people you elect to represent you, and say, "Here is the rationale." So we put this strategy together and we had to assess what is the dangers? And what are the dangers in the world? And what is the primary danger, secondary, tertiary, the normal things that we all do in our lives at various points. In this case, we had to look at the attack on the state system. And if you look at China today, and the way it is shredding trust in the South China Sea, the way it's using predatory economics, if you look at Russia trying to get a veto authority over the economic security and diplomatic decisions of countries around its periphery, and mucking around in other people's elections, if you look at even the terrorists and how in one case, ISIS, they bulldozed the boundary line between Syria and Iraq.

James Mattis: What you're looking at is a variety of forms of attacks on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state system. That's the bottom line. So we had to step back and say, "Which of these threats can be most apt to change our way of life?" And very clearly, China and Russia loomed large in that. They have chosen to be strategic competitors. When you and I will 10 years from now look back on this administration and judge it most for is whether or not it established a productive, positive, workable relationship with China. That's number one when we look back at these times.

James Mattis: So we had to have a strategy that allowed us to move forward so our diplomats and our President moved from a position of strength when they engaged with the world, where people want to engage with our diplomats because they speak with a military backing them up, and that's what you see going on in this document. But the bigger issue, there is a bigger issue here, Peter. Back in 2004, I'm a two star general commander of 20 some thousand sailors and marines, and we're out in the western Euphrates River Valley. I got 29 guys with me and we're traveling and we get slowed down. We have flat tires and stuff. It's a very terrible place. 17 of us 29 lads will be killed or wounded over the succeeding four months.

James Mattis: We pull into one of the camps, in the middle of nowhere, and I was reminded that next morning that America's got two fundamental sources of power. The power of inspiration and the power of intimidation. Now, many times our military acts as a power of intimidation. Sometimes power of inspiration as well. But when the sun came up, the Lieutenant with those 40 sailors and marines came up and said, "Would you like to meet a guy who was digging a hole out here to put a bomb in on the road you came in last night?" That gets a little personal. I thought, "Yeah, sure, I'd like to meet him."

James Mattis: And he said, "Well, he's well-educated. Educated in Europe. He speaks perfect English." I said, "Really? Bring him on over." So they bring him over. He obviously a little uncomfortable. There he was with his wheelbarrow the night before, a couple of artillery rounds, a car battery, detonator. He's got his shovel, he's digging, he looks up, and there's five guys carrying M-16s looking at him. It's not looking good for him and his 401K. So they cut his handcuffs off and he's shaking like a leaf of course. And got him a cup of coffee and he's drinking it.

James Mattis: I say, "What are you doing this for? You're Sunni, we're Marine. We're the only friends you got in this town, in this country." He says, "Oh, you Jews, you Zionists, you're this and that." I said, "Okay, you're here to steal the oil and all this." I said, "Go away." I said, "You're obviously an educated man. If you're going to run your rant like that, just go away." And he said, "Well, can I sit here for a minute?" And I said, "Sure." And he sat there and he asked for a cigarette. Figured, "Well, don't give him my anti-cancer lecture. Right now is probably not too concerned with that."

James Mattis: And so I gave him a cigarette, had to light it for him and everything. I said, "Where's your family?" He said, "In a place called Al-Quaim, about an hour away." And had a wife and two daughters and I said, "Well, that's going to be tough on them." And he said, "Yeah." He said, "Yeah, I just don't like having foreign soldiers here." Well, I respect that. I wouldn't want foreign soldiers in my ... Now we're getting into a conversation. And we're going on at some length and talking about our lives and everything. I'm always curious about people. And he said, "I guess I'm going to be going to jail."

James Mattis: And I said, "Oh yeah, you're going to Abu Ghraib. You're going to be wearing an orange jumpsuit for a good long time for this little stunt." Now listen to this. He said, "General, do you think," we've kind of warmed to each other like two human beings can when ... And gig's up for him. There's nothing. And he said, "If I'm a model prisoner, do you think I could someday emigrate to America?" Now think about what he said. Halfway around the world, America's power of inspiration reached all the way to the western Euphrates River Bank, to a guy who hated so much he was trying to kill us. He would love to be sitting where you and I are today.

James Mattis: So don't ever think that it's just a matter of how many dollars are spent on defense, and whose got the latest gizmo. And by the way, I've got people in right now who are going to find the latest gizmos. They're all from industry. They're coming in. We're going to do fine on the technology. Just remember, power of inspiration, power of intimidation. Sometimes you need both in an imperfect world. We're never going to buy into girls are property and they don't get to go to school. It's never going to happen. We're never going to buy into there's only one way to deal with your spiritual side. It's our way or the highway. We're never going to buy that. We're Americans. We're the most revolutionary force on this planet. We'll remember that and regain our fundamental friendliness toward one another. But I will tell you, there's a power of inspiration that you and I, we live it so much that we even forget it. That is a real source of power.

Peter Robinson: China. Questions to you about China. You just mentioned the South China Sea. You're the strategist, not me, but as I understand it, our forward line in the Pacific runs from Okinawa down through the Philippines, and the Chinese have over the last couple of years taken a number of atolls and turned them into military bases. Runways, deep water ports. Have they already bent back our first line of defense?

James Mattis: Yeah. The point about China right now, I think, is that they have chosen to be a strategic competitor, yet we're still in a position where we can cooperate with China in some areas, even while we confront them in others. Obviously, we are going to sail and fly through international waters and international airspace. And militarizing these features, atolls you called them, these features in the South China Sea, that doesn't change our international status one bit.

James Mattis: So it's an admittedly strategically uncomfortable position to be cooperating with someone on the one hand and confronting them on the other. But when you look at the votes in the United Nations Security Council referenced North Korea and that threat, and you see Russia and China and France, United Kingdom, United States, all voting, and others voting unanimously to sanction North Korea, you actually see in effect what's going on as we try to work with China, not being bent back. We are going to engage with China, we're going to try to turn it into a productive engagement.

James Mattis: At the same time, we have to recognize that predatory economics and militarizing these features are aspects of an international system that they're trying to put together that we disagree with. And we're probably not going to change on that. Our meetings with the Chinese, our counterparts between State Department and myself and our counterparts, have been business-like. They have generally been productive. You see that with where we're at right now on DPRK. And so we'll continue to cooperate where we can. We'll confront where we must, but at the same time, we've got to figure this out. There is no rush to some kind of military confrontation. There's no need for that. These are choices that need to be made. We need to make the right ones as we breed this relationship, for as one, we want to turn over to the next generation in good shape.

Peter Robinson: Let me ask you one other place where it's uncomfortable, I'm sure. The Wall Street Journal late last month, "Chinese bombers and warships conducted exercises near Taiwan this month." This is April. "And last year, the number of Chinese air patrols off Taiwan's east coast quadrupled. The mainland's People's Liberation Army is deploying new jets, ships, and other weapons in such numbers that the island's defenses are in danger of being overwhelmed." To which the United States of America responds, "How?"

James Mattis: Well, first of all, where there are these kinds of issues that have been around for a long time, peacefully settling these is the right way to go. And so we support international law.

Peter Robinson: We're talking with them about that all the time?

James Mattis: It comes up routinely. But the bottom line is international law provides a framework for addressing these kinds of issues. I think that our policy is appropriate. I won't go into details on it right here, it'd take too long. But I think our policy's appropriate, and we will continue to support international legal frameworks for the way we go forward in our relations in the pacific, or anywhere else for that matter, but specifically here. We need to make sure that we do things that keep the world stable and keep the relationship productive. And so far, I think that's working. We do register what they're doing with their military. But there's been no offensive action, and so I think it's going in the right direction.

Peter Robinson: Russia. The National Defense Strategy, this document, "Russia seeks veto authority over nations on its periphery and to shatter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favor." Russia has a declining population, an economy smaller than that of Italy, and of course it's completely exposed to energy prices, in particular the long term trend to falling energy prices as the United States produces more and more oil. How worried do we need to be? Are we simply containing an aging power? Or are we containing something that's newly aggressive in Russia?

James Mattis: Back probably 15 years ago, somewhere around there, 20 years ago, 12 years ago, I still remember Russian marines training with US marines in North Carolina, preparing for deployments together as UN peacekeeping troops. And those days are unfortunately far in the rear view mirror as Russia has chosen to muck around in democracy's elections. They've violated territorial integrity and using force of arms for the first time since World War II in Europe. You look at what they're occupying right now in Georgia, what they're doing in Crimea, what they're doing in the Donetsk base in the Donbass out there in Eastern Ukraine.

James Mattis: And when you put all this together, it's something that's got to be addressed, and addressed by democratic nations standing together is the bottom line. At some point, Russia will have to come back for all the reasons you just outlined and more. They will have to come back and see NATO as something other than a threat to them. NATO is not a threat. I have too much regard for the professionalism of the Russian Army officers. They know it is not a threat to them. They may have to say it is for public reasons, or for political reasons, domestic political reasons. In fact, they know NATO is not a threat.

James Mattis: But they also see NATO, because it's growing in numbers, as democratic nations want to be part of NATO. It's the primary military alliance in the world of democratic nations. They also believe that it is in some way going to produce a bad outcome for Russia. In the long term, and we need to get a philosophical, high-level, strategic discussion going again with Russia. In the long term, Russia has more, I think more in common with Europe, more in common with America, than with anyone else for their long term survival. And it is in our best interest that the Russia Federation does not collapse. We do not want to see it collapse.

James Mattis: So at some point, I believe that America is their best hope in terms of their long term future. Nobody can be more helpful to Russia. So as we go through this very difficult time, and it is difficult. We've had to change our nuclear deterrent posture. It is ... I'm not trying to downplay the challenges that we face right now. But I'm more optimistic in the longer term, just as I am with China in the longer term. A lot of decisions are going to have to be taken and in that regard, the strategy that we put together means that our diplomats will be negotiating from a position of strength.

Peter Robinson: The Russian position in Syria, we've twice struck the forces of President Assad in response to the use of chemical weapons. Gideon Rachman writing in the Financial Times, "The airstrikes were intended to send a message of western relevance and resolve, while minimizing the risk of getting involved in a wider war. That mixed message means that none of the bigger issues in Syria are closer to resolution." Mixed message?

James Mattis: We didn't see it as a mixed message at all. And I think that I can objectively defend what we did. Our troops in eastern Syria are there in a advised and assist role. In other words, the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up of the YPG, the Kurdish people there, and the Arab Forces together compose the SDF, and with them, they have taken a lot of casualties. That's how we're going after ISIS, and that's the authority we have from here in town to have those troops there. We have purposefully stayed out of fighting in the civil war. That is a policy decision.

James Mattis: However, at the same time, as the civil war is going on and our goal there is to force that piece over to the Geneva process, and the United Nation brokered way that we're going to try to return some degree of stability and peace to Syria. At the same time, if someone violates the chemical warfare prohibition, then that, to us, is a vital interest. And we cannot get to the point where you and I simply read the morning newspaper and say, "Well, someone used chemical weapons again." They were not used in World War II battlefields. They were used, as we all know, in the killing camps. But they were not used on the battlefields in World War II. They have actually not been used in about 100 years since World War I ended, except by Assad's father in a town called Hama. And then by this element of the regime in their Syrian civil war.

James Mattis: So where we had evidence, and remember, it's a gas. It goes away. It's not easy to get the evidence, and we won't speculate. It is the most complex security situation I've ever seen in 40 odd years of doing this line of work. But where we get evidence of it, and where we can attribute it to someone, then the President made very clear that we are going to act on it. So a separate issue, violation of the chemical warfare prohibition. We're not going to use that with mission creep to now jump into the Syrian Civil War. That's for the UN to settle. Unfortunately, Russia vetoed in the UN Security Council several times the UN's involvement there. And as a result, the war and the tragedy of it goes on. I've seen refugees in the Balkans. I've seen them in Southeast Asia. I've seen them in Africa.

James Mattis: The refugees, and I've been in the camp. The refugees I've seen coming out of Syria are more traumatized than any refugees I've seen anywhere in the world. It is a tragedy much worse than anything BBC or CNN can show. It's that much worse. But that is something we're going to have to work with the international community on. Also in the international community, we're working with 74 nations and international organizations, that be in NATO, Arab League, European Union, and INTERPOL, to defeat ISIS. Separately, we will also watch for any chemical weapons use. Three separate, distinct issues that we're trying to bring forward to a political rapprochement and some kind of solution.

Peter Robinson: It's quite a job you have, because every question I have here is about bad news some place in the world.

James Mattis: That's kind of my portfolio.

Peter Robinson: This is your portfolio. All right, North Korea. In November, North Korea, we already know they have nuclear devices. In November, they tested a new ballistic missile. I'm sure I'll mispronounce this, but it's the Hwasong-15, which at least in theory has a range that covers the entire continental United States. Not just Hawaii. Not just the Aleutians, the entire continental United States. Analyst Michael Elleman, who's at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, "Two or three test firings over the next four to six months may be all that is required before Kim Jong Un declares the Hwasong-15 combat ready." Purely military question. Are we truly only a few test firings of a ballistic missile away from having the continental United States exposed to nuclear weapons from North Korea? Is it that close?

James Mattis: I don't know. Things go wrong in test programs. We sometimes credit other people's programs are going to go smoothly, while our own, we know how they go in reality. But at the same time, we're paid by all of you to be the sentinels, to be the guardians of this great big experiment and I call America. And we have got to assume the worst. Now, General Lori Robinson who commands northern command, she is quite certain that we can take down using the interceptors she's got between California and Alaska a small ... And that would be a small attack in the next several years.

James Mattis: But from the very beginning, when we first came into office about 15 months ago, we were told this will be the immediate crisis you have to deal with. The outgoing administration was very candid. President Obama told President Trump that, and of course I heard that in the CIA briefings as I got ready for confirmation hearings. My first trip went out to Tokyo and Seoul as a result, going overseas. And I would tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that it has been a diplomatically led effort from the very beginning to try to address this problem.

James Mattis: The President's very blunt language has been part of the pressure campaign, but it's principally been led by State Department. And that goes over many, many months. And you see this again with what Ambassador Haley has done leading up in the United Nations, the UN Security Council Resolutions that impose sanctions. I think those sanctions have been effective. But at the same time, it's been the unity of the allies of Japan, of the Republic of Korea, and so many others.

James Mattis: In January, Secretary of State, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, pulled together the sending states in Vancouver, British Columbia. And that was the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, not the Ministers of Defense. I went into British Columbia. I gave a brief the first night on the military situation. The sending states were those under the UN charter that had sent troops to fight there in 1950. This is Columbia and Thailand. It's Sweden. Some other states came too, United Kingdom obviously, Turkey. And it was interesting to see too India and Italy were not part of UN in 1950, they were present.

James Mattis: We did it purposefully in Canada. It's not known as a bellicose nation. It's to keep it in the Minister of Foreign Affairs' portfolio. I briefed in the evening, flew out, and the next day they met all day. And as one of the Europeans said, "This weapon is closer from North Korea to my country in Europe than it is to Seattle or Washington DC." It was a reminder the world doesn't orient around one nation alone on this planet. So what we saw was this combined effort, with the Chinese I might add, to bring this to a diplomatic solution. And in fact, that's where we've got it now. There's reason for hope that this is on the right track. But again, my job is to stay quietly behind our diplomats making certain that they have options and the President has options.

Peter Robinson: You're optimistic about the coming summit.

James Mattis: I'm not paid to be optimistic or pessimistic of course, but I would just say realistically, who would have imagined this three months ago? Six months ago? Nine months ago? 12 months ago? I remember reading the doom and gloom in every newspaper that what was going to go wrong. And so we'll have to take it one day at a time. I wouldn't get out in front of anything. Just let's see what experience tells us, not what forecasts predict when it's a fundamentally less than predictable circumstance.

Peter Robinson: Iran. Bret Stephens in the New York Times last ... Today's ... I guess it was earlier this week. Bret Stephens in the New York Times, "Now that the President has withdrawn the United States from the Iran Nuclear Deal, Iran has a choice. Iran may have an economy or nuclear weapons, but not both." Fair assessment?

James Mattis: Iran, I would break it, every time you think of Iran into two pieces. There's the regime that holds the Iranian people in check. They have proven during the Green Revolution here a few years ago, they are quite willing to use force against their own people. And so don't ever say Iran without identifying which part of Iran you're talking about. Is it the regime, a revolutionary regime? Or is it the young people especially who've had enough of this? The Iranian regime is basically not a country. It is a revolutionary group. And everywhere you see them acting throughout the region or elsewhere, you see what they're up to with formerly a nuclear weapons program. And it was a nuclear weapon, not a nuclear program.

James Mattis: They've got a ballistic missile program, they've got a cyber attack program, they've got a counter-maritime program. Then you see these surrogates, proxies, terrorists that they have, Lebanese Hezbollah, people like that. Less that two miles from where you're sitting right now, without a nuclear weapon in their arsenal, Iran had a plan, basically, to kill the Saudi ambassador two miles from here, right over in Georgetown on a Saturday night at a restaurant. You can imagine, those of you who go out on Saturday night in Georgetown, what that would have done.

James Mattis: So we have very little reason to trust to the denial and deceit of that regime as they try to hide things. So what do we do when we came in with what was admittedly an imperfect arms control agreement? We tried for many months, it wasn't something we did in the first month or the second month of the administration, tried to find a way to address the sunset provisions on some elements of it and look at the inspection regime so that the inspection, if we're going to trust but verify, or distrust but verify. I've read the agreement three times, and that's clearly the intent of it.

James Mattis: We wanted change. We were unable to get those changes, so we're going to come up with a new agreement and what it would look like and work towards that at this point. Again, you've got to wonder about a country that everywhere they go, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, the only reason Assad's still in power today after Russia's regrettable veto in the UN is because Iran has kept him in power. That's the bottom line. So we're going to have to address that aggregate problem, that's five threats, not just one. And we're going to have to do it in such a manner that we maintain stability in the Middle East and not sell out our friends, Arab and Israeli.

Peter Robinson: All right. We've been through China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, which are the four principle state threats that the National Defense Strategy identifies. We have about 15 minutes left to talk about what you're going to do about them. That ought to be plenty of time, don't you think? You identify three main lines, three distinct lines of effort in this document. Obviously we only have time to touch on them. One is building a more lethal force. You became Secretary of Defense after the Budget Control Act of 2011 had imposed caps on defense spending, cutting outlays from 691 billion in 2010 to a low of 560 billion in 2015 before they rebounded a little bit. The budget deal that was just agreed to gives you a budget for fiscal year 2018 of 700 billion, roughly. That's about a $61 billion increase over last year. Without going into accounting details, which I imagine are endless with a budget with an operation the size of the operation you run, have you got enough?

James Mattis: The short answer is yes. And it was due to bipartisan congressional support. It wasn't perfect. I'm very concerned about the level of debt we are passing to the younger generation. But at this point, I had to look at the portfolio I had, and this was the best way to reverse the damage that had occurred over years of combat, not replacing, whether it be ships or airplanes or equipment, at the rate we should have, not maintaining it, and eventually munition stocks going down. And this has been reversed, and it's been reversed several times.

James Mattis: The fundamental ... I like using touchstones when I'm in large organizations, because ladies and gentleman, it allows what we call where the rubber meets the road, or at the deck plate level, the youngest soldier, sailor, airman, marine, they understand what you're trying to do. We need solvency and we need security because no nation can maintain its military security if it doesn't keep its fiscal house in order. So part of what I have to do is make certain we spend this money well. So then I go to my next lines of effort, and there's only three. I'm formerly a marine infantryman, and it's hard to keep track of more than three things at once, okay?

James Mattis: First of all, it's to build a more lethal force. If it does not contribute to the lethality of the military on the battlefield, whether it be a personnel policy, a piece of equipment, a radio, doesn't matter what it is, if it doesn't contribute to that, then it's probably not fit for us. Now, you look at lethality widely. Part of lethality is making certain, for example, I have access to good education for the sons and daughters of military members so they feel like their family has got a way to move forward in life, even as they're going off to fight the nation's war. So it's not a narrow view of lethality. But it is still going to contribute to what we do as a military on the battlefield.

James Mattis: Number one thing I can do for the military on the battlefield is to bring them home alive and in one piece, mentally, physically. Second line of effort is to build more and stronger alliances and partnerships. It's very simple. In history, nations with allies thrive. Nations without allies do not survive. And our strongest suit right now is our allies. That is one of the major reasons, when the greatest generation came home from World War II, that they built the world we inhabit today was say and after the Depression, many of them grew up hungry and certainly skinny little runts when they went into the military. After a war that cost, I don't know, 40, 50, 60, we don't even know within 10 million how many people died in that war.

James Mattis: They said it's a crummy world, as George Shultz put it, but we're in it, whether we like it or not, we're part of it. So they created NATO. They created Bretton Woods, IMF, International Monetary Fund, World Bank. They created the Marshall Plan. I could go on, you get the drift. Those things stood the test of time, we're going to have to adapt them to today. So we're going to also go out and strengthen our current relationships with those allies, but we are also going to expect them to carry their fair share as they've grown richer, recovering from the costly victories of World War II that destroyed much of Europe, for example.

James Mattis: But we also want to create new allies. So first line of effort is we're going to make a more lethal force, then we're going to have more allies and partners. Right now, in Afghanistan, 41 nations, we were down to 39. We dropped from 50 to 39 when we were pulling out under the last administration. We're now at 41. And the two nations that have joined us are both Muslim nations, by the way, that are fighting alongside us there. And after we reinforced our effort there in Afghanistan, we also had 12 more nations reinforce their effort there, responding to our leadership.

James Mattis: Third line of effort is going to be that we reform the business practices of the Pentagon. I've been told I have the 17th largest economy in the world. That is sobering. That is very sobering when I realize all of you are sacrificing for us to have that. So what we're going to do is we're going to audit for the first time in 70 years. DOD is going through an audit. I hope we find a lot of problems, because every time I find one, I'm going to slap the back of the auditor and tell her, "Well done. We're going to fix it." And the money we save is going to go into lethality. We're going to turn it back in. That's the way we're going to work it.

James Mattis: I'm not going to kill people for the problem unless I find that they did it with intent, and then, again, I don't have stress. I create it, okay? I'll just leave it at that. And then, as we audit this, we're going to make certain we reform the business practices to ensure that we're getting the most bang for the buck. Affordability and accountability, that's what's going to guide us on our budget. Affordability and accountability. And now I know you're impatient to ask me another question, Peter.

Peter Robinson: No, no. On the reforming, the third distinct line of effort as you call it in the National Defense Strategy is reforming the way you do business. So here's what occurs to me, and correct the premise if I've got the premise wrong. We think in terms of the long term competition with China. We can't count on having more troops or more sailors. They're a bigger country. They already spend 35% as much as we do on defense. The figures I've seen suggest that within 10 years, it'll be 60%. They themselves say they want to have the strongest military in the world in time for the 100th anniversary of the Chinese ... Of the Communist Revolution in 2049. So we can't count on outspending them. What occurs to me, this is my little mind, I'm putting it up against your big mind and your huge experience.

James Mattis: Promote that man.

Peter Robinson: I'll stop there. That over the long term, our only sustainable advantage is going to be tied to our freedoms and our dynamism and our ability to innovate. And in the old days, when the military needed something, we had what Dwight Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex, contract relationships were tight. If the Air Force was planning out a decade and needed a certain kind of aircraft, there were the engineers from McDonald Douglas and Boeing, and they're talking all the time. And now you've got the innovation taking place in these little start ups, scattered around the country, but experience in Silicon Valley. How do you ensure that this gigantic organization that you run incorporates that ability to innovate? So is the premise correct?

James Mattis: It's exciting. I know where you're going with this, and it's exciting because you live in Silicon Valley. And I would just tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that not all the good ideas who come from inside the Department of Defense. You know that. But also, not all the good ideas come only from America. I tell my officer the country with the most aircraft carriers doesn't have all the good ideas. So when you look at other democracies around the world, and can we draw together from American industry, from Silicon Valley and the other areas, all the good ideas, that sort of thing.

James Mattis: But also, because of our allies, we don't have to carry the full burden ourselves. There's no need for that. And so we will continue to be a power of inspiration that draws the best out of our people. And I think that so long as we can continue to get the eye-watering quality of the troops that we have today, we'll be in good shape. Thanks very ... I noticed we're out of time here, Peter. So I guess I got to let it go?

Peter Robinson: Oh, no, no, no, no. Hold on. Hold on. I've got two last questions for you.

James Mattis: Sure.

Peter Robinson: And they're pretty serious actually. And here's one of them. China, I feel this out in Silicon Valley. This gets talked about a lot out in Silicon Valley. They're four times as big as we are. Very soon now, some single digit number of years, they're GDP will be bigger than ours. They're ramping up their defense spending. And so what you hear a lot is, "Look, after the second world war, we displaced the British, and now the Chinese are about to displace us." And it's the same pattern. Little country, because it had a temporary technological advantage, Britain was able to rule the seas. We came along, bigger country, shoved them to one side. And there's a real ... People talk about that and it bothers people at a level that they don't ... It's not an agony, but it's in the back of people's minds. How do you address this kind of background feeling that something is slipping away? That we're not really going to be able to hold our own? This decade will be fine. Next decade, the decade after that? Trouble. How do you address that?

James Mattis: If there's something slipping away, I think it's internal. It's not external. Why do I say that? I travel all around the world now, and I meet with heads of state, and ministers of defense, and ministers of foreign affairs. We created in the world something after World War II that looked like our internal landscape. An open society, one with respect for human dignity, one with respect for law. The internal landscape of China is one of authoritarianism. It's one they are trying to promote outwardly. How many people are going to sign up for that in the world? And does China really outnumber the world? I think not.

James Mattis: So it's going to be whether or not we in the democracies can actually govern ourselves. Can we come together to work together in school districts and in countries to solve problems? Can the European Union address the Euro crisis? The crisis they've got? Can democracies do their job as governments and fix problems? And if we can, that model, that open model will survive in the free competition of ideas in the world. If instead, the bonfires of the vanities decide to consume everybody, and we all begin walling ourselves off from each other in our country, or from other democracies, then perhaps an authoritarian regime, internal authoritarian regime can be exported and put in a commanding position.

James Mattis: Frankly, I'd bet on the open construct. I'd bet on what unlimbers the human mind and the spirit and allows people to work together. And so I think there's a way for us also to work with China as we go forward. I think the competition can be channeled correctly if we set that relationship correctly. If we go back to having philosophical discussions about the strategic relationship each of us wants for ourselves and for each other. So maybe that means I'm an optimist. That's probably going to ruin my image right there.

Peter Robinson: Last question. Last question. And I think you'll remember this. You and I were chatting over a cup of coffee up in my upstairs office one afternoon at the Hoover Institution. And I had begun receiving phone calls from various companies in Silicon Valley that wanted you on their board. And I said, forgive me, you're now Mr. Secretary, but then you were Jim. I said, "Jim, you know you've-

James Mattis: Still Jim, Peter. I'm from the west.

Peter Robinson: -you've lived your life on a soldier's income, and you can do pretty well out here in Silicon Valley." And you replied, "Peter, all it takes to make me happy is two pairs of jeans and a full tank of gas." And yet here you are, not a driven man in that sense, here you are in what is surely one of the small handful of the most demanding, exhausting, frustrating jobs on the planet. Jim, if I may, what keeps you at it? Why are you back here?

James Mattis: Ladies and gentlemen, when you're brought up in the military, and I won't say that I was the most willing volunteer. It was 1969 when I came in. I was actually 18 years old when I came in. But I figured I had to go in and do my duty. That's what you did in the days when we had the draft. But then I stuck around. I didn't stick around for the job. I actually grew to hate minefields with a passion by age 21 and ever since. But I loved being around sailors and marines who sometimes would bite their lip all the way through, but they would crawl forward looking for something with a coat hanger they didn't want to find and lead their buddies through.

James Mattis: And so I just stuck around for the people. But what happened over those years was the NCOs, the young, I was in the infantry. It's names for infant soldier, young soldier, that's how they get their name, okay? Most of the buggers who are in assault units could not go in and buy a beer legally. The little buggers figure out how to do it, okay? But my point is over the years, I grew exceedingly fond of these very selfless young folks who sign a blank check to all of you, payable with their lives. And so I stuck around long enough that I learned that when the President of the United States, Republican or Democrat, asks you to do something, you do it to the best of your ability.

James Mattis: You don't get into the hot political rhetoric or anything else. You go in, roll up your sleeves, and go to work. And I just say to you young people in the room, we owe you the same ... You and I were born in this country by complete accident. We had no say so in it. We chose to live in the country, that's our choice. We have a responsibility to the young people to turn over in as good of shape as we inherited it when we got it, and that probably the thing that keeps me going.

Peter Robinson: For the Hoover Institution and Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Ladies and gentlemen, join me in thanking James Mattis, the 26th Secretary of Defense of the United States.

James Mattis: Thank you, Peter.