Mattis Sees Putin as Fearful, Invasion as Incompetent

Former defense secretary calls serving under Trump 'raucous times'
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 1, 2022 3:36 PM CDT
Mattis Sees Putin as Fearful, Invasion as Incompetent
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, center, attends a 2018 hearing with Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and Defense Undersecretary David Norquist.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

In an homage to Russian literature, if not Russian competence, former US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday that President Vladimir Putin is a mess. And so is his invasion of Ukraine, the retired general told a forum in Seoul, the Voice of America reports. "Putin is a creature straight out of Dostoevsky," Mattis said. "He goes to bed at night angry, he goes to bed at night fearful, he goes to bed at night thinking Russia is surrounded by nightmares." Fyodor Dostoevsky's characters included paranoid narcissists, per Salon, who at the same time feared and wanted everyone focusing on them.

Mattis was blunt in assessing the invasion, calling it "tactically incompetent" and "strategically foolish." Putin has gotten rid of everyone around him who might disagree with him, Mattis said, so he's not receiving good strategical advice. "War is enough of a tragedy without adding stupidity on top," he said. Mattis has addressed few issues publicly since resigning as defense secretary in 2018 after a disagreement with then-President Trump. He described that era Friday as "raucous times" and Trump as an "unusual leader" without directly criticizing him.

"Democracies will at times go popularist and will at times break with tradition," Mattis said. "It's the nature of democracies at times to be testing ideas and all." But Americans shouldn't abandon their faith in institutions and each other, he added. Russia, for example, has made the mistake of being caught without allies, per CNN. "We’re watching Russia wither before our eyes right now," Mattis said. Another lesson from contemporary Russia, he pointed out, is "don't have incompetent generals in charge of your operations." (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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