An account of learning how to lead in a chaotic world, by General Jim Mattis—the former Secretary of Defense and one of the most formidable strategic thinkers of our time—and Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense and combat Marine.
Call Sign Chaos, Mattis’s memoir, is a readable look at more than four decades as a marine. Co-written with Bing West, a former marine and Reagan Pentagon alumnus, the book spans Mattis’s career, from enlistment through retirement. It contains veiled disapproval of Trump and is sharper in expressing disagreements with his Oval Office predecessors ... He commends Obama for his intelligence and reserve and Biden for his warmth. Yet he tags them over the pullout from Iraq, Obama’s imaginary red line in Syria and their stance toward Iran. He does not mask his disapproval ... When it comes to Trump, Mattis flanks, avoiding a head-on clash. Call Sign Chaos takes aim at bigotry and lauds the military service of migrants ... In his epilogue, Mattis notes America’s political divide and full-throated tribalism. But he is optimistic.
Jim Mattis’s Call Sign Chaos will disappoint readers hoping for a tell-all account of his tenure as Donald Trump’s first secretary of defense, but they will still learn a lot about the man who held that position ... There is much to admire in Mattis’s views of leadership and the values they embody — competence, decency, a willingness to hear the hard truth and to tell it, caring for those below you and a commitment to reading and absorbing the lessons of history ... In the end, we do learn something about Mattis’s time as secretary of defense, although perhaps not in the manner he intended. The position is normally held by a civilian who is a political appointee. A self-described 'military man,' Mattis seems not much of either. Indeed, at moments in the book, one senses a deep discomfort with Washington’s politics and politicians. Mattis attributes his decision not to discuss his time as secretary of defense to being old-fashioned and not wanting to write about a sitting president. There may be more to it than that. After all, his 712 days as secretary are a diversion from the central narrative of his life as a Marine — an unforeseen epilogue to a long and accomplished military career.
Mattis mentions Trump by name only four times, all in the prologue's first two pages — each instance taking place prior to the president's taking office. That said, he does imply criticism, without directly taking shots ... Call Sign Chaos is ostensibly part of the well-trodden genre of leaders keen to share their insights on what it takes to lead ... And the book, indeed, is chockablock with insights and aphorisms about what it takes to be a good leader ... Mattis tells us very little about his personal life ... We will possibly have to wait for another administration before learning Mattis' thoughts about his 23 months as Trump's defense secretary. But he lets some of those views slip toward the end of his book. 'Nations with allies thrive, and those without wither,' he writes. 'A polemicist's role is not sufficient for a leader; strategic acumen must incorporate a fundamental respect for other nations that have stood with us as trouble loomed' ... A parting shot? Perhaps. Mattis clearly has another book to write that many will be eager to read.