Petri: Jim Mattis's book is NOT about the president

Petri: Jim Mattis's book is NOT about the president

September 10th, 2019 by Alexandra Petri / The Washington Post Writers Group in Opinion Times Commentary

Photo by Richard Drew of The Associated Press/Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis signs copies of his book after he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York last Tuesday.

Photo by Richard Drew

I have started reading former defense secretary Jim Mattis's memoir — not about his time in the Trump administration, but about Leadership in General. This is approximately how it is going, if you were wondering. It is definitely not about the president!

I am not criticizing President Trump in this book, which is not about him! This book is just about how wonderful the Marines are as a laboratory for leadership, and how much I enjoyed my time there. None of the remarks in this book are directed to any particular person. These are just broad general strokes describing what good leadership is like. Again, this book is not about the president at all.

In the Marines, we would read books. Reading books was important to us. We felt that much more could be gained from reading books than from watching television. Books helped us not to be ignorant. I am not describing Trump in this book.

In my time in the Marine Corps, I read a lot of intelligence briefings that were full of good information. That, I think, is the thing to do. If given the options of reading an intelligence briefing and not reading an intelligence briefing, you bet you know which one I would select. I am not saying all leaders would select that option. Just the good ones. Again, I am not describing Trump in this book. It is too soon for you to know what I think of him.

This is a general book about leadership. Unrelatedly, Marines are disgusted and embarrassed by amateurs who have made no effort to master their professions. Marines spit on such people. "Pah!" say the Marines to such individuals. "You are a garbage of a failure, and I despise you! I weep for any country where you are in charge. You are not up to Marine standards, you pustule." I am not saying in this book what the Marines would say to the sitting president, because this book is not about him.

Unrelated to my time in the Trump administration, if you are having a midlife crisis in the Marines, TOO BAD. We will not make any effort to coddle you. If you, hypothetically, were a raw, exposed nerve, breaking down and constantly needing to be reassured about your manhood and position in the world, the Marines would have no time for that. You need to be able to look past your personal feelings and vendettas and lead. I am not talking about the sitting president in this book.

Let me tell you a story. Once, there was a team that worked for a bad leader. Not the president, but a different leader. They served him only because they feared him. He was driven by hatred and ambition. His sleep schedule was confusing. He rewarded behaviors that were counterproductive and led to bad results. Everyone who worked under him was either brainwashed or was full of a wild anger or had gotten snookered into it somehow. Any time we spent out from under his baleful eye was time we cherished. His eye cast blight and disease on the land, and his ideas generally were not sound. Although we obeyed him, we did so with severe misgivings.

Just kidding! That was a story from "The Lord of the Rings," which I have read, as, again, the Marines taught me to love to read. (This has no bearing on Trump.)

I've served a lot of good leaders and have been part of many things I was proud of and that helped the country, for which I am confident history will judge me favorably. To clarify, I am certainly talking about the Marines. I am not talking about my time serving the sitting president.

The Washington Post Writers Group

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