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Obama's New Centcom Commander Thinks Killing Is "A Hell of a Lot of Fun"

Marine Gen. James Mattis, darling of the right, is now stepping into David Petraeus' shoes.

Back in the ‘60s, Arlo Guthrie sang (in “Alice’s Restaurant”) about trying to get out of serving in the U.S. military by saying “I wanna kill!” Today, President Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates have chosen Marine Gen. James Mattis to replace General Petraeus as commander of Centcom. Mattis, of course, is best known for describing his enthusiastic desire to kill people in wars: 

“Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

Predictably, the appointment of Mattis has drawn similarly enthusiastic support from the neocons and the right. Peter Feaver, a Bush administration national security official, wrote:  

"When Obama picked Petraeus to take over the Afghan war role, the primary downside I saw was the hole it created at CENTCOM. General Mattis is probably the best possible pick to fill that hole."

Over at the American Spectator, more high praise, from John Guardiano:  

“This is stunningly good news, which must give our enemies serious cause for concern. Mattis, after all, is a fighting general whose battlefield exploits and historical erudition are not fully known or appreciated. Suffice it to say that he is a better general than Patton ever was.”

And at National Review, Victor Davis Hanson compares it all to the U.S. Civil War:  

“We now have, with General Petraeus as ground commander, our two most gifted senior combat generals in charge of Afghanistan, who have worked well together and who were brilliant in Iraq in its darkest hours. I think all this is somewhat analogous to the final rise of Grant and Sherman in spring 1864.”

What caught my eye, however, was the endorsement of Mattis by Tom Ricks on his blog, The Best Defense, over at Foreign Policy. “This is the best news I have heard in a long time,” says Ricks. Now, I am no fan of Ricks, and not long ago I blasted Ricks for his contention that Obama should postpone the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, in a piece I titled, “Shut Up, Tom Ricks.”

But to check out Mattis I took a look as Ricks’ book, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. And if there is any silver lining in the appointment of Mattis, it might de divined in Ricks’ account of Mattis role in battles there.

Certainly, Mattis comes across as a gung-ho commander. But a telling incident involves the eruption of the first Fallujah crisis the spring of 2004. That’s when a carload of American contractors was seized, murdered, dismembered, and their carcasses strung up on a bridge in the city. It was, at the time, the most violent and provocative encounter between Americans and the Anbar-based insurgency that was just getting off the ground. Mattis had just taken over the the local commander. Back in Washington, the neocons and the rabid, right-wing officials in charge of U.S. Iraq policy waxed bloodthirsty, demanding revenge. As Ricks tells the story, Robert Blackwill on the NSC staff and Paul Bremer, the U.S. czar in Iraq started pushing the military to go all-out to crush Fallujah and teach the Iraqis who’s boss. Reports Ricks: