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News / Northwest

Richland resident retired Gen. Mattis warns of Russia-China partnership, need for U.S. citizens to unite

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: June 21, 2024, 7:40am

KENNEWICK — The nation needs to remember the hard lesson it learned with World War II, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis told a crowd of more than 400 at a Columbia Basin Badger Club event Tuesday night in Pasco.

The former secretary of defense, who calls Richland his hometown, warned of the growing nexus between Russia and China, supported by North Korea and Iran in a talk focused on America’s role in a dangerous world.

“Democracy has no divine right to survival,” he said.

Two weeks ago the United States and its allies paid respect to the troops that stormed the beaches of Normandy to invade Nazi-occupied France on D-Day June 6, 1944.

There a Word War II veteran in a wheelchair told the U.S. chairman of the joint chief of staffs, “Never again. Don’t let this happen again,” Mattis said.

The United States turned its back on the world after World War I, thinking that if it ignored troubles they would go away, and then faced WWII, Mattis said.

“Today we face a strengthening partnership among autocrats,” he said.

The network they form “is a reality,” he said. “We are going to have to face it. It does no good to look the other way.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Georgia in 2008, Crimea in 2014 and now what the people of Ukraine are going through is “bloody awful,” Mattis said.

A continent away, China is threatening Taiwan and countries in the South China Sea, plus Japan, Mattis said.

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As Mattis was speaking in the Tri-Cities, Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were meeting to pledge defense aid in the face of aggression.

The United States will need to strengthen its military, Mattis said. He described the nation’s military capability as “big” and “good” but said its enemies are strengthening their military capabilities.

He also called on the people of the United States to pull together.

Mattis stresses compromise

“We are going to have to come back together with a fundamental friendliness to each other,” he said.

Russia and China are cheering on the lack of compromise in the United States and combative politics, which is dividing America, and the paralysis that is keeping lawmakers from solving fundamental problems, he said.

“Compromise is the only way forward to hold together,” he said. “Compromise is not a dirty word.”

With the rights that U.S. citizens enjoy, there also comes responsibility — and for that expectations must be high, he said.

“Most important is to put others first,” he said.

Allies are important to the United States, he said, recalling the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, and other countries came together.

Sixty days later Mattis was fighting in Afghanistan with the help of allies.

“They were there along side us because the Greatest Generation (which formed NATO in 1949) dealt with the reality of the world and perceived the terror of leaving an open playing field for aggression,” Mattis said.

Never had Europe been so unified as now against Chinese-supported Russian aggression, he said. Even Sweden and Finland, which remained neutral through the Cold War, applied to join NATO in 2022.

But world threats are not confined to Europe. The “next Ukraine” could be in the Pacific, he said.

“I don’t want to call it a war footing, but I think the time is now here we have to go to a deterrent force,” Mattis said.

Pulling out of NATO would be an economic mistake, he said.

He repeated what he was once told — if you are going into a gunfight, bring all your friends with guns.

Eastern WA DNA

The Badger Club event was at Columbia Basin College’s Gjerde Center, with registration required. Those who were unable to get a ticket before all seats were claimed can watch a recording of Mattis’s talk once it is uploaded at cbbc.clubexpress.com.

Mattis said he spoke to the Badger Club as part of his “attitude of gratitude for the community that raised me.”

His Eastern Washington DNA is strong after being born in Pullman, Wash., and growing up in Richland, he said.

He joined the Marine Corps in 1969 and retired as a four-star general.

He led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade in the war in Afghanistan and the 1st Marine Division in the invasion of Iraq. He commanded all US forces in the Middle East as the commander of CENTCOM (Central Command) from 2010 to 2013.

He served as the 26th U.S Secretary of Defense from 2017 to 2019 in the Trump Administration.