Gen. Mattis' remarks were quite substantial. He noted that Iraq lacked an Arab Spring uprising. I wonder whether that is because the Muslim Brotherhood has no Iraqi chapter that can instigate one or if Iraqis are just so sick of unrest that they can't muster any enthusiasm for further social disruption. I wanted to hear more details about Iranian Quds force units operating in Iraq and whether they've penetrated Muqtada al-Sadr's organization. The General mentioned they're operating in Syria too and are the only thing keeping the Assad regime in power. I think Gen. Mattis' assessment of Syria gives Iran too much credit; the Assad family has plenty of support among Syria's business class, it has successfully isolated or co-opted many of the regime's opponents, and defections from the Syrian military have not significantly degraded its combat power.
As an aside, Iran's ability to manipulate events in the Arab world will always be circumscribed by its Shiite and Persian identity, no matter how many rockets it ships to Hezbollah or how many special operators it can send to Iraq and Syria. Did Iran send Quds operators to Bahrain during its Arab Spring unrest? It has claimed that country as historically Iranian but couldn't influence the outcome there thanks to the GCC's deployment of the Peninsula Shield Force. Score that as a Saudi victory over Iran in their never-ending contest for leadership of the Islamic world. Anyway, back to the lecture.
Gen. Mattis' summary of progress in Afghanistan is spot-on. IMHO the American military has finally internalized the successful COIN approaches that stabilized Central America in the 1980s. The military effort in Afghanistan is now facilitating Taliban defections provided those defectors renounce violence and support the Afghan government. Requiring them to break ties with Al Qaeda is probably unnecessary IMHO. The U.S. has mostly defeated Al Qaeda and is now threatened by other terrorist networks that regenerate in Pakistan (more on that below).
The General was distinctly proud of CENTCOM's military-to-military contacts in support of diplomacy in the region. Hey folks, that's DIME at work, and the military is very willing to play ball with the other elements of national power. The Egyptian military seems eager to hold elections and turn over power, but IMHO we all may regret the lack of formal organization in Egyptian politics. The Muslim Brotherhood is the most well-organized political actor in Egypt and will easily play a leading role in an elected government. Islamic thinkers are fond of using the "democracy as train station" metaphor, meaning democracy is merely a way station enabling Islamists who can seize power and enact Sharia law. Egypt under Sharia would pose a major threat to Israel's security, but neither I nor Gen. Mattis are capable of speculating on whether that outcome is probable.
Now, about that other shoe I mentioned up front. Gen. Mattis' comments on Pakistan were very circumspect, mentioning that they fear India but have moved troops into their west to help the U.S. The U.S. military is traditionally very restrained in public comments that may contradict the government's publicly stated diplomatic positions; once again, we do DIME quite well, thank you very much. The U.S. government's diplomatic position on Pakistan is subtly shifting. Adm. Michael Mullen, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently excoriated Pakistan's ISI for aiding and abetting the Haqqani network's recent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. It is not clear whether uniformed ISI officials exercised C2 over the attacking cell, but the support the ISI provides to Haqqani fighters has long been clear. It was safe for Adm. Mullen to vent because he is about to leave government service, so he has no reason to fear career repercussions for his candor. It is becoming safer for others in the military to pick up an anti-Pakistan line now that the rest of the U.S. government is turning against Pakistan's proxies. The Treasury Department has recently sanctioned some Haqqani Network leaders. I believe it is a matter of time before the rest of the network will be formally sanctioned. That will make them fair game for the full range of U.S. offensive action, including covert disruption of their supporters.
The U.S. is slowly but surely distancing itself from Pakistan due to that country's increasingly public tilt toward China as a benefactor and its profound lack of cooperation with U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. The rupture will not be complete until the bulk of U.S. combat forces have departed Afghanistan because those forces need a line of communication through Pakistan for support.
This Shultz Lecture Series is a big treat for geopolitical junkies and Marines Memorial Club members like yours truly. The Life Membership I paid for ten years ago has paid off many times over. It was even cool to see George Shultz himself get up and about at the venue. The guy just doesn't know how to slow down.