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Mattis: 'Americans Have No God-Given Right to Victory'

james mattis speaks at air force association

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Defense Secretary James Mattis told a conference today that it's "good to remind ourselves as we sit here today that Americans have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield."

"Make no mistake that our adversaries are right now making concentrated efforts to erode our competitive edge," Mattis said at the Air Force Association's 2017 Air, Space and Cyber Conference. "You know it, I know it. We can see it in the world around us. And I would say, too, that by contesting our supremacy in every domain, we can see it working against us in aggregate."

He noted that "some nations that are challenging our dominance in the air are doing so through a proliferation of advanced, integrated air defense network, plus fifth generation aircraft," while "if you look at outer space, which was long considered a sanctuary of sorts, it's now contested."

"And then you add another domain, the cyberspace domain, at the same time, and that's now contested at the operating -- in an operating realm at the tactical, the operational, and the strategic levels of conflict."

Mattis acknowledged that a "decisive conventional force" is pricey, "but it's a heck of a lot less expensive than having to fight a conventional war because some adversary thought they could take us on and win."

The Defense chief took a shot at sequestration: "If we don't get budgetary predictability, if we don't remove the defense caps, then we're questioning whether or not America has the ability to survive. It's that simple."

"And I think that right now, we have got to -- right now, move with the Congress, and the congressional leaders are calling for this, toward a budget -- passing the president's budget, toward lifting and removing the defense caps, in the current increasingly severe security situation, so that we maintain our competitive edge," he said. "Otherwise, it will erode."

He also emphasized the importance of relationships with allies, noting that "the only thing tougher than fighting with allies is fighting without them."

"History is compelling on this point, that nations with allies thrive and those without allies decline," he added. "It's that simple."

"...We must be willing to do more than to listen to our allies. We must be willing to be persuaded by them. And there's a whale of a difference between listening to somebody else's different idea and then going right on about the way you were going to do it and being willing to be persuaded. And remember, not all the good ideas come from the nation with the most aircraft carriers."

Mattis was asked about how he got the nickname "Mad Dog," and said it was a name that never existed other than for "some press person who needed a little bit of a fantasy life fulfilled."