tv Former CIA Director David Petraeus Testimony on U.S. Middle East Policy CSPAN September 24, 2015 5:13am-8:07am EDT
cooperation with congressional quarterly press. "landmark cases", is available for $8.95, plus shipping and handling. >> get yours at c-span.org/landmark case. david petraeus testified about the conflict in syria. the retired general also apologized for sharing classified information with his biographer paula broad well, which he later resigned over. arizona senator john mccain chairs the armed services committee.
the committee will come to order. since a quorum is now present, i ask the committee to consider a list of 3,725 pending military nominations. all of these nominations have been before the committee the required length of time. is there a motion to favorably -- >> so approved. >> any second? >> seconded. >> the motion carries. senate armed forces committee meets this morning to receive testimony on u.s. strategy in the middle east. eight years ago, eight years ago our nation was losing a war in iraq. despite the assurances of the bush administration, the
generals and leaders there, despite the favorable comments of, at that time, secretary of defense who said, quote, stuff happens and other equally ridiculous comments, we were losing the conflict. in fact, we were at a point where there was almost sufficient votes in the united states senate to force a complete withdrawal from iraq. and then, a seminal event took place before this committee. a day that i will never forget. on september 11, 2007, general david petraeus appeared before this committee with ambassador ryan crocker. their compelling testimony was critical in securing support for the surge. an integrated civil military campaign plan that defeated al qaeda in iraq, brought security to the iraqi people and created the possibility for meaningful political reconciliation.
now we meet again. now we meet again. at a time of grave security challenges around the world, more than ever our nation must be willing to draw upon the wisdom and experience of its most distinguished leaders. that's why i'm so pleased to welcome back before this committee who has had many appearances before this committee, one of our most distinguished leaders. i'm welcoming back general david petraeus for his first appearance before congress since leaving government. general, it's good to see you. i want to thank you on behalf of this committee for your willingness to testify today and offer insights from your decades of distinguished service, especially your leadership in ooerk, afghanistan, and as director of the central intelligence agency. across the middle east today, the old order is collapsing, both the regional balance and
those within states. chaos fills the vast ungoverned spaces left behind. filling this vacuum have been terrorist groups such as isil and al qaeda on the one hand and hostile states such as iran and now russia on the other. this regional disintegration has only been made worse by a failure of u.s. strategy and leadership to shape events in this vital part of the world for the better. too often we have confused our friends, encouraged our enemies, mistake and excess of caution for prudence and replaced the risk of action with the perils of inaction. in iraq and syria, one year after the president commenced airstrikes, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff have characterized the fight against isil as a stalemate. isil has consolidated control of its territories and has expanded its control in syria. efforts to row take iraqi cities
like mosul, fallujah and ramadi have foundered. they have expanding to places like afghanistan, libya and egypt. this appearance of success only enhances isil's ability to, to radicalize, recruit and grow. the obama administration now tells us their strategy is working. ultimately, isil is not 10 feet tall. it can, and must be defeated. however, the current policy does not appear sufficient to achieve our goal of doudegrading and destroying isil. to put it mildly. this committee's hearing last week did little to alleviate these concerns. in the absence of an effective strategy, violent extremist groups like isil, al qaeda and their adherence are expanding across the middle east, egypt and asia, including afghanistan.
after 14 years of fighting in afghanistan, the president's plan to withdraw from afghanistan would be a replay of that failure. we look forward to your views on this policy and in addition to the so-called islamic state, the islamic republic of iran has been another descent into chaos. many of us have urged the administration to adopt a regional strategy to counter iran's malign activities in the middle east. unfortunately that has not happened. instead, the administration has too often treated iran as merely an arms control challenge, rather than the wider geopolitical challenge that it is. left unchecked, iran has stepped up its destabilizing activities in iraq, syria, lebanon, bahrain, gaza and elsewhere. whatever one thinks of the
nuclear agreement, it will not resolve this larger iran challenge and will likely make it worse as iran gains new legitimacy, the lifting of sanctions and billions of dollars in sanctions relief. into the wreckage of our middle east policy has now stepped vladimir putin. as in ukraine and elsewhere, he perceives the administration's inaction as a weakness and has taken advantage. putin's ongoing military buildup in syria is the greatest expansion of russian power in the middle east in four decades. and it will allow putin to prop up assad, play king maker in any transition, undermine u.s. policy and operations and ultimately prolong this horrific conflict. the main beneficiary will be isil. in classic fashion, the administration first condemned putin's move but has now capitulated, agreeing to military-to military talks.
the first step is recognizing there's a problem. unfortunately, that has appeared beyond the capacity of the administration. instead, they continue to resort to a litany of truisms, true man arguments, partisan attacks and talking points that, to borrow a phrase, require, quote, a willing suspension of disbelief. in a display of self-delusion that can rival the bush's iraq policy at its worst, the obama administration now tells us its strategy is working, that we're making progress, that time is on our side, that strategy eck patience is all we need and that we should just stay the course. when our earlier strategy in iraq and the broader middle east was failing, not so long ago, we thankfully had leaders like our distinguished witness who were willing to face that situation with realism and a president who, to his everlasting credit, too responsibility for that failure and changed course.
other american presidents, including jimmy carter and bill clinton have demonstrated a similar capacity for change. there's no reason president obama could not do the same. no one believes that there are good options. there never are. no one believes that these kinds of problems lend themselves to purely military solutions. they never have, and never will. no one expects us to succeed overnight, and no one believes that america can or should solve every problem by itself. but that does not and solve us of our responsibility to make the situation better where we can. yes, these problems are hard. but, as our witness once said, they are not hopeless. now more than ever, we need some reasons to be hopeful again. i thank you for appearing before the committee today. and look forward to your testimony. senator reid? >> thank you very much, and
welcome back to the armed service committee. this morning's hearing continues the committee's review of the policies in the middle east. and your long experience in a number of leadership positions, both in the united states military and as director of the central intelligence agency makes you superbly prepared and qualified to provide your perspective on the current situation in the middle east. and once again, thank you for being here. the situation in the middle east creates a deeply troubling problem. it is near certain that it will challenge our security today and for many years to come. and while our military has played a role in addressing this threat and lasting solutions require in addition dogged diplomacy by our leaders and our allies and partners who share a security interest in the region. as the committee heard at last week's hearing. the immediate threat to the united states and our partners in the middle east is isil,
isil's control over portions of syria and iraq provides a base to spread its poisonous ideology regionally and globally. coupled with the assad regime has forced millions to flee the wanton violence. the emerging refugee crisis in europe highlights the need of the international community to refocus on restorie theing the region. they have brought together 60-plus countries to respond to the threat, including a multi-country air of campaign. we are very interested in your views on the value of a multi-lateral approach to confronting isil. i would also be interested to hear whether you would support the local forces on the ground to leb rate and then restore
stability to those places previously under isil control. helping to recruit sunni forces to counter the isil effort. given your experience in iran and iraq and as a strategy eck commander, i look forward to hearing your assessment toward the broader military campaign but also on whether the iraqi koou security forces can summon the will to fight. -- to be more inclusive and responsive with the sunnis, moderate minorities. again, your assessment of these political entities would deeply appreciated. the d. or not d. has experienced a variety of setbacks. many have criticized this
program and i would be interested in your assessment of the viability of this program. at the same time, the already difficult task has been further complicated by russian president putin's provocative act of deploying russian military and marine equipment including fighter aircraft under the guise of joining the countering isil effort. what putin hopes to gain is unclear. and again, we'd like your perspective on that issue. the other major issue is iran. last week, the joint comprehensive plan of action or the jcpoa entered the implementation phase. in the coming months, the iranians have much work to do and the world will be watching to see whether iran will discharge its obligations, holding iran accountable during this phase of the agreement is one of the most important steps we can take.
iran's maligning and destable ici izing activities are of concern. the houthis in yemen, shia in bau bahrain. -- an increase in training and exercise programs to ensure these partners have the necessary capabilities to counter iranian threats, again your assessment of these would be appreciated. while much attention is focussed on the middle east, the united states continues to have nearly 10,000 forces deployed in a afghanistan. a critical decision will have to be made in the next few months regarding the size of the force to be in afghanistan in 2016 and beyond. your vice would also be appreciated. and lastly, we cannot forget that al qaeda, especially its
add heerntss in syria remain a threat to the united states and other interests around the world. your insights as to what should be done to keep the pressure on al qaeda, both the senior leadership and their organizational structure would be deeply appreciated. once again, thank you for your service, and thank you for join being us today. >> general petraeus, welcome back. >> thank you, mr. chairman. it's good to be back. mr. chairman, senator reed, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to discuss the situation in the middle east. as you noted, mr. chairman, this is the first time i have testified in open session before congress since resigning as director of the cia, nearly three years ago. as such, i think it is appropriate to begin my remarks this morning with an apology. one that i have offered before but nonetheless one that i want to repeat to you and to the american public. four years ago i made a serious
mistake. one that brought discredit on me and pain to those closest to me. it was a violation of the trust placed in me and a breach of the values to which i'd been committed throughout my life. there's nothing i can do to undo what i did. i can only say, again, how sorry i am to let, to those i let down and then strife to go forward with a greater sense of humility and purpose and with gratitude to those who stood with me during a very difficult chapter in my life. in light of all that, it means a great deal that you have asked me to share my views on the challenges in the middle east, where, as you noted, i spent most of my last decade in government. i thank you for that, mr. chairman, and i thank you for the support and friendship that you have long extended to me. the middle east today is experiencing revolutionary upheaval that is unparalleled in
its modern history. at the root of this upheaval is the weakening or disintegration of state authority in multiple countries. this has led to a violent struggle for power across the va vast swath of territory. a competition of groups within states and within the region and some outside it. almost every middle eastern country is now a battle ground or a combatant in one or more wars. the principal winners thus far have been the most ruthless and anti-american elements in the region. this includes sunni like the so-called islamic state which is attempting to carve a caliphate out of the wreckage of the old order and the islamic republic of iran which hopes to establish
a regional hagem any. all are ex-floating the upheefrl in the middle east while also ex-aser batesing it. while hostile to each other, the growth of each is feeding the sectarian radicalization that is fueling the other. but none of them reflects the hopes of the overwhelming majority of middle easterners. the crisis of the middle east pose a threat not just to regional stability but also to global stability. and to vital national interests of the united states. for the representer kugss of developments in the middle east extend well beyond it. indeed, the middle east is not a part of the world that plays by las vegas rules. what happens in the middle east is not going to stay in the middle east. we see this in the global reach of the islamic state from the sanctuaries it has seized in the region, in the tsunami of
refugees fleeing the conflicts of the middle east. in the danger of a nuclear cascade sparked by iranian actions. and, in the escalating tensions between the u.s. and russia over syria. and, it is in the middle east today where the rules-based international order, the foundation of american prosperity since the end of world war ii is most in danger of coming apart at the seams. international peace and security do not require the united states to solve every crisis or to intervene in every conflict. but, if america is infective or absent in the face of the most egregious violations of the most basic principles of the international order that we have championed, our commitment to that order inevitably questioned and further challenges to it are invited. i will focus here this morning
on three countries that the eye of the present geopolitical storm. iraq, syria, and iran. it has been more than a year since the united states commenced military action against the islam eck state in iraq and syria. and while there have been significant accomplishments, the progress achieved thus far has been inadequate. an impressive coalition has been established. key isis leaders have been killed or captured, and support for local forces in iraq and syria has helped roll back isis in certain areas. some elements of the right strategy are indfykykykmxñ plac ky
to get back into the fabric of iraqi society during the surge. maliki's actions in turn allowed the islamic state to reconstitute itself after it gained additional strength in the syrian civil war and swept back into iraq. the key now is for the united states to help strengthen those in baghdad who are prepared to pursue inclusive politics and better governance. goals that unite the majority of iraq's shiite, sunni and kurds. it is that sunni and kurds
are given a stake in the success of the new iraq rather than a stake in its failure. there is at present in iraq an unprecedented support for the prime minister who with the backing of the iraqi citizens in the streets, iraq's senior shia cleric has embarked on very serious reforms that are being resisted by the leaders of the major iranian-supported militias and former leader maliki. the challenges are neither purely political or purely military. they are both. what is required is a plan in which lines are coordinated to benefit each other. that is what ambassador crocker and i pursued during the surge and all of the elements of that
effort are once again required. though it is the iraqis who must provide the ground forces and achieve reconciliation if the results are to be sustainable. unfortunately, we do not yet have the proper civil military architecture in place to support this. though we do appear to be moving closer to it. notably, the operational headquarters for the military campaign against isis in iraq is based in kuwait. this means that the u.s. ambassador in baghdad does not always have a day to day military counterpart. i would strongly recommend facilitating this by moving key elements of the headquarters to baghdad and ensuring that a comprehensive civil military plan is pursued. i note here that i'm very encouraged that the general selected to lead the campaign in iraq is the officer who, as a brigade commander in ramadi in the fall of 2006, launched the reconciliation initiative on which we subsequently built during the surge, leading
eventually to what became the anbar awakening. i should also note that in my view the commander in baghdad should focus primarily on iraq, while another commander, perhaps positioned in turkey, perhaps under the three-star in iraq, should be designated to focus on operations in syria, which clearly need greater unity of effort. let me now turn to the situation in syria. syria today, mr. chairman, is a geopolitical chernobyl, spewing instability over the region and the rest of the world, like a nuclear disaster, the fallout from the meltdown of syria threatens to be with us for decades, and the longer it is permitted to continue, the more severe the damage will be. it is frequently said that there is no military solution to syria
or the other conflicts roiling in the middle east. this may be true, but it is also misleading, for in every case, if there is to be any hope of a political settlement, a certain military and security context is required. and that context will not materialize on its own. wie and our partners need to facilitate it, and in the past four years we have not done so. in has been clear from early on in syria that the desired context requires the development of capable, moderate sunni ground forces. >> since sunni elements are critical for any objective one might have in syria, defeating extremists like isis, changing the momentum on the battlefield to enable a negotiated settlement and upholding that agreement while keeping isis down. unfortunately, we are no closer today to having that sunni force than we were a year ago.
or when support for such forces was first considered several years ago. the central problem in syria is that sunni arabs will not be willing partners against the islamic state unless we commit to protect them and the broader syrian population against all enemies, not just isis. that means protecting them from the unrestricted warfare being waged against them by bashar al assad, especially by his air force and its use of barrel bombs. this, not isis, has been the primary source of civilian casualties. it has also been a principle driver of the radicalization fueling isis and the refugee crisis. the problems in syria cannot be quickly resolved. but there are actions the u.s. and only the u.s. can take that would make a difference. we could, for example, tell assad that the use of barrel
bombs must end. and that if they continue we will stop the syrian air force from flying. we have that capability. this would not end the humanitarian crisis in syria. or in the broader war. or bring about the collapse of the assad regime. but, it would remove a particularly vicious weapon from assad's arsenal. it would demonstrate that the united states is willing to stand against assad, and it would show the syrian people that we can do what the islamic state cannot. provide them with a measure of protection. i would also support the establishment of enclaves in syria, protected by coalition air power, where a moderate sunni force could be supported and where additional forces could be trained, internally kiss placed persons could find refuge, and the syrian opposition could organize.
now no one is more conscious of the costs of military intervention or of the limits of our military power than i am. as commander in iraq and then afghanistan during the height of combat in those countries, i wrote more letters of condolence of parents of america's sons and daughters than any of my contemporaries. die not make recommendations for any kind of military action lightly. but inaction can also carry profound risks and costs for our national security. we see that clearly today in syria. and russia's recent military escalation in syria is a further reminder that when the u.s. does not take the initiative others will fill the vacuum, often in ways that are harmful to our interests. russia's actions to bolster
assad, we should not allow russia to push us into coalition with assad, which appears to be president putin's intention. while we should not rush to oust assad without an understanding of what will follow him, assad cannot be part of the solution in syria. he is, after all, the individual seen by sunnis across the region as responsible for the deaths of some 250,000 syrians, the displacement of well over a third of syria's population and the destruction of many of syria's once-thriving communities. >> finally, let me turn to iran. the nuclear agreement contains many positive elements. it also contains problematic elements. over the next 10 to 15 years, the agreement will impose meaningful constraints on iran's nuclear activities.
it will also, however, increase considerably the resources available for the iranian regime to pursue malign activities. and, in the longer term as constraints imposed by the agreement expire, the risk of iranian proliferation will increase. the key question going forward is what will be the relationship of the united states to iranian power. will we seek to counter it? or to accommodate it? as the obama administration sought to promote the nuclear agreement, its senior members pledged the former, to counter malign iranian activity. but many in the region worry that the white house will now pursue the latter, attempting to work with iran, perhaps beginning with syria. this would be a mistake. to be sure, the idea of reconciliation with iran should not be dismissed.
but it is one thing if reconciliation means that iran abandons its cut force. it is a very different matter if it entails accommodating those actions. as we have seen in iraq, syria and yemen, iran's activities are not only hostile to us and our partners. they also ex-aser bates sunni feelings of alienation and disenfranchisement which in tern drive sectarian radicalization and the growth of groups like isis. thus, rather than marking the nuclear agreement as the end of a hostile relationship with iran, we should see it as inaugurating a new, more-complex
phase of that competition that will require intensified u.s. involvement in the region. this should include several important actions. first, the united states should make absolutely clear that we will never allow iran to possess highly enriched uranium. and that any move in that direction will be met with military force. this guarantee must be ironclad to reassure our partners in the region and have the desired effect with iran. such a declaration would carry max malcredibility if issued by the president and the congress together. second, we must intensify our work with arab partners to counter iran's malign activities. this can take several forms, including existing use of
sanctions tied to terrorism ballistic missiles and human abuses. and it should encompass additional actions to demonstrate that the theater remains set with respect to our capabilities to carry out military operations against iran's nuclear program if necessary. beyond these actions, we should understand that the most immediate test for the kridbility of our policy will be what we do in iran and syria. the outcome in those countries will be the basis for the judgments of friend and foe alike about our steadfastness and competence in thwarting isis, other extremis and iran's quest for ha gem any.
the situation is very hard, but, as i observed and as you recall, when i took command in iraq in early 2007 amidst sectarian violence, hard is not hopeless. as complex and challengings a the crisis in the region are, i'm convinced the united states is capable of rising to the challenge if we choose to do so. i ended my statements before the senate armed services committee in the past by thanking its members for their steadfast support of our men and women in uniform. i will end my statement this morning the same way. repeating the fwrud that so many of us felt during the height of our engagement during iraq and afghanistan, for so many nichetives on and offer the battlefield, even when a number of members questioned the
policies we executing. this committee has also long played a critical oversight role, posing tough questions about u.s. policy and strategy. i highlight the leadership of chairman mccain in this regard for questioning the strategy in iraq before 2007 and calling for many of the key elements that ultimately made possible the stabilization of that country. the questions that members of this committee asked about our approach in syria and the broader fight against isis continue in this tradition. again, this committee's unwavering support of those serving our nation in uniform has meant a tremendous amount to those on the battle field and to those supporting them. and it is with those great americans in mind that i have offered my thoughts here this morning. thank you very much. >> thank you very much, general. and thank you for probably the most comprehensive overview that
this committee has received on the situation. i'm very grateful. and i would mention, perhaps one of the most admirable and important part of my experience was watching your leadership, not only in the ark tent of the surge, but your motivation of the young men and women who are serving in the military asand e. your inspirational leadership to them is something i will always remember with great admiration. you called for, in your statement, what some of us have been asking for, for years, and that is the barrel bombs have got to end. it's not isis that's dropping the barrel bonds, and when my colleagues say isis is the problem, they're not the ones who have killed 230,000 of their country men. it's bashar al assad.
and we should own up to that. some kind of accommodation with bashar al assad would fly in the face of everything that the united states of america's ever stood for. so you are calling for in your statement that we tell bashar al assad to stop the barrel bombs and establish an enclave where people could take refuge, could have protection from the incredible, insane cruelties of bashar al assad. there's going to be blow back on that. well, doesn't that mean that we're going to have to have american boots on the ground, doesn't mean we're back in the quagmire. doesn't mean, i can see the reaction now from some of my friends who, by the way, the same ones who opposed the surge when they were around. but what's your response to that, general petraeus, that this would then cause us to be involved with boots on the ground and back into the quagmire that characterized our involvement prior to the surge?
>> well, couple points if i could, mr. chairman. first of all, i think very important to underscore the stakts that bashar al assad cannot be part of the long-run solution in syria. he is, as i noted, as you noted, the individual respond for well over 200,000 of syrians dead. and he is the magnetic attraction that is bringing jihadis to syria to fight him. and then indeed, if we are to support a force, it won't, it won't work for us, it won't be supportable if we don't support it against bashar al assad's actions against it, the most horrific of which are the dropping of barrel bombs. and that can be stopped. we have the capability to do that. we don't have to put 165,000 troops on the ground to do that. we don't have to put any boots on the ground to do that, although at some point in an enclave we should not be closed to the possibility of some
advisers or support elements being in something like that in the same way that we have them on the ground in iraq. so i don't see this as the of entering a kwag fire. i see this as taking out the most horrific casualty-producing item. i think general allen has said that well over 50% of the casualties overall in syria have been caused by these indiscriminate barrel bombs that can from a minute's notice drop from the sky. we have the capability to stop that, and we should. >> speaking of russia, i noted that the russians now have aircraft that are primarily as intercepters, not close air support. isis doesn't have an air force. it's very interesting. and what is your assessment of what vladimir putin is trying to accomplish with this incredible buildup in syria, and what should the united states do in response?
>> well, first of all, i think you have to look at this in syria. is to solidify the corridor on the mediterranean coast between where he has his air base and where they have the russian naval base. the only naval base left in the mediterranean. clearly, he would like to shore up his ally, bashar al assad. at the very least, he wants to
make sure that bashar is not thrown under the busby either other regime members or perhaps even iran until at least he has some better sense of the way forward. his objective is to keep that naval base and indeed to keep the air base that is also useful for solidifying it in that corridor. i would think beyond that he wants to help bashar solidify his grip, which has been challenged increasingly in recent months by isis and then by other opposition forces as well. that runs from the coast. assad cannot be part of the long-run solution but we should not be quick to oust assad until we have some sense of what will follow him. >> so the united states in the short term should do what in regards to this, in response to that significant military
buildup? >> well, the first is we should not go and leave with this. we should not think that we should, we can partner with russia and iran and bashar al assad against isis. again, if russia wanted to fight isis, they could have joined the 60-plus coalition that general allen has so capably put together and helped drop bombs on isis. they have some capabilities that would be useful to that fight. so this is clearly not what they're up to. and we have to be very clear in our resolve to ensure that we deter action by russia that would involve any of the forces we're supporting and certainly anything that we're doing in that region and show firmly, not provocatively that we will not accept that. i might also add that this also extends to what's going on in ukraine. i was there a week or so ago. the good news is that the violence is down somewhat in the
east, probably because putin is going to the u.n. general assembly, then has another negotiating round and would like to get out from underneath the sanctions that are so crippling. i would note that i think putin is not playing the strongest hand in the world, although he's playing his hand tactically quite effectively. but at the end of the day, vladimir putin is going to run out of foreign reserves. he's probably got 200 billion or so of those left. he will run through those in the next two years. and he and the companies that have debt coming due, he, running a very large fiscal deficit are not going to be able to go to the world markets and get money to finance their government operations. so i think he has actually a limited window of a couple years to continue provocative actions in ukraine, belarus, maldoughva, syria, georgia and so forth, and we have to be very careful
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