tv Reagan National Defense Forum - Middle East CSPAN December 18, 2018 1:16am-2:02am EST
economic trends and the next generation of jobs. with speakers mark warner and todd young. >> running on temporary funding that expires friday at midnight. between now and then the house senate and white house must come to an agreement on seven incomplete spending bills to avert a government shutdown. one bill that remains pending is the border wall funding which democratic leaders oppose. you can watch it live on c-span and the senate live on c-span2. >> next, a look at u.s. strategy in the middle east including iran and syria with senators shehene.s and jean this was part of the regan national redense forum in
california. it's 40 minutes. >> thank you. welcome. i think it is amazing that we are here. i can't think of a more fitting day to be discussing the middle east, given that president bush passed away, and given his legacy in the middle east. i think that it will shape our discussion today. i am pleased to welcome our distinguished panel. i would like to first introduce senator jeanne shaheen, who needs very little introduction, from the great state of new hampshire the first woman in u.s. history to be elected both governor and senator.
theserved since 2009 on armed services committee as well as the foreign relations committee. and what's interesting is you helped secure the new start treaty, which allowed the u.s. to resume critical inspections of russia's nuclear arsenal. that is particularly relevant. and then of course, senator joni ernst of iowa. she served in the military for over 23 years and became in 2014 the first woman veteran, woman combat veteran, to be elected to the senate. that is extraordinary. you were in the rotc in iowa before serving for those 23 years. welcome. and kathleen hicks, of course, who served under the obama administration. use served as the principal deputy under secretary of defense. we welcome all three of you today. start, i just wanted to talk a little bit about, when
i think about the middle east, i often think back to the quote from michael corleone in "godfather three" when he's trying to get out of the mafia, and he says, "they keep pulling me back in." [laughter] for the last decade or so, president after president has tried to pull out of the middle east and focus on asia and elsewhere. it doesn't tend to go very well because it's very unpredictable. was interesting about this reagan form is that for the first time there was a national defense survey that has surprising results, from my point of view. we found that americans were less concerned about terror attacks than ever before. half of those surveyed thinks the u.s. had failed in iraq and afghanistan. two thirds think iraq is our enemy. one have think saudi arabia is our enemy. i would like to discuss some of that. there was a briefing at the pentagon earlier this week in which we were told that there
are still 2000 isys fighters in syria. the country is still controlled by isis, despite a year of intensive campaign against isis. and then csis, where kathleen hicks is serving, put out an incredible survey that suggests there are four times more jihadists now around the world then after 9/11. after 17 years of war, that number has quadrupled. before we get started, i would like my panelists to just reflect for a moment on president bush, his impact on you and the middle east in particular. senator shaheen, would you like to start? sen. shaheen: i will. i remember in the first gulf war, one of the things i thought was most impressive about what president bush did was to build an international coalition in support of that war.
as we think about the challenges we are facing, having those allies is really critical. certainly secretary mattis said that. for me personally, the last time i had a chance to meet president when he and president clinton were both at the university of new hampshire giving a joint commencement address. one of the things they talked about was the importance of working together, of bipartisan cooperation, public service. i think that legacy of public and being willing to work with anybody across the aisle is probably one of the most important legacies the president has given us. jennifer: absolutely. sen. ernst: thank you. this is a great opportunity for all of us to express our condolences to the bush family. what we have with president bush is a legacy that teaches us that relationships do matter.
i experienced that first hand when i deployed for operation iraqi freedom. the over welcome -- overwhelming welcome- overwhelming the kuwaitis gave us so we could use that platform moving into with, they welcomed us open arms there were very supportive. what i heard and time again from kuwaiti nationals and policeman was how important president bush was in desert shield and desert storm. they viewed him as their savior and could not thank us enough for what we did. america, we delivered the nation from a brutal regime. they did not forget that. it was important to have a strong alliance with kuwait. i credit that her president bush and the fact that he did reach out to so many global community
members and our allies, so relationships do matter. jennifer: i'm really struck by the quiet brilliance of what president bush was able to do in the middle east. at a time when americans in the world weren't quite sure what would come next. the united states was figuring out its world -- role in the world. then, of course, the invasion of kuwait. what he did was not only built that incredible international coalition, he brought domestic consensus. politically and on capitol hill, he brought the public and the troops. that strength of vision of what america could do when it pulls together and with others around the world, it really endures. jennifer: absolutely.
let me ask all three of you, why don't americans feel that u.s. efforts in the middle east have been worth it? that's a really tough thing to come out of this survey after 17 years of war. what do you think? i think probably because it is 17 years of war. to deployntinued people, to lose soldiers just this week. we lost five americans again. theink people haven't seen return on that commitment. one of the things i sometimes hear from constituents in new hampshire is that we have given money to build schools in afghanistan, and we need schools in our communities at home. you can talk about hospitals or whatever the investment is that we made in afghanistan. i will say the one positive
comment that i hear frequently from people is about the commitment to women and girls in afghanistan. there is real concern that if we pull out of afghanistan without having some sort of a peace agreement, that there will be a circumstance where women and girls will be once again of rulesd to all kinds that the taliban have imposed. i think when you talk about specifics of what we have accomplished like getting girls in school and liberating women, there is a real support for that, because that is consistent with american values. when you talk about the amount andoney that has been spent the time we have been there, i hear people say, when is it going to end? what has been the value of this investment?
>> that is a very difficult question, jennifer. i would agree with senator shaheen. we have engaged in the middle east, especially iraq, for a long time. we feel weary of that, but at the same time, we are engaged in a much different fight now than when we initially went into a rack 2003. right now, we continue to fight isis and violent extremist organizations. we have to understand the americans are war weary, but we understand that it is a different fight peered we have downsized the number of troops, buther in iraq, syria, there is still a fight. even though the caliphate is nearly gone, the physical caliphate, but they still do exist. we need to continue to make sure thosee are defeating
organizations like isis and others that exist out there. to the to project that american people so they understand there is still a value, even though the national defense strategy is shifting us to that great power competition. we still have a role to play in ridding the world of violent extreme organizations. jennifer, you started out by pointing out the adage that many of us have to live with, which is woe to the strategist who chooses to ignore east.ddle it has happened numerous times in the past. that's because it is left to its own devices, without a u.s. role. others step in. of course, we have russia and east. it has happened numerous times in theiran, significantly. threats worsened. even with us engaged, the kinds of measures of success feel dissatisfying to americans. there isn't peace breaking out in the streets. it's challenging.
i liken it to scotty on the enterprise in the engine room. every day here comes captain kirk asking for another small miracle to get out of something. that's what it's like in the middle east. it's about the hard, often very unsatisfying, step-by-step efforts on u.s. foreign policy. it is hard to gauge that success in even years. the real point we have to make to the american people is that we are being careful in the risk andnd costs of dollars lives, but no role would worsen those outcomes. we have seen that happen as well. jennifer: let me follow up by asking, how do we explain that there are four times the number of jihadi's now 17 years after 9/11? is there something to the presence there causing the -- we
are engaged in bombing seven different countries. the military is spread out across north africa now. do we need to ask whether our presence may be generating recruits for these jihadist networks? ms. hicks:ms. hicks: there's no doubt historically today that the physical presence of the u.s. and western military forces is something jihadists can use as a recruitment tool, if you will. we have to be careful about that. that is why we have had, particularly in the last five years, a relatively lighter footprint. part of the reasoning is we want the footprint to reflect that recognition of the challenge. that was true in the way rushed of george w. bush as well. i think that is part of the equation. at the same time, we don't know what the alternative universe would look like where the u.s. wasn't engaged and what the
numbers would be, and how much of the numbers of jihadists would be out beyond the bounds of the middle east and into that regions of the world today, their presence is smaller. part of it is a containment challenge. point,ink to your basic we should be thinking about what that careful line of strategic overwatch versus negligence, and what is strategic overwatch versus overinvestment that can drive the snowball effect toward getting less rather than more out of our presence. jennifer: and what do you think of the most destabilizing influence in the middle east right now? where is it coming from? >> iran. jennifer: what makes you say erin? -- iran? >> i think their continued
associations with violent extremist organizations. we just saw a missile launched by a ran -- iran. they will do whatever they can to destabilize the middle east. it puts them in a position of power. they will continue to medal. of course, bring in russia as well. any number of state actors could be through the middle east. i would say in my estimation that is one of the number one destabilizing factors in the middle east. we just have to keep a iran.uous on agree that they are a big contributor to terrorist activities in yemen, syria, and across the middle east, but i think it is more complex than just that. if we look at the civil war in syria that has, contributed to so much of the conflict. and russia have taken
advantage, but we left the door open. we have not had a strategy for syria. we did not have one under the obama administration and we do not have one under the trump administration. at least we had a designated strategy for afghanistan and iraq. but we have nothing in syria. i had the opportunity to visit in july with senator graham. we wanted to see the foreign fighters who are being detained in syria. i came back feeling very different about what's going on over there than when i left, because we visited the northeast quarter. our efforts there working with the syrian democratic forces have stabilized the region. what we heard from the syrians we met, whether they were arabs or kurds, was please don't leave us.
it's really important that the verycans stay here, for a little amount of money. i think over $200 million in stabilization funds. we have a peaceful section in syria where we have influence and we can counterbalance what's going on with the russians and the iranians. we have to look at those opportunities and think about each country and the complexities, and not assume we with one brushnt what's going on across the middle east. >> it's almost a peacekeeping force you are describing, may be u.n. has failed to provide. the u.s. is looking to having these quiet outposts where they keep things from bubbling up to >> it's almost a peacekeeping force you are describing, may be u.n.a point where there is full-scale conflict. what do you think is the most destabilizing influence in the middle east right now? as ancks: i think iran
actor is the most destabilizing force. but i agree with sen. shaheen: what happened in syria over the last seven or eight years, with many fathers, russia, the u.s., turkey, the gulf states, assad -- the ramifications of what happened in syria in the next 10 years are the most profound. they have affected europe fundamentally, affected us domestically in terms of how we think of issues from immigration to counterterrorism, and they also have put at risk the entire investment we have in iraq. i think we have done a good job of coming back in at the end of the obama administration and the beginning of the trump iraq,stration to shore up but that is of fundamental and continuing importance to us. syria, israel, jordan, these countries that have stood with us, we need to keep working on
that. i think syria, we have to be able to contain the crisis. we are constantly hearing -- i have heard it for three or four presidencies, that we don't have a strategy for the middle east. we did here recently president trump talking about wanting to pull troops out of syria. you hear the defense department say that the role of syria is only to fight isis. then you heard the national security advisor say u.s. troops will stay as they counter iran's influence. what is the strategy in syria? >> well, that's the problem. [laughter] one of the pieces of legislation that we just passed was a study iraq modeled on the 2006 study group that came out with a strategy that mirrored to a great extent the surge and some of our efforts there. i am hopeful that we will see some recommendations come out of
that that might help us as we are thinking about how to respond. kathleen is absolutely right. what we don't want to do is when we've got something that's working, as in northeast syria, we don't want to pull everybody out and risk what happened in iraq, where we saw the terrorists come back. we know isis is still there. they have gone underground and lots of villages in syria and iraq, and we want to make sure we've got some oversight so that they don't come back. we leave and they come back. seems like a common theme, the existence of failed states, the vacuums that are created. but the question is, is it the u.s. military that should be filling the role? sen. ernst: if i could address that, and i will go back to the previous question as well, where
the president has made statements about pulling troops out, and i would agree, we don't want to leave that vacuum. however, our role and what's covered by the a umf currently umf, allowshe 2001 a us to pursue those engaged in terrorist activities. if we are leaving groups in syria for other activities, i think congress then needs to au i firmlym believe that. f. aumf.ew i firmly believe that. we have downsized. i think that is important. we continue to acknowledge we don't have as many troops through the middle east as we have had in the past, but we do need to rely on those relationships.
they have done a good job on advising and assisting partner nations with indigenous forces, but what we can do is further look at our partners. are they able to step in, whether it's the saudi's, jordanians, or emma readies -- they fill the gaps? >> and will they be contributing? sen. ernst: absolutely. jennifer: what is stopping aumf from being considered by democrats and republicans? does the defense department want a new aumf? does the president? would have to cover different countries?do you need one for somalia, one for yemen and syria? or is it just overarching? did we just see the first steps towards that with the vote in terms of curtailing the war powers in yemen?
ms. hicks: i think you just answer the question by asking all of those. [laughter] when does it end? is there a time certain to an aumf? what countries does it cover? there are so many things and we all have very different ideas on where that needs to go, what the end goal would be, and that is where we as congress need to have those discussions. are the common goals and where can we go? do you think there's bipartisan support for this? >> i don't there has been some theort in some language in committee for a new aumf, but given events and yemen and given where we are, we are talking about a whole new effort starting with the new congress. said so well,i the challenge is we have not been able to get something we can agree to.
i just hard to get a commitment to take it out on the floor of the senate. taking a look at the national defense survey -- i believe. americans see the biggest regional threats in the middle east and east asia. that's interesting, because one of the other questions suggested that americans feel after 17 years of war that we had failed in iraq and afghanistan, yet they still see the biggest regional threat in the middle east. yet if you look at the active-duty households, the military households, they see east asia as a greater threat. how do we explain this discrepancy. ? >> i would go back first on the middle east being at the top. that is the experience americans have had in this generation. they have experienced their loved one going into conflict in the middle east.
foreign policy is often about middle east engagement and counterterrorism in general. so that is not surprising. households, that is also not surprising. they have felt the relative futility of seeing it easily all the aspects of how the middle east is going to operate in the degree to which it is going to easily turn toward alignment with u.s. security and interest. there is nothing that surprises me. i want to raise one thing that has come up on the margins, which is that we tend to focus on the military piece for the u.s. this is something i'm sure everyone on the panel would agree to, but it's important to explicitly say we almost never talk about the other instruments that need to be engaged, both internationally, but in the u.s. government, to reach success.
the biggest problems in the middle east are governance related. they are generalist in a problems around -- generational problems around unemployment and related issues. societal like women and girls, health. we have a lot of tools in the private sector and the government that we could be leveraging. that would allow us over time to leverage the military instrument left. good point.really one of the things we saw , they hadyria reconstituted their city. they had representatives from the various ethnic groups in the town. they really were talking about how to govern themselves in a way that was very impressive. to help support those efforts as well. jennifer: and senator shaheen, you said you went into the trip
with different expectations. what did you think you are going to find and what was the stark contrast? sen. shaheen: i expected that as soon as the fight with isis is over, we should pull out all of our troops. obviously there were there because of the fight against isis. just driving along the road and seeing syrian children flashing a v sign for victory at the military, because they saw them as being liberators, really. "don'lettsaid to us, the turks come in, don't let assad come back," you name it, the country that is there, it they werethat what interested in was not just the fact that we were there to liberate them from isis, but we brought with us our values and commitment to human rights, our commitment to an inclusive participation in governance.
when the migrants were fleeing syria, they were not fleeing to russia or iran. they wanted to get to the united states. we have to remind people that is one of the strengths we bring from conflict in the middle east and anywhere else. jennifer: i like to push back a little bit on what i think has become a presumption in the last two years that iran is the greatest threat in the middle east. while it is a threat, is it possible we are overcorrecting after having essentially created what some have described as a sheer crescent -- she crescent from iraq, to syria, to lebanon, and are we now trying to adjust for that to such a degree that we are blaming iran for everything, and in the process creating an imbalance by ignoring the role of saudi
qatar, and the gulf states? >> i would say i'm happy blaming iran for everything. [laughter] but there are other factors. i would say they are such a large enabler of discord through the middle east that we do have to keep our eye on them, understanding that there are other factors that exist in the middle east. i will continue to blame them, but we need to keep our eyes on some of the other factors that we see. jennifer: but isn't it risky, what we have seen lately is that we have given saudi arabia almost a blank check in yemen? >> we should not give them a pass in yemen. that is why -- and there are many different discussions that exist. i understand we don't all agree on this issue, but having american involvement through targeting, i think we have been
able to save lives by minimizing the collateral damage that you will see. the refueling operations, we have ceased those. i think that was important. we have signaled to them that we are not going to continue to blanket bombo communities and go after innocence and civilians. we can't give them a free path. i'm hopeful with the peace talks coming forward this next week that maybe we will see some progress in that area. we will have to address the saudi issue at some point, but what we don't want to do is jeopardize what could be a fruitful discussion between the houthis and -- saudi spirit ms. hicks: i agree with the premise of your question. i think iran has invested itself
and destabilizing activities, proxies, et cetera. that is a worry. i was a fan of the nuclear deal. i don't think we have an iran strategy exactly except to pressure them back to the table. i'm not sure it was worth giving up some level of assurance that we could see what they were doing for several years, at least to forestall if not prevent the growth of a new which is extremely frightening to me and should be to the gulf states and israel. said, it is not the only issue, not under every hill. there are a lot of other , the infighting , certainly saudi
arabia itself and how it is evolving with the war in yemen being an early indicator. there is a recent indicator that mbsave some problems with and the degree to which he is actually shifting the country in a way that is toward reform, and more aligned to our values and can be seen as aligned with our interests. i'm very concerned about that. we have to be very careful that we are looking out for our interests. we don't -- those don't align with every single actor, rather israel, certainly not iran. we have to be clear eyed about where the interests align and what we can make sure we can secure and protect and what piece is about military capability. jennifer: and what would happen if the u.s. pulled out of the middle east altogether?
i don't know how the question where are youout most concerned about the threat, but one of the reasons i think americans are concerned about the threats in the middle east is because that is where so much of the terrorist activity that attacks the west has generated from. one challenge that we need to ,ngage our european partners are the foreign fighters and what happens to them. dependingin syria, upon what numbers you listen to, there are probably between 700 and 1000 foreign fighters not from the u.s. or the middle east, but from someplace in europe. we need to figure out what to do with them. if they fall and something
in their alignment, those 700 to 1000 people will be released and who knows where they will wind up. i think that is a real issue have not even begun to figure out. >> i seem to remember in yemen, there was a prison bombed and al qaeda. hundreds went free. the extreme jihadis, i don't know if anyone has an answer for that. >> i want to go back to the rise of isis. we saw that not all that long ago because we withdrew before we had stabilized government and governor -- government capabilities in iraq. we have been absent for a while.
by not having additional troops in the middle east, we think -- we have had a presence in saudi arabia and a number of places where we have had smaller amounts of terrorist activities and a number of us can remember the uss cole, the tower bombings. a state actorrom supporting them or they are just growing on their own, they don't appreciate western civilization. they are understanding there is a population out there that wishes us ill no matter what. i think it's better to have a presence where they can -- we can tamp down on them rather than create a void that allows them to operate with freedom of movement around the globe that
puts our citizens in danger. i would prefer to have that presence until we can rely on others to fill the gap for us. jennifer: let's just go to the last slide that we have from the survey. americans are less concerned about terrorist attacks, y enough, then they are about cyber attacks on their personal computers. how do we explain this finding? >> it is actually a very logical find. get ae far more likely to cyber attack on your computer than they are to be personally affected by terrorism. i think that actually shows you the degree to which daily saliency matters in terms of how many american process foreign policy challenges. maybe i would turn it the other way around, which is terrorism still ranks very high for many americans above, let's say the rise of china, or concerned
world.ther actors in the we shouldn't be surprised by that. this is where leadership matters. those who understand foreign policy and are working hard on it can help explain why we have to have investments prioritized the way we do. i think that shows you a very american population response. they will have more trouble online shopping being challenged than they are -- >> credit card information stolen. which is real this time of year. [laughter] but really it shows the success of 17 years of war that perhaps we are not explaining well ,nough to the american public because the chances of dying in a terror attack are probably at an all-time low since 9/11, because we have to play troops. >> can i respond? in terms of what an individual
sees about worrying about hacking in their own computers i think is important, but as we heard several times throughout a huge, cyber issues are problem for the united states. the national defense strategy commission recommended a whole separate commission just to address cyber issues, because right now we don't have anyone charge. we don't have a body of laws to determine how we are going to respond to cyber. we don't have a positive response to how we are going to deal with those kinds of threats. it is not just worrying about personal computers. it is also worrying about the potential for cyber attacks that affect national security. >> there are reports that the russians actually did enter the power grid and caused two blackouts in ukraine. these threats to the power grid are an even greater national security threat. you hate to scare people, but
they are real. we have a couple minutes left. the budget fight that is inevitably going to come up in washington, how do you see that impacting the structure in the middle east? should it be immune from discussions of money for the military?should defense budgets be off the table ? where do you see this fight heading and how will it impact our presence in the middle east? >> we've got to deal with our budget challenge. not just in terms of getting a time, andt is on appropriations bill, but also in terms of dealing with budget caps that will come back in 2020 2021. one of the things i said last year this event when we were talking about this challenges that we all might like to think that we should get a budget for defense separate from anything else that's going on within the government, but i don't believe that's going to happen. i think there's even less reason to think it's going to happen in this new congress than in the
last congress. i think we have to deal with this issue. we have to work together, but we have to understand we are not just talking about the defense budget. we are talking about the whole of government. >> absolutely. i like to think of it as a challenge, maybe not a fight, but a challenge. every time we are presented with a challenge, we have an opportunity to do better. what we have to do is think of the end-user. that is how the young men and women in uniform that we are forward deploying, making sure we are manning the units, so that when we engage them, they are able to come home safely after completing the mission. >> in fact, you were just with the navy seals at a graduation ceremony. what do you hear from them? are they needing anything? >> they were just so pumped up about finishing. [laughter]
backruly, i will go because that's what i understand, but we invest a lot of dollars in special operators, and most often that is who we have out on the ground, especially in iraq and syria. we invest in them because we want to know that they know how to complete a mission, do it safely, do it in a way that they are protecting those innocent civilians out there. there are those liberators, defenders of freedom. we have to think about them. when congress is arguing over the daily activities in the budget process, we have to think , do we want those men and women to be properly trained, manned, and equipped? bring them home safely to their families. jennifer: i will give you the last word. we are out of time. ms. hicks: yes to everything that has been said. i would say in addition to the budget challenge, which is
, one thing we tried to emphasize was it's not just about the budget. we were quick to move to the how much, too much, too little, instead of the for what and how? we need a lot more if we are going to do with competition like china at the same time we are managing challenges against the middle east, we have to get smarter. we have to pull a lot more tools beyond just the military peace and figure out how to do things smarter and faster than our adversaries. that will take budget, but it will take a lot more in cultural change. jennifer: i want to thank you all for joining us, thank you for joining us this afternoon. [applause]
>> c-span's washington journal live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. coming up, tuesday morning, jennifer shut discusss the latest government negotiations ahead of friday's government shutdown led line. and then the moving picture institute rob mots talks about the growth of the power of the presidency and how that's led to president donald trump. and atlantic contributor julie talks about what digital assistance amazon's alexa will have on society. also, during the holiday week, be sure to watch washington journal for author's week starting sunday, december 23rd. >> sunday on q and m.
"wall street journal" columnist coman jenkins talks about politics during the trump era. >> he wants to be the center of attention. i think the way he looks at people, everyone is either a friend or category. he holds no grudges. but you know, his ideas about -- his idea -- the america first thing is an idea that he holds dear that our country has been shortchanged with the rest of the world and that reflects on trade policy and immigration policy, the things that in the minds of many of his sup mportants -- support them. that's a belief on his part. >> former f.b.i. director james comey met monday with members of
the house judiciary and oversight committees to answer questions about the russia investigation and the f.b.i.'s role in the 2016 presidential election. it was the second time this month mr. comey appeared on capitol hill where he remained behind closed doors for several hours. when departing the interview he stopped to answer a few questions from reporters. diciar committees, eform their year long investigation into the 2016 presidential election. his second visit to capitol hill 10 days after his irst and he spoke to reporters door session ed wrapped up. a couple of questions. me.ust wait for i'll say a few words and then i'll take your questions. >> great.