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tv   The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations  PBS  December 10, 2017 6:00pm-6:31pm PST

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what is your view about the importance of nato and what should be done to improve nato? it can thank vladimir putin for giving it a rebirth in some respects. it is reported that the russians probably interfered with our presidential election. we're trying to undermine the trust of the people in our system. and that is a major issue. and what about kim jong-un? the challenge for this is that this is the crisis to prevent a madman, in many people's eyes, from getting a nuclear capability that can actually reach the united states. woman: would you fix your tie, please? well, people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but okay. just leave it this way. all right. [♪] i don't consider myself a journalist. and nobody else would consider myself a journalist.
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i began to take on the life of being an interviewer even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. [david reading onscreen text] while you were in afghanistan, the effort to capture osama bin laden was going forward. capture or kill. capture or kill. how were you alerted to that? because you weren't directly in the chain of command for that decision. yup. that night no one else in our headquarters knew at all. and i got up myself, no aides, no anything else, went into the-- we had a joint special operations command post at the nato headquarters in kabul where i was located. i went in there, sort of surprised them at about 11 or so at night, said, "what are you doing in here? and i asked everybody to leave
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except for one officer who i knew very, very well. and we then dialed up so that we could monitor the operation. we had a lot of contingency plans. and the forces that conducted it, some of those at least, the headquarters element at least, was working for me in normal times, but that night they were working for-- actually, for the cia. because it was the cia-- so-- it was a covert action, which means the chain of command runs from the president to the director of the cia, leon panetta then, to admiral mcraven and then to the seal team 6 unit, as well-known, did the operation. so did you have a view, subsequently, that the pakistan military or their own secret service or intelligence forces knew that osama bin laden was living there? no. no. in fact, i don't think they did. i'm really pretty convinced of that. i think leon panetta supports that as do others. okay. you're in afghanistan, after about 12 and a half months the president says, "i'd like you to come back and be the head of the cia." gen. petraeus: yup. david: and doing that meant you had to give up
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your military career, essentially. you had to re-- yeah, i didn't have to, but i chose to. i thought-- in fact, the president and i talked about that when he finally made the decision to nominate me for that. and i agreed that that would be the best approach. i thought it was very important not to have folks think that i was going to turn this place into a military headquarters. i literally showed up the first day and i said that i would do that with no one but the security guys that-- was it emotional to give up your military career at that point? you know, it's always emotional to take the uniform off for the last time, without question. and it was a, you know, wonderful sort of retirement parade and experience. but you have the prospect of this extraordinary new opportunity that was very exciting. you know, the cia is just an incredible group of the men and women, the silent warriors, as we term them. you know, they also raise their hand, taking an oath at a time of war and... they know they're not gonna get a parade. there's nothing public about what they do.
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they can't even have the joy that most of us have of talking about what it is they do on a daily basis. so when you get to the cia, do you say, "these are all the secrets the country has," and, "these aren't as many secrets as i thought"? or you say, "these are incredible secrets"? [audience laughing] which do you think? you know, on a near-daily basis, really, almost throughout my time there, it was one of those, "are you kidding me?" right. "seriously?" "really?" so, yeah, there are some extraordinary secrets there. oh, so did you--? and anyone-- [audience laughing] and by the way, those who think that we don't know how to recruit spies anymore or all we're doing is relying on satellites or something like that couldn't be more wrong. there's an incredibly talented clandestine services operation that is really exceptional. when you're at the cia and you're then a policy-- not a policymaker, but you're involved in the policy process, how did you look at the government then
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as compared to being in the military? gen. petraeus: i think in each case you have input. certainly, if you're the commander of a theater of war, of iraq or afghanistan, there's certainly no one who has a bigger voice, if you will, when it comes to assessments, options and recommendations. right. it's more significant than the central command commander in that regard. and the same is true of the cia. now, keep in mind that your role at the situation room table is twofold. one, it is, together with the director of national intelligence, to provide the intelligence analysis, to present what your analysts have determined. and occasionally, and the president asked me to do this, said, "if you ever disagree with the analysts--" which i had done three times as a four-star battlefield commander, i broke with the intelligence community on national intelligence estimates. that's a pretty big deal. now, in each case there's generally a reason for it. one of them was in the surge they had to cut their data off four or five weeks before i did.
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another time we saw something-- so when you disagree with the-- but you can-- so he said, "look, if you disagree, i want you to give me what the analysts say but also give me your own view." i mean, i had more time with prime minister maliki than the analysts did or-- when you disagree with the analysts, do you worry about a covert operation on you that they might perform? no. no. do you have to worry about that? the analysts like this. the analysts want somebody who engages them in-- right. and it wa-- it was fun. i mean, the analysts would come in and say, "today, we're gonna talk about prime minister of iraq." i say, "great. you ever met him?" they say, "well, no, but, you know..." and i say, "okay. give it your best shot." you've briefed president bush, 43, and you briefed, many times, president obama. so, what's the difference between the two in briefing them? well, first of all, you have to keep in mind that the bush 43 i briefed most significantly, on a weekly basis, in fact, together with my great diplomatic partner, ambassador ryan crocker, during the surge in iraq. we had a weekly video teleconference for an hour every monday morning 7:30 eastern standard time.
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the president with his national security team around the situation room videoconferencing directly with us. and he had-- you know, he had gone all in on the surge. this was-- he had put it all on the line. he had frankly overridden the advice of most of his advisers. very few people were really strongly behind the surge. general keane, by the way, was one of those. but-- so he-- he was absolutely, intimately involved in this. and the next day he did a video conference with the prime minister of iraq each week. so it was a different circumstance. so we weren't doing the surge in iraq anymore by the time president obama arrives. iraq was really in a pretty good place and it was just in a process. the question was, how quickly can we draw down without jeopardizing what we fought and sacrificed so hard to achieve? you know, president obama famously does his homework,
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studies it, deliberates it. the afghan policy review that was conducted in the latter part of his first year was extraordinary. i don't think any president has ever engaged the national security team, whatever it was, nine or 10 times directly and that ea-- before each one of those, there's a deputies and a principals committee. so very exhaustive. so they were-- if they're both taking sat tests, who would do better? [audience laughing] i-- i don't grade the presidents that i served in that way. all right. and who was the better athlete? did you ever exercise with either of them? it depends on the sport. you know, i think president bush would humbly-- actually, he could talk trash, by the way. he-- and he did with me. [audience laughing] he challenged me. okay. i was in the oval fice with my family after the surge in iraq and he said, "so when are you gonna have the guts to ride a mountain bike with me?" i said, "mr. president, you have any idea who you're talking to?" i said, "i'm gonna give you an experience that you can write off on your income tax as education." [all laughing] did you ever do it with him? i did.
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and is he good at it? i was glued to it. he's terrific. yeah. oh, yeah. and he also knew the course, he had the best bike in the world. he had-- [all laughing] gen. petraeus: and i had a borrowed clunker. i was a road biker, but the secret service will ditch you if you try to pass him. [audience laughing] but it was a-- i see. i guess, yeah. broke his thumb-- i mean, this was a full-contact sport when you ride with president bush. and you go from four-wide-- it's like nascar. --to single track, it's always sporty. but president obama, obviously, famously a great basketball player. and i don't think president bush had any illusions that he could take president obama one-on-one full-court. you're at the cia, and then because of a personal mistake you have conceded that you made, you stepped down and you voluntarily left the cia. mm-hm. would you ever go back in another administration? i wouldn't rule it out. again, i think it's an extraordinary privilege to serve one's country, and... so i think, again, for the right position with the right sort of context and so forth, in a sense, the right conditions, it's not something that i would rule out.
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would you consider running for president of the united states? no. and i-- you know, i said i'd never run back before i left government. i-- in fact, i actually went to one of the white house chiefs of staff at one time under president obama, rahm emanuel, because i-- you know, there was this buzz that, "petraeus is running for office, right. be careful, be suspicious. he's setting himself up to run in the next election." and i actually politely grabbed rahm and i said, "rahm, i am not running for president of the united states. please understand that." i tried truly to be nonpartisan, not just bipartisan. what word did he use when--? did he use the famous word--? well, i used a word as well. and then he used another word. okay. all right. okay, so-- [audience laughing] all right, so-- you know, infantry men have some degree of familiarity with those words. let's talk about the world right now and where it stands. let's go through some of the countries that are of concern to americans and everybody else who might be watching. let's start with nato. the current president, president trump, has said that maybe nato could be strengthened in some ways
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and maybe some of the nato members in europe aren't providing their full support. what is your view about the importance of nato and what should be done to improve nato? gen. petraeus: well, i very much agree with my old marine buddy and shipmate, if you will, jim mattis, the secretary of defense-- we did several tours together in combat and also in washington. --when he said, "if nato didn't exist, it would have to be invented." i think it's a hugely important organization. it served an extraordinary role during the cold war. the wall came down, and it continued to serve an extraordinary role. i was privileged to be a nato commander. as a three- and four-star general, i had a nato hat as a three-star in iraq in addition to the u.s. one. i was a one-star nato general in bosnia for a year. and i think that it has a new reason for living now. i mean, it can thank vladimir putin for giving it, you know, a rebirth in some respects in terms of its importance. there's no question. i think president trump is right that there are countries that are not paying their dues,
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if you were, not doing all that they should. the countries agreed that they should all pay at least 2 percent of their gdp for defense, and a number of countries still have some work to do to get to that threshold. moving further east. russia. now, do you ever--? have you ever met putin? no, i have not actually. and your assessment from afar then, would be that he is not likely to give up crimea or part of eastern ukraine? what do you think would be the resolution of that? well, i mean, crimea is probably very unlikely. eastern ukraine, at some point in time, i think he's going to realize that this is costing him a lot in a whole host of different ways, not just the direct cost of sustaining these separatists in the so-called donbass region in the southeastern part of ukraine, but also what it's costing him in terms of sanctions, especially at a time when he's getting less than half of what he used to get for a barrel of oil and less than-- much less than he used to get for natural gas
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off the pipeline to europe as well. so he's in a bind. his worst nightmare is that people will get ideas from the arab spring or from some other event around the world where the people finally get fed up with an autocrat. in his case, arguably a kleptocrat. because he and his cronies are obviously siphoning off certain amounts of their revenue as well. well, let me ask you about this. it is reported by many people that the russians probably interfered or tried to interfere with our recent presidential election. i don't think there's any question about that. i don't think anyone in the intelligence community has any questions about that. okay. all right. so do you think the united states has the capability to do the same kind of thing? and is there a cyberterrorism or cyberwarfare efforts capabilities better than ours? look, i mean, i think as a general statement without getting into details, you can assume that anything that anybody can do to us, we could do to them, or perhaps even better. we have chosen not to do that, obviously. we--
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it's not to say that in our past we didn't interfere in some elections here and there. you know, essentially what they're trying to do, arguable whether they're literally trying to change the results or not the results, but to change how people might see one candidate or the other. but certainly were trying to undermine the trust of the people in our system. and that is-- that is a major issue. well, in terms of iraq, where do you think iraq is today? is iraq stable today? gen. petraeus: well, iraq is obvi-- the situation is obviously improving. with our help, the iraqi security forces have been reconstituted, retrained and reequipped. we're enabling them now with the so-called intelligence surveillance reconnaissance assets, drones, precision strike, and the industrial-strength ability to fuse intelligence gradually taking back from the islamic state those areas that they seized. we'll eventually defeat the islamic state that is the army in iraq. we'll have to then help the iraqi security forces focus on the residual insurgent
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and guerrilla elements and the terrorist cells. but really the issue is not these battles. i've said for two years, even from the darkest days, that ultimately the iraqis would prevail in this with our assistance and that of our coalition partners. the real issue is the battle after the battle. after the battle of mosul, can the political figures there, the leaders of this very diverse--? you know, the human terrain up in ninewa province of which mosul is the capital, it's the most diverse human terrain in all of iraq. it's very, very challenging in that regard. it's not just sunni and shia arabs. there are kurds from several different parties now. there are yezidis, christian, shabak, turkmen, turkmen shia, turkmen sunni tribes, other elements of society. all of those have to feel they are represented in the new government. that that new government is within means, responsive to their needs. and most importantly, that minority rights are guaranteed as well as majority rule.
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and that's a tall order. the prime minister, haider al-abadi, no question that he wants to have inclusive governance rather than exclusive. it was the exclusive, it was alienating the sunni arabs that created the fertile fields for the planting of the seeds of extremism and the rise of isis. and the question is, will there be fertile fields again from which isis 3.0 will arise or not? let's talk about syria for a moment. yup. in syria, there seems to be an ongoing war that doesn't seem to have any end. what would you recommend to the president of the united states if he asks you what we should now do with syria? gen. petraeus: well, first of all, they're doing a fair amount of what i would recommend. and to be fair, the obama administration in the final six to 12 months really made a number of steps. you can argue that it took too long, it was grudging, or what have you, but ultimately, it did take a number of steps, albeit to defeat the islamic state as the focus. and i think now that beyond that objective of defeating isis and the al qaeda affiliate in syria,
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the other objective should be to stop the bloodshed. recognize that the diplomatic effort to create some kind of an agreement that will result in a democratically-elected, multiethnic, multi-sectarian government in damascus for all of syria is probably beyond reach now. so look at what kinds of interim solutions on the ground could be established, could be achieved, so that you stop the bloodshed, stop the further flow of refugees, bring some of those back, and try to stabilize the situation. what about the iranian agreement that was negotiated under president obama? do you support that agreement? do you think it's working? gen. petraeus: well, more importantly, i don't support walking away from it without enormous reason for that. i fear that if we left it without that, we would be more likely to isolate ourselves than to isolate iran. we've been in afghanistan military combat longer than any other war in our history. do you see any prospect of our getting all of our troops
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out of afghanistan in the foreseeable future? gen. petraeus: not in the foreseeable future. in fact, i think what we should do in afghanistan is make a sustained commitment to afghanistan, stop the year-on-year agony over how we can draw it down further. in fact, i actually think that we've drawn down a bit too far, and it would be great to have another-- if you take all the coalition forces, say 5000 additional forces, back on the ground-- we're doing some foolish things because of these troop caps. there is an aviation brigade deployed out there, all the helicopters and pilots, obviously. they had to leave their maintenance crews behind, which means you pay very high contract cost to bring in civilian contractors right. to maintain the helicopters and you're fracturing union integrity because the maintainers are sitting back in the heartland of the united states without helicopters to work on while their comrades are actually at war and need them. so we've gotta be-- we've gotta think our way through that. again, there is no blank check ever, and the afghans shouldn't think that they have that by any means. they have to deliver, but they are very much fighting and dying for their country.
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we need to continue to enable them. because that mission that i talked about earlier, of ensuring that afghanistan is never again a sanctuary for transnational extremists the way it was, when the 9/11 attacks were planned there is still very valid. now, going further east, let's talk about china for a moment. there-- they seem to be building some islands that might have some military-- not seem, they are. in the south china sea, that's very, very-- very aggressive, frankly. there's no other way to-- what do you think there--? to control the in-- that inner-- they want to have hegemony, if you will, over that area. in so doing, they're poking everyone of their maritime neighbors in the eye. look, this is the most important strategic relationship of our time and will be for a number of decades. that between the united states and china. new book coming out from graham allison at harvard, dean at the belfer center-- in fact, i'm a fellow there as well. --called the thucydides' trap. and these chronicles back when thucydides wrote about the peloponnesian war. you had sparta up here, you had athens rising,
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can't accommodate each other and they clash. big war. u.s. is here. china is rising. inevitably, will continue to rise. we've gotta get that relationship right. and right now, the crisis that is looming, of course, is where the country that to which china has an umbilical cord, and that is north korea, with its missile and nuclear program. now, what about kim jong-un? nobody in the american government has ever met him. we really don't know much about him. what do you think he is trying to do? gen. petraeus: well, he's trying to build himself, as quickly as he can, a deterrent that will enable him to stay in power and to continue the legacy passed on to him from his father and his grandfather. the challenge for this is that this is the crisis to prevent a madman, in many people's eyes, from getting a nuclear capability that can actually reach the united states. so this is a very real threat, and it's one that confronts president trump uniquely. i don't think any president
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has ever had that particular prospect. yes, they were developing a nuclear program, yes, they had some delivery means. but if they get an intercontinental ballistic missile and can put a-- miniaturize and put a nuclear device on it, that presents a very significant threat to the united states, and the president may be confronted by that most difficult of decisions. let's talk a moment about leadership. you are considered one of the great military leaders of our generation, and maybe any other generation. what is leadership to you? gen. petraeus: well, i think leadership has four tasks. it's particularly true at the strategic level. so if you're commanding iraq or afghanistan, that kind of situation, the carlyle group, you have to get the big ideas right, gotta get the strategy right. you have to communicate them effectively through the breadth and depth of your organization, you have to oversee their implementation, and all of these have subtasks, of course. this has metrics, it has your battle rhythm, how do you spend your own time. we had a whole matrix all the way out for three months of how we did that. and then most importantly and a task that's often forgotten,
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you have to have a formal process for determining how the big ideas need to be revised, refined, maybe shot and left on the side of the road intellectually, and do it all again and again and again. and it's very true in civilian world as well. think of netflix. three times they've gotten this right. they decided early on, "we're gonna put blockbuster out of business by mailing cds to people." work all the way through that, then they see down here, okay, blockbuster is out of business, and now others are doing this. so now the connectivity is fast enough, we can stream cont-- stream the videos out to them and download them. they do all that. then they realize others are doing that, and then they make a huge bet, i think it was $100 million on house of cards and others, "we're gonna provide content." and so reed hastings, a truly admirable and innovative, david: right. impressive leader, continues to get it right. in the military, who are the military leaders you've most admired over time? well, i think that ulysses s. grant is hugely underrated. although now, i think, finally,
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he's once again getting his due. you know, he was the hero of the world, really, after he left the white house and traveled the world on his famous tour. wrote fantastic memoirs. and then the southern historians ran him down for the first 50 years of the past century, but, gradually, regard has returned. and there's a terrific biography by ron white who i'd interviewed at the 92nd street y and university of southern california titled american ulysses. it's a wonderful title. he really was america's ulysses in many respects. and now ron chernow of hamilton fame, his biography will be out in mid-october as well. grant was the only general, i believe, in u.s. history who was brilliant tactically, division level and below. these are battles of donelson and henry, the land between the lakes, brilliant operationally, so now it's many divisions but not yet the whole theater, at vicksburg,
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one of the greatest maneuver campaigns of all times. and then strategically, when he charted the strategy for the entire union force. because people forget, this was not inevitable. you know, the idea that the union forces were just ultimately going to grind down the south was not inevitable until grant made it so. he-- had there not been for that strategy and the victory of sherman at atlanta, and then sheridan in the shenandoah valley, lincoln could've lost the election of 1864. and had mcclellan won, he would have sued for peace and we might not have the united states as we know it now. what political leaders do you most admire? well, again, there'd been a number, i think, that have gotten big ideas right over the years. and certainly those who are on mount rushmore obviously deserve that. i'm a particular great fan of teddy roosevelt. you know, the man in the arena speech has always captured me. the credit belongs to the man in the arena whose face is marred by dust, and sweat, and blood, you know. at least if he fails, at least fails
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while daring greatly, and this kind of stuff. you know, fdr again, another great leader. current leaders, are there any people you would like to cite or current leaders you admire? well, i-- there are certainly some in congress that i think had been really very impressive and men of enormous courage, frankly. you know, john mccain, i think, is one who went through an extraordinary difficult period obviously in captivity in north vietnam after he was shot down. endured that, still has limitations of his motion today. david: right. truly an individual of principle. i remember sitting in his office one time, and i was trying to support a nomination for an ambassador in the area that i was responsible for. and we needed the individual, but-- anyway, and i realized-- and he pulled out something on the individual and sort of confronted me with it politely. i said, "this is a man of enormous principle." and indeed, he has been.
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now, what about your legacy? you obviously have a terrific career in public service, now you're building one in the private sector. but what would you like your legacy to be when people say, "this is what david petraeus was all about"? well, i don't know. i-- you know, to be candid, i haven't thought that much about that. deliberately staying as busy as i can and trying to focus on the future. maybe, you know-- maybe it could be said that he got the big ideas right a couple of times in some pretty critical situations. ♪ ♪ be more pbs
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