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tv   Firing Line With Margaret Hoover  PBS  May 24, 2019 11:30pm-12:00am PDT

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>> he's the former ciaia directr and retired four-star general who rose to fame fighting insurgency, this week on "firing line." >> in the face of tough enemies in the brutal summer heat of iraq, coation and iraqi security forces have achieved progress. >> when david petraeus took command in iraq in 2007, the cotry was on the brink, overtaken by civil war. >> there's a lot of challenges out there, so we've got a long way to go. >> he is credited with successfully implementing the surge strategy, which focused on protecting iraqi civilians rather than simply targeting insurgents. his work there made him the most famous general of his generation. >> this man is unique. he is one of the great leaders.i >> one of thst military officers of our time, general david petraeus. >> now, with tensions rising in iran... >> i'm hearing little stories about iran. we have no indication th anything's happened or will happen, but if it does, it will be met,
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obviously, with great force. >> ...and the u.s. inching towards the possibility of another war in the middle east. >> has the threat of iran been removed?ou no, ofe not. >> intentionally or unintentionally, c create a situation in which a war will take place. >> i don't think we're gonna need them. i would certainly send troops p we need them. >> what does generraeus say now? >> "firing line with margaret hoover" is made possible by... additional funding is provided by... corporate funding is provided by... ...and by... >> welcome to "firing line," general peaeus. >> good to be with you, margaret, thanks.
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>> thank you for being here. you are perhaps the most famous four-star general of the last generation. and you, as the commander of central command, centcom, were in a position of being in charge of all of the war planning with ir. national security advisor bolton upnounced that an aircraft carrier strike gnd bombers are heading for the region and has said thattt "anyk on the united states or its allies will be met with unrelenting force."ha the presidenbeen saying things like this. >> well, they were threatening, and we hformation -- we have information that you don't want to know about. they were very threatening,an we just want to have -- we have to have great securityis for ountry and for a lot of other places. >> what is your assessment of how volatile the region is right now? >> well, the mideast, overall, is very, very volatile. it's also very, very complex. it's one of these places where the enemy of my enemyis ot necessarily my friend, depending on individual cases. >> there are many people on all sides of the politicalrum, however, that have some degree of doubt that tensions need
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to be escalating right now. do you think there is a real threat of military engagement with iran, or does there need to be? >> well, there certainly is an increased risk of some kind of engagement with iran. i've said previous that i think it would be very, very foolish for the iraniansga to directly u.s. forces. i think the result would be what the president has said. >> is there increased ri because of what we are doing or because of what they're doing? ,> it's a mix of the t certainly. we are obviously putting much more pressure on iran. obviously, we, last year, started to reimpose sanctions. we left the nuclear agreement. >> and we left the... >> and this is a real concer let's be very clear that the so-called malignedac iraniavity, this support for the shia militia, the paramilitaries -- lebanese hezbollah, shia militia in iraq, syria, yemen, and other places is a very, very serious threat to the region,e as is ssile program
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that iran has pursued. what we're doing, though, is putting much increased pressure on iran, really targeting their economy. that economy is into a significant downturn, depression, and we're going to keep clamping down on that. >> do you understand what the specific al is? >> well, i was just going to say that, in fact, the real question, imy mind is, what is the overall goal? is it reistically attainable? if it is, for example, regime change, i tend to doubt that that isin atle within the resources that we would be willing to commit to this. certainly not an invasion of iran. ulis is a country that's more than twice the pion of iraq and three or four times the land mass. so, again, the question is, what are they trying to achieve? is it what secretary pompe says, which is regime behavior change... >> our aim is not war. our aim is a change in the behavior
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of the iranian leadershi >> ...or is it -- john bolton said before he rejoined government, that it is regime change. >> the declared policy of the united states of america should be the overthrow of the mullah's regime in tehran. [ cheers and applause ] >> and you're saying, as a former four-star genel with serious expertise in the region, that it's uncleay what the united states policy is towards iran.nk >> no, i t- i actually think i have an understanding, but i'm not sure that it has been as clearly articulated as it might be. >> do you think it's regime change? >> i don. i think that it is short of that. i think it is more what secretary pompeo has said. >> regime behavior change? ep. and, of course, remember, he articulated 12 demands of iran. and the question in my mind then was, "are these non-negotiable?" in which case, they're unattainable, because it's basically unconditional surrender, or are these a departure point from which he would begin negotiatio? and my sense now is that these are the beginning
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of a negotiation process, and i don't think that iran is going to be ableit to just guut until january of 2021os whenbly a new administration comes in. i think that this is so significa that they are either gng to have to come to the table or they're going to pursue some action through proxies,st ikely. >> so, in the context of military escalationro or military coation rather than negotiations? >> well, again, not clear yet, but certainly, those are the alternatives that they're undoubtedly looking at. and, of course, it's n pretty publicly known that there were photos of ships that had missiles emplaced on them. there have been conversations titween those in tehran and some of the mi about possibly conducting attacks and so forth. again, there's not much specificity abt that yet, nor is it at all clear whether that was carried out by oxies of iran or by iranian forces or by sunni extremists. it's hard to say. >> so, you think that the ideasc
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ofating pressure on iran is in order to hopefully get them to a place where they will change thr behavior. but there is a lot of skepticism, because of the experience of iraq and afghanistan, from critics of the president that this is warmongering. and there's a lot fear that this kind of rhetoric mimics the kind of rheric that the american public heard in the escalation towards e iraq war. >> i think there's some grounds for that, but i wouldn't overdo th. iran wants to establish paramilitaries that it controls -- hezbollah in lebanon -- that also get power in the respect of parliament. and so they literallhave hezbollah and his coalition have a blocking vetoeb in theese parliament. they'd love to have a similar situation in iraq. not something, by th the iraqis want to embrace, by any means. in fact, they realiz they have to have a relationship with the country to their east the is, again, double its s and is very important to them, economically, and in a variety of other ways. and they do not want to end up
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having a war between the united states and iran on their soil, and i fully derstand that. but the dynamics are very, very difficult and very tricky. >> but i think what you just said is, in terms of -- that you have some doubt that regime behavior change is attainable with iran. >> i think that isre onable question. and again, the question is, how much change can you get? how much can you get iran to stop meddling in oth countries' activities? >> what would you do differently that might persuade them to behave differently? >> well, i might consider, perhaps, a bit of message discipline. that may be commendable.t >> wha you mean by that? >> you know, let's understand what the goals and objectives and so forth are, and then let'slearly explain those to the world and, ideally, directly to iran, if that is possible. >> perhaps have everybody saying the same thing. >> that would be helpful, as >> arkansas r tom cotton was actually recently on this program, and he offered his ts
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about what would happen if the united states engagedfl in a ct with iran. i'm gonna show you what he said. could we win a war with iran? >> yes. >> that didn't take you a second. >> two strikes -- the first strike and the lasstrike. >> do you think it would be a good idea oc go to war with iran? >> no, i don't ae military action against iran. i'm simply delivering the message that if iran were to attack the united states, it would be a grave miscalculation on their part, and there would be a furiouresponse. >> do you agree with that assessment?l, >> w would have to ask him, "what does winning mean?" i mean, can we hit iran with a very, very substantial set of strikes? w absolutecan. what does that win? i mean, you're not going to if "win" means that we're going to, again, take over iran, certainly, that's not attainablt with juskes. if you want to do a great deal of damage to, say, tir nuclear program and perhaps to their ballistic-missile progra and a variety of the other military capabilities that concern us, certa
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we can do that. the question is, what will they do in return? keep in mind that there is a lot of american soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines in that region. there are a lot ts american civilians, not just the diplo and development workers but many, many others. and there's a lot ofy infrastructure that is hugelypo ant to the global economy. now, again, if they launch missiles at, say, the kingdom of saudi arabia or other oil- or gas-producing countries and it's very clearly from them, there's very clearly going to be a significant response from the united states and our partners. >> and that would justify a response from the united states. >> oh, i think it would. ant.again, but they know tha again, this is why i say i seriously doubt that they're something directly to us or to our partners in the gulf orur ally israel. proxy activity, on the other hand, is not something that is something you can rule out at all. >> well, because it's not ruled out right now, and it's currently ongoing in
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yemen and throughout the region. >> and iraq and syria. >> and that proxy activity uldn't justify, in your view, a military response from the united states? >> well, it dependss. on what it again, if it's very clearly iranian-supported militiasct that conery clearly direct attacks on u.s. forces, then i think you probably can expect, very clearly, a response to iran, not just to those militias. t way, we defeated these militias in the spring of 2008.o unately, when isis resurfaced, that gave a reon for these militias to once again be back on the streets, in uniform, with weapons. >> as the military commander in that region who s quite successful securing the battlefield, given the ongoing political rife and change in political positioning from the united states, how does that affect a commander like yourself? you had secured iraq,d u're talking about the exact same forces alat you had previously defeated
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now posing poten serious threats to the united states --g n. >> well, if i were still in uniform, what i would be doing is askingd for a very clecription of what the desired end state is and then work through whether that is realistically attainable, and you have a dialogue with the policymakers er what the military options are, how much risk each would entail, what the likely enemy actions would be in response to our aions, and so forth and so on. >> i want to go back to 1974 when you graduat w frt point. you were near the top of your class, and because of that, you had the ability to pick any division of the army that you wanted to. but you chose to serve in the infantry. why? >> if you're going to be in an institutn, an organization, probably the best place to beat is what nstitution values most highly, and the infantry, certaiy then and even now, is arguably stillc the esof the u.s. army.
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what's interesting is, i was actually majoring-m in p at west point, and i actually had a slot in a program, and i recognized doat i really didn't feel a calling to be or, so that plan was shelved, and i chose the fantry. >> you came to light especially in iraq, when the iraq war was not going well. you, as i mentioned, commanded the surge strategy, you implemented the surge strategy, which, at the me, when iraq was spiraling into sectarian violence, rescued the united states from a serious defeat and, by the way, with the iraqis, enablingolitical leaders to begin to move towardsil political sty in iraq. and that victory was later, in the eyes of some, squandered by the withdraw of american troops from iraq and presence from iraq. how do you reflect on that now? >> well, i was the cia directort at te that this discussion was ongoing about whether or not we should leave,
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say, roughly 10,0 troops -- combat troops -- in iraq, because we did leave some trainers and advisers. the irony, of course, is that, at the end of that administration, we were back in iraq with combat forces and about 5,000 or 6,000 of them. >> you have said that, in terms of political will, in the previous administration to the one you served in cia director, there were video-conference links with the political leadership of iraq and the american politicalle ership every single week, which helped make gains, in terms of security and a political consensus in the country. >> yep. well, first of all,ec let's justnize that the commitment that president bush made when he decided on the surge was very substantial. se and, of cohe did this against the advice of a number of his military and civilian advisers. i mentioned to the president one time when he said, you know, "we're doubling down in iraq," and i said, "mr. president, your milary is going all-in, and we need the rest of government to go all-in with us."ve
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and he worke, very hard to ensure that all of ouren diffdepartments and agencies were contributing, because this takes a comphensive civil-military campaign. now, would it have been helpful if it's successor... >> in a sustained effort, yeah. >> ...if the administration that succeeded the bush administration had sustained that? it probably would have. but let's recognize that when you have a transitionv ably, regardless of from whom to whom, there is a sense of, "well, we're not gonna do what those guys did, because got elected, and their chosen candidate did not."nt there's no gua that if we'd left 10,000 troops on the ground in iraq that we could have prevented or dissuaded prime minister maliki from pursuing some of the ruinous political decisionsat e chose that enflamed the sectarian tensions that we'dorked during the surge so hard to tamp down. these actions ienated the sunnis and tore apart
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that fabric of society again, and it gave, to some degree, a reason for al-qaeda in iraq now to rise up as the islamic state. i can tell you one thing for sure. 0,again, no guarantee that0 troops would've prevented all that from happening. but we certainly could have responded much more rapidly when isis came the threat, and we could've helped our iraqi partners much sooner. >> but it sounds like you're also saying isis could've been avoided.>> don't know that isis could've been avoided. because, again, i don't know that we could've prevented the prime minister from taking the actions that he took, which enflamed the sunni community t and thk their eyes off of the remnants of al-qaeda in iraq. we had destroyed al-qaeda in iraq, not just defeated it. but we were very, very helpful to the iraqi counterterrorism service their special operations, their intelligence to keep an eye on these remnts. because, again, you never totally eliminate it. i mean, the current situation
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is somewhat similar. there are tens of thousands, probably, of isis survivors that will now resortns togent activity and to terrorist activity, and we need to keep an eye on these, and we need to help our partners as we do that. this is a generational struggle. this is not a fight where u can take a hill, plant the flag, and go home to a victory parade. >> the trump administration, though, did declare that we've defeated isis. c here'sp of president trump. >> we just took over --pt you know, you earing it was 90%, 92% -- thcaliphate in syria. now it's 100% we just took over. 100% caliphate that means the area, the land,t we jve 100%. so that's good. we did that in a much o shorter peritime than it was supposed to be. >> what we have done is very significant, d but it's teat of isis as an army. isis has been -- you know, it controlled
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a ground caliphate. and that is a huge distinction.o it of the two big distinctions of isis. the other is their skill in cyberspace, the use of social media and the internet, to rally others to their cause, to communicate, to exhort, o and all the rethis, to inspire. we have destroyed, or defeated, isis as an army. isis as insurgent groups and rrorist elements are going to be something with which the iraqis and the syrians and others have to contend for quite some time. >> general wesoreland, who was the commanding general in vietnam, leme on this program with william f. bujr. after the vietnam war, and he had this to say about the battlefield. >> mm-hmm. m
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>>n, he is, and that man with a bayonet. an infantry soldier is, rather, the ultimate weapon. >> the world has turned many times in the decades since general westmoreland made that statement. and now, certainly, a man with a rifle, with bayonet, soldier on the ground, ercertainly can be the arb on a particular battlefield, but increasingly,
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that soldier is supported by or even perhaps augmentedor eplaced by a soldier with a mouse or a joystick, flying an unmanned aerial vehicle, which can conduct a kinetic strike. certainly, in the fight against isis, it took infantrymen on the ground -- iraqi, syrn, and so forth -- with our support, but our support was unmanned aerial vehicles, it was a fusion of all different forms of intelligence and advice and assistance and training and equipping. so we actually were able to defeat isis, and i give the previous administration credit for getting this going, for not only returning forces to iraq and en, ultimately, to syria but also to enabling others rather than us doingll of it ourselves, and that is a very significant distinction, because if you accept, as i believe is the case, th we are engaged in a generational struggle, you then have to have a sustained commitment.
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but, of course, a commitment can only be sustained in a democracy if it is sustainable, in terms of the expenditure of blood and treasure. >> after leavingmm central d, you went to afghanistan at the request of president obama. d afghanistan, now 17 years in, is a war that americans increasingly don't understand why we're there. and i wond the largest failure, in the context of afghanistan, is a communications failure to the american people, that this would necessarily be sustained commitment over many, many years. >> what i tried to do then and what i've continued to try to do after leaving government is to remind us why we went to afghanistan, and it's because that's where the 9/11 attacks were planned, that's where the training of the attackers was conducted, in a sanctuary at al-qaeda had under taliban rule at that time. and we went in to eliminate that sanctuary, and we have stayed to ensure that it stays >> do we have r mission in afghanistan now?
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>> i think we do. i think the mission is, again, e ure that al-qaeda and now isis cannot re-establish that sanctuary and to carry out actions in the region that are -- that come from platforms in afghanistan to disrupt.>> ow about negotiations with the taliban, then? >> i have some degree of reservation about the prospects for these negotiations. i find it unlikelyll that we et a settlement that we would accept or that would be acceptable to the afghan leadership, which is, of course, democratically elected. t keep in mit the taliban have not even allowed the democratically elected leadership of afghanista to have representatives in these meetings, which gives me considerable pause. beyond that, let's also remember that the talibanre only one of a number of insurgent and extremist groups on the battlefield making life difficult for the afghans and for coalition forces. and, frankly, the sooner we say, "look, we're willing to stay here for a long period of time
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support our afghan partners and to ensure that our national interests of preventing re-establishment of a sanctuary for extremists is accomplished," then you might actually get some reasonable negotiations. you're notoing to get them when it's very clear niat the administration wants to leave afgan. that's not a position of strength from which to negoate. >> you were under consideration to be secretary of statemp in the tresidency, and you have a lifelong track record of service to this country. might there be an opportunity for yoto serve again as a civilian? >> i don't think you can ever dele out something like that. i think if a pre asks you to serve your country that you, at the very least, t hagive it very serious consideration. i remember when president obama asked me to goo afghanistan, i said the only answerst to a qn like that is yes. now, having said that, i do think tt there has to be sufficient alignment
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between the views that, say, a head of an administration or a president holds, in your views. in fact, when i had we "celebrity apprentice" moment in trump meeting with the president, which got a favorable tweet, as you may recall, both of us were trying toetermine, in a sense, is each of us compatible,in erms of policy views. it was very interesting. i mean, i asked him a question. we actually went back and forth. actually, he'd have two for every one of mine, but, i mean, at one point, he asked me, "should we have a wall, general?" and i said, "of course we should have a wall, mr. president -- where we don't have a wall, where it would aually do some good, where it's overwatched by border patrol and has a response force -- but if and only if it's part of a comprehensive, overarching securitytrategy," which includes a lot of otherju elements tha walls. it would include more people, tere technology, more sharing of igence
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with our mexican partners, more going to the source of these would-be asylum seekers. >> sounds likent you'reested. >> well, again, i think you have to have policy alignment, and i'm not sure that that is the case.>> our wealth of wisdom has been an enormous service to this country, str which we thank you. >> been the greaf privileges. >> whether you rejoin government in this administration or the next, i hope you'll return to "firing line." >> well, thanks for hae. >> thank you for coming. >> my pleasure. >> "firing line with margaret hoover" is made b possib.. additional funding is provided by... corporate funding is provided by... ...and by...
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