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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  November 13, 2012 12:30am-1:00am EST

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we will get his thoughts on the plight of the general everyone is talking about this week, david petraeus. we are glad you have joined us. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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tavis: tomorrow night on this program, we'll bring you our conversation with frank rich. he takes a critical look of what went wrong for the gop and the prospects of moving forward. that should be a good conversation tomorrow night. tonight, we wanted to start this week with the story that is shaking up washington. the sudden resignation of cia director david petraeus. thomas ricks is a pulitzer prize-winning journalist and a best-selling author. he is a fellow at the center for a new american security.
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good to have you back on this program. let's get the petraeus stuff at of the way first. i want to go straight to your blog. the sudden departure of general david petraeus from the cia tells us more about the state of our nation than a dozen petraeus. president barack obama should not have accepted his resignation. we seem to care more about the sex lives of our leaders down their real lives of our soldiers. i want to pick that apart one piece at a time. he suggests that his resignation says more about the nation about him? what do you mean? >> it worries me that we can throw away the leaders so .al ra general petraeus is one of the more prominent generals of our time. the only general the american public has really been known
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since world war ii. a lot of generals tried and failed in iraq. petraeus succeeded. here we have a leader who has done well. something happened between him and another person, a private consenting adults, nothing illegal, and we throw him out. i do not think we can afford to do that. we did not use to do that. dwight eisenhower carried on with his chauffeur, a very good- looking red-haired british woman. he was not fired. ike, you gotta go home, you had an affair. that would be crazy. that is kind of what we're doing these days. i think president obama should have said, you screwed up. you need to go home, make amends to your wife, do whatever you need to go -- do whatever you
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need to do. get some of that kobe bryant jewelry. your punishment -- you are staying in your job because your country needs you. i am sorry we throw them away. here is a guy who did three combat tours in iraq, a year in afghanistan. he and his family have given an awful lot to this country since 9/11. when the time came for us to be generous, we were not. i think it does say more about us than him. tavis: when you suggest that we care more about the sex lives of our leaders that their real lives of our soldiers, that is a pretty loaded statement. >> it worries me because it does speak to a moral recklessness. the casual arrogance with which
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we fought the wars in iraq and afghanistan the we did have 11 commanders in afghanistan in 11 years. if you ran a company like that, it would collapse. we just rotate commanders. these are things that affect the lives of soldiers. partly because of this country, we do not know much about military effectiveness any more. when you talk to combat soldiers, they do not care if their commander is gay, an alcoholic, even a racist. if people keep them alive. that is the only priority for soldiers. they really value a good leader. we are saying no, we do not value combat effectiveness. we value your personal morality. tavis: why does it have to be either or? why can i have a platoon leader who was not racist and who is a
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good leader? white can't i have -- why can't i have a leader who is honest about his personal life? if he cannot trust a man -- trusted general to tell you the truth about his marriage, how can you trust him to tell you the truth about anything else? >> we all have feelings. tavis: i am not suggesting that leaders should be perfect. the reason why they are leaders is because we hold them to a higher standard. maybe if he were going to be the kind of person who is dishonest about issues,ay mbe you should not be in a leadership position. >> my problem is, it is not the i want perfect leaders. we tolerate mediocre leaders. world war ii, george marshall,
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and 90 days as a commander. nowadays, we expect mediocrity from our generals. nobody gets fired for anything. if we had perfect leaders, great. what we are doing now is not spirit we except mediocre leaders as long as they keep their pants on. it is little bit like our intelligence leaders are university professors. you can be lousy at your job, as long as you do not embarrass the institution, not a problem. go ahead and be mediocre. we have our priorities wrong. you do not want people who walk around as liars, but we need to except that david petraeus is a human being. we all fail at one time or another. we all need to make amends. tavis: i want to play with this
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concept. i think -- i am obviously playing devil's advocate. let me come to your side of the ledger. there is something here. let me start by asking, what do you think would have happened once the story broke? if the president has said, to no petraeus came to me and he told me about it, i do not condone what he did, he made a mistake. unless and until i get it proves that what he did outside his marriage threatened u.s. security, i am not accepting his resignation. i can see somebody making that argument. >> that is what the president should have done. i do not think it needed to be public. it might have leaked out at one point or another. you know that petraeus has had an affair, but you do not know
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what the consequences are. he did not want the government running to congress every time you find out somebody has had an affair. congress would not get anything done. talk about double standards. is every congressman going to resign his position? i do not think so. obama could have handled it quietly. that is the way they used to do it. we have the file, though forth and sin no more. -- go forth and sin no more. tavis: when the story became public, if the president said what i suggested he might have said -- >> it was a private, personal matter. let's have a little civility in this country. people would have understood. tavis: what is your sense about
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it was pushing him? he was encouraged to get out in front of the story and resign? >> i do not know. it seems to have created many firestorm. i think the media is overreacting. i do love the conspiracy theories. the obama administration wanted him out because of the benghazi staff. petraeus has a bit of a samurai warrior in him. i have done something dishonorable and now must make amends. i must take the consequences. you go and deal with it on your own time. get back to work. i think it would have shown some national maturity. why are we so interested in what happens in people's bedrooms? tavis: dianne feinstein from california is saying they will
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have hearings. is that necessary? how much uglier is this going to get? >> i think will blow over of tyrolese soon. something will come along to titillate the national interest. i think it is a tragedy. a guide to has given so much has had his name dragged through the mud. >> are the senate hearings necessary? >> you do want to hold hearings on benghazi. i do not think there is any sort of smoking gun. the benghazi thing is the republican equivalent of powerful marijuana. they just love it. i have friends in libya right now. it is a dangerous place. got it. i've also tried to figure out the combat situation. it is very difficult to figure out what happened at what happened -- and what time and what it could've done about it.
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there is a lot of second- guessing going on. there is nothing more difficult and more stressful and more confusing than combat. >> what is the political fallout going to be from this for the obama administration? >> i do not think it will have much a political effect unless president obama -- i think he was surprised to have this mhappen. i am told he did not immediately accept the resignation. i would have loved for him to have the teachable moment for his administration and for the rest of the country. instead, we are mired in the personal affairs of a man who was done so much for this country. tavis: what is your sense of what this means for his future? the word is that he was on a short list at the top of the list to be the next president of
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princeton. obviously, a number of opportunities in front of him. what is your sense of how he might navigate beyond this moment? >> he is a bright and determined and ambitious guy. i think he will bounce back. we have a way of bringing our hands over scandals. -- bringing their hands over scandals. petraeus will move on and do something else. i do think this would disqualify him, though, from becoming chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. i did not think petraeus would want to be president. i think he wanted to be chairman of the joint chiefs to reshape the military and spend his last 20 years been the president of princeton. tavis: given how well you know
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-- you've covered the military, what is your sense of how a story like this place with the soldiers? especially those with a bruise on the ground. we're talking about hot -- with boots on the ground. how do you think this place with this kind of -- with the soldiers? >> it worries me a little bit. petraeus talked to a lot of reporters. he was an allied air in the military in that way. he had three strikes. he wasn't well liked by his pure group. -- peer group.
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i do not think that is the lesson. what i saw with the general petraeus was his consciousness that the media is a megaphone to get the word out. part of the job of the general is to let people know what you are doing and to be clear both to your subordinates soldiers and also to the public. he worked hard at it and he talked to reporters as part of that. if there is a hit on the other generals, it is because they are shy of the media and not live up to their duty of explaining themselves. they represent our country. we give them are children and our money. they're responsible to us and they should speak to us. tavis: let me circle back to this book, "the generals." is part of our problem -- is
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there a danger in the us -- and thus deifying the generals? >> yes, it is a problem if we make them more than human. they go through quite a crucible. to be in commander in wartime is one of the most difficult things. you need great intellectual energy and physical energy. petraeus is the first guy since world war ii the public has known. the irony, it to me -- one of the surprises to me in writing this book is the people we lionize, the soldiers of world war ii, they were the people became the generals of vietnam. the we rightly demonized.
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they're the same men. the difference is, world war ii, there was accountability. in world war ii, success was rewarded, the failure was punished. nobody knows -- first american commander in the african european in the army in world war ii. he was fired. a bunch of other generals were fired. they were replaced by names -- in 1940, dwight eisenhower was lieutenant-colonel on the west coast. george marshall picked him out and said that is the type of guy i need and began promoting these guys.
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we do not have leadership these days. instead, we have a parade of generals go into iraq. mediocrity, not doing much. coming home feeling entitled to a promotion. that is what has happened to the military over the last 50 years. tavis: what is at the epicenter of this -- 11 commanders, what is the source of that constant turnover? >> the source is something that does worry me. when you have a nation, it democracy, that fights wars and does not pay attention to them. we had 9% of our nation pang attention to our wars -- paying
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no attention to the wars. exhibits day might be david petraeus. three combat tours in iraq, one in afghanistan, about with cancer. he is also been shot to the chest and had a terrible accident. this guy gave at the office. when it is time for us to be generous, we can up short. tavis: one of the reasons why we do not pay attention to these wars, let me make my argument, the white house does not want us to pay attention. bush famously would not let us to see bodies come back to dobra. -- doe verb. -- dover.
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they are long, they go on and on and on. you have a president who put some of baghdad says mission accomplished and the mission and been accomplished. -- that puts up a banner that says mission accomplished and the mission it ain't been accomplished. americans do not always pay attention, but there are reasons. they are partly political and partly corporate media based. >> i agree with the analysis and i think it is morally worrisome. i am basically an obama fan. when i see and with national security, he desperately does not want to become a war president. remember the education president? that got blown up by a war. obama was elected on a domestic agenda. he wants to be the guy you gotta
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side of iraq and afghanistan. and did not destroy his domestic agenda. lbj hasted great domestic agenda and had -- had this great domestic agenda but was ruined as a president by the vietnam war. when you walk into the oval office, president obama sees thl walking hand. you are his worst nightmare. i am here to ruin your presidency. i think is a hard problem. the media does not want to pay attention. we just have a presidential campaign with the war in afghanistan hardly mentioned. i would be appalled if i were a parent who had a kid in afghanistan. what does that say about us? we're putting our kids out there. it says we are not taking our
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wars seriously. we're fighting for them but we're figg hteethinem with a casual air against. if you're going to go to work, pay some -- war, pay some damn attention. the sense of not having skin in the game in this country, it really bothers me. tavis: that is a sobering thought on veterans day. the notion that it is hard to tell who is succeeding and failing anyway given how messy these wars are. i am all for accountability. as a fan, i have a right to hold
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you accountable. i did not know how to do that. >> right. world war ii was easier. how many miles to berlin? korea, vietnam, iraq, afghanistan, it is harder to know what success looks like. it is harder for generals to claim success. especially when you rotate people. it is jury easy to say i was successful and the guy after me blew it. there are ways of seeing what is successful. it is clear to me that general petraeus was more successful in iraq than the three generals that came before him. he took prudent risks. he had to unnerve -- 100,000
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fighters, $3 million a month. they did not surrender, they kept their weapons, they kept the areas of operation. they stopped killing americans. he got a set of iraq. that is six? -- that is success. we can measure success. as the congress, as a people, the media does not understand the military, it is hard to accountable. because we cannot judge professional competence, we judge table for their sex lives. tavis: we thank all of our military veterans on this veterans day. thomas ricks, author. good to have you on this program. that is our show for tonight.
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keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time with frank rich with what the republicans lost on election night. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs.
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>> be more. pbs.
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the damage is killing me inside. let's talk a little bit more. the more i have to talk, the more i go up. so we're not allowed to go inside, is that correct? we got a deal. and you lied and cheated your way in.


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