DAVID SPEEDIE: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. I'm David Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement.
We eagerly anticipate all of our events at the Council, but it's always a particular pleasure to welcome this evening's guest. Jeff McCausland is not just a colleague, but I'm happy to say—I hope I can say—a friend.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Absolutely. We'll see how the evening goes.
DAVID SPEEDIE: That's right. We'll check in again at 7:30.
Jeff is that almost unique hybrid of military service, deep scholarship, an expert commentator for media on foreign and security policy; but, most important of all, he is a fellow senior fellow on military and defense issues here at the Carnegie Council.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Thank you very much, David. It's great to be here.
DAVID SPEEDIE: I mentioned in passing that you are a commentator. You're an expert commentator for CBS on military and defense policy. As such, you will have been keeping a close eye on the debate the other night. I was hoping to pepper you with penetrating questions about what emerged from the debate. I hope you got more out of it than I did. [Laughter]
Seriously, what—not just from the debate, but from the campaign so far—what have we learned about national security issues so far in the campaign and how the candidates sound?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Let me start off by saying, first of all, thanks very much to the Council. Thanks very much to Joel, the president. I want to thank my good friend David Speedie for organizing this event. I want to thank all of you for taking time out of what I know is a busy time and a busy evening to join us for this, which I hope will be a conversation about national security.
David mentioned that I do work as a national security consultant for CBS radio and television. I've done that for about 13 years or more. One thing I want to tell you up front is I am not here to persuade or convert you to one political party or one particular candidate. I view my work at CBS News as the following: I don't consider myself a reporter; I don't go out on-site and report about a sad train wreck in Hoboken, New Jersey. I don't consider myself a pundit. I consider myself an analyst, based now on about 40-plus years of work in national security. I'm a great baseball fan, so I'll give you a metaphor: I look at myself as the umpire who calls balls and strikes. You might think my strike zone is a little wider than it should be, or a little narrower than it should be, but what I try to do is call balls and strikes. That's what I am going to try to do this evening.
During the open Q&A, you can ask me, if you want—I can get this out of the way quickly—you can ask me who I am going to vote for, and I will tell you my answer. I'll look at you and smile and I'll say, "It's none of your business." But I would urge each and every one of you to vote, because I do think it is the exercise of our franchise, what all Americans should do, and I do think this particular election is particularly important because of all the complex issues that are going on in the world and where the country is at the moment.
But to more directly answer David's question, I think I'd like to begin with a couple of things which were touched on a little bit at the debate but actually have been part of the campaign that I found unusual, if that's all right. The two issues that I found that surprised me so far—and one you may not find surprising to yourself.
The first one is what I would call an issue of civil-military relations. Perhaps I'm a bit more sensitive to that, having spent 30 years in the military. But in all honesty, I was a bit disquieted by the appearance of senior general officers—to name names, General Flynn for the Republican Party and my old friend John Allen—at the conventions giving speeches endorsing particular candidates. And now, it has evolved into—I think at one point, Mr. Trump said he had 88 generals or admirals endorsing him; and Mrs. Clinton came back and said she had 108. [Editor's note: According to Secretary Clinton's website, as of September 7, 2016, 95 retired generals and admirals endorse her for president.]
We Americans don't talk about civil-military relations, but I think it's something we should do. We assume it's always that way. But if you look around the world, it's not something we necessarily should assume away. We're one of the few countries where we've never had the circumstance in our history—some say Aaron Burr; I'm not so sure about that—where it looked like the military might consider taking over the government. Let's be very candid.
Even my British friends—I spend a lot of time living in Great Britain—said to me one time, "Never forget, it's the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, but it's the British Army, because the British Army during the time of Oliver Cromwell took the king out and gave him a haircut down to there, and they ceased to be the Royal Army after that."
So we're one of the few democracies that have enjoyed this very clear divide between civil-military relations. I think events like those which my two friend general officers did are somewhat disquieting, in part because I think American people sometimes get confused by that. If somebody walks out and says, "I am"—and, let's be honest, they weren't invited because one guy's name was Mike and the other guy's name was John; they were not there because of that. They were there because they introduced themselves at lieutenant general and general. I think it confuses some people in America because they're both retired. So they're not violating the law, if you will. I think for a lot of Americans that nuance might slip by, and that worries me.
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marty Dempsey actually wrote an editorial in The Washington Post, more directed at retired military people, saying "the military is not a political prize."
That type of competition I find disquieting, and I think it's something that we ought to think about either collectively or within the military profession.
The second thing I found surprising so far was touched on in the debate, has been a theme throughout the campaign, is I was actually surprised that Mr. Trump made, and was able to make, and now has seemed to resonate, illegal immigration a national security issue. We've seen this in previous elections, talk about concerns about illegal immigration, particularly along our southern border, but it had never become a national security issue. It was always part of this, really a question of economics, in terms of these people coming into the country and perhaps using services provided by the government but not paying taxes. I think you all know those arguments.
But this time it has become really a national security issue. There is an economic component to it, but it has become a national security issue, perhaps because of the wave of immigrants who have left Syria. We'll talk more about Syria, I'm sure, later. About half of the Syrian population now is an internally or externally displaced person, to give you an idea of how horrible that has been. But we've now made this a national security issue, and I know for you all who live here in New York City, perhaps underscored here in the last couple of weeks with the bombing that was down in Chelsea. Therefore, it seems to me, that issue, now having been put out there, irrespective of who wins the election, that new president is going to have to address this question, because it obviously has resonated with the American people.
In that regard, I will have to say—and here the candidates do disagree—on Mr. Trump's side, he has argued that the way to fix this is to halt immigration, in some cases legal immigration from some countries, and to halt illegal immigration. We all know that's summarized by the "let's build a wall" and somehow cajole or force the Mexicans to pay for it—and I'm dying to figure out how he's going to do that. But putting that to one side, and then vague suggestions that we might repatriate 11 million people who are here in the United States, a pretty colossal undertaking which would cause us to use an awful lot of manpower, whether that's police or military, to accomplish that task.
The second part of the problem, I think, with that is: Is there a cause-and-effect connection? If we're worried about terrorist acts and we say they are committed by illegal immigrants, then we need to check back and say, "Okay, who's committing these terrorist attacks?" Sad to say, the vast majority, with the exception of two, terrorist attacks that have occurred in the United States since 2001, have been committed by American citizens, naturalized American citizens but American citizens nonetheless.
So if you are going to use immigration as a tool to prevent future acts, then you've got to go back and review people, such as this young man who apparently did the attack down here in Chelsea, who arrived here when he was a small baby and became naturalized—you're going to have to go back 25 years or so and start reviewing people's naturalization at that particular time.
The other part of that is I think one's got to put that in perspective. Bear with me on this. There have been 94 Americans killed by terrorist attacks in the United States since September 11, 2001. There has been a number of additional more injured, of course. Each one of those deaths was a tragedy, a tragedy for the individual, obviously, and for their particular families. At the same time, we Americans have had a quarter-of-a-million homicides, most with guns. This is still a tragedy, but let's contextualize the tragedy just a little bit.
Furthermore, those 94 don't include nine people who were killed by, obviously, not Islamic terrorists in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Or, if you go back to the 1990s and you go to the bombing of the Murrah Building, 108 Americans were killed in the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, more people than were killed since 2001. Clearly, the guy who committed that was not an Islamic terrorist.
So, while we need to be concerned about this, my argument would be one needs to look at this more from the inspirational side—perhaps refugees or immigrants are more vulnerable to that—than saying, "Well, we've got to close . . ."—I just don't necessarily get the cause and effect.
So, to start off with the two that I found unusual that they became issues, I would touch on that question of civil-military relations and illegal immigration.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Let's look at the corollary question, Jeff. What issues ought they to be talking about that they're not talking about?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Well, they've talked on a whole bunch of issues. To touch on it quickly, David, beyond the ones I mentioned:
They've talked about alliances, and here they have diverged a good bit. Mr. Trump has been very critical of some of our traditional alliances, most notably with the Japanese, the Koreans; NATO to be sure; and pointed out that he doesn't believe that they are paying their full share. Interestingly enough, in a way, you could say that that puts him in the same position for the argument as President Obama, who gave a very insightful, I thought, interview in The Atlantic magazine, in which he said, to a certain degree, he believes some of our "traditional allies" were free riders. I think that may have been the phrase he used.
And if you look across the board, one can certainly come up with that argument. NATO members, for example, committed in general to a 2 percent of GDP expenditure on defense. We in the United States do that; ours is a little over 4 percent. The Brits do it, Albania does it, and Greece, and I think that's about it for our NATO partners.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Poland?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: No, the Poles haven't, unless they did it recently.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: He certainly did.
But again, the question becomes: What do you do about that? Mr. Trump has said, "My belief is if they don't pay up, then we don't provide commitment," and made some vague suggestions that in time of crisis maybe we would or maybe we would not support various allies, in particularly vulnerable places, like Poland perhaps or the Baltic republics.
Mrs. Clinton, however, has been much more nuanced, spent more emphasis on our traditional alliances, and I think suggested that to do so—in other words, to argue that you're not going to support them—sends messages perhaps to the Kremlin that may be more encouraging than we might like them to be.
They both touched on the economy as a major issue, but they seem to make suggestions on expenditures without balancing the books. We can talk about that in more detail. Both have talked about increased defense spending, both have talked about ending sequestration, both have talked about infrastructure, but no place have I seen so far—as all politicians are wont to do—discussion about how you're going to pay for it. It's usually: "We're going to close tax loopholes and we're going to end unnecessary regulations."
By the way, before we finish tonight, I want everybody who's in favor of tax loopholes or unnecessary regulations to please come up and talk to me. Saying you're against those things is like saying you're in favor of motherhood.
They have disagreed somewhat on ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Mrs. Clinton, I think, made a faux pas prior to this last debate in which she said we're not sending troops back to Iraq, kind of skipping over the fact that there's 5,000 American troops in Iraq. She seemed to get her footing a bit better on that during the most recent debate.
Mr. Trump, again pretty vague, has said that he has a secret plan to win the war in Iraq and Syria against ISIS, and criticized Mrs. Clinton for being overly transparent. Not to be an old cynical guy, which my son over there might accuse me of at times, I've thought about this.
It occurred to me that I remember back in 1968 another guy running for president—he happened to be a Republican; it could have been a Democrat—by the name of Richard Nixon, who had a secret plan to win the war in Vietnam, and, 21,000 dead Americans later, we figured out that Dick really didn't have a secret plan. So I've always been a little skeptical of secret plans. I understand the argument about not giving away too much to the enemy, but some kind of an idea of what you might do would be interesting.
The other thing they've talked about that they disagree upon—and then we can touch on perhaps some things that they ought to talk about—is they have diverged I think quite a bit on Russia. This has been an area of clear divergence. Mrs. Clinton takes a much harder line against the Russians, been a bit more hawkish about the Russians. Mr. Trump, at times talking about his admiration for Vladimir Putin, has suggested at least one time or more that perhaps we should accept the acquisition of Crimea as part of Russia, which I will tell you sends tremors down the backs of many of my European friends in NATO.
This has transferred further, I think, into their discussion of what we might do about ISIS, because everyone has to acknowledge the Russians now are heavily involved in this, and a solution to the problem in Syria, if there is a solution, is going to require some involvement by the Russians. But, still and all, it's unclear if that's possible. We can talk about Syria in a second.
But, as we try to figure out what the Russians want and what we ought to do about it, one candidate seems to be for more of a rapprochement; one seems to be more for a very stern approach to the Russians. To my mind, the Russians have made a decision strategically that they could confront the United States, particularly in places like Ukraine and Crimea, and over time we would give up on the economic sanctions and, particularly, perhaps drive a wedge with the Europeans, many European governments perhaps thinking they ought to give in on that.
That has not worked out too well for them. Even today or yesterday, an inquiry basically confirmed that the Malaysian airliner was in fact shot down by a Russian ground-to-air missile. Still unclear if that was launched, frankly, by dissident groups in Eastern Ukraine or actually launched by Russian troops working with them. We do know the launcher sent photographs of that, disappearing into Russia, crossing the border, shortly thereafter. So that has not furthered their case. Many people would argue one needs to acknowledge the strength of Russia—I think that's what Mr. Trump would say—because of their success with the air campaign, for example, in Syria. They point to that.
That being said, believe it or not, this is almost the first anniversary exactly of the commencement of the Russian air campaign in Syria. They have conducted thousands of airstrikes, right now very intensive airstrikes in and around Aleppo. Some suggest there have been perhaps 1,000 civilians killed over the last week or so. But whether you buy into that or think that is to be criticized morally, if you just look at it cold-bloodedly in military operational terms, the map of Syria today does not look a heck of a lot different than the map of Syria a year ago. The Russians have, through their support of the Syrian government, forestalled Mr. Assad's collapse, but they haven't really expanded the footprint under the Assad government's control, and I would argue are probably unlikely to do that, simply because the Assad government at this point doesn't have sufficient ground troops to secure that. So, absent a Russian incursion of ground forces, that is unlikely to occur.
We are at a stalemate, and how long this conflict could go on I think is anybody's guess, based on the involvement of major powers—not only the United States and the Russians, but also the Iranians, Hezbollah coming out of Lebanon, the Turks, and a number of other countries.
So the things they have talked about, and I think diverged upon, would be how one treats the alliances, how one thinks about how we fight the war against ISIS, as well as how we deal with the Russians.
I will say one thing. This came up in the debate and I want to stress it. Though Mr. Trump has got a secret plan totally to win the war against ISIS, the one thing he has talked about that I found really curious was that ISIS never would have occurred if we had taken the oil. He said that, and he continues to repeat that. That really kind of puzzles me.
First of all, that's illegal under international law. Second of all, god only knows how many American ground troops it would take to secure not only the places where the oil is pumped out of but the pipelines. We had a heck of a time during our presence there with 150,000 troops to assist the Iraqis in trying to secure the pipelines to export oil. We wanted to do that because one of their goals was to get the Iraqi economy back on its feet. Enormous effort, cost, manpower, etc., went into that, with only limited success, to say the least. So god knows how many ground troops it would take to accomplish those two tasks. And that further, I think, assumes that 26 million Iraqis are going to stand idly by while we loot the country of the one resource they've got and not do too much about it.
So there has been diversion on how we conduct the war in Iraq and Syria and how we did before, the alliances, and our dealing with the Russians.
DAVID SPEEDIE: One could make the point that confrontation works both ways, with the massive buildup in northeast Europe, with four-to-five times the military presence on NATO's part, naval exercises in the Black Sea under the flag of the Bulgarian Navy.
But moving along, a two-part thing before we get to the audience, Jeff. A couple of weeks ago, we had a session here on the elections and the rhetorical question "Can Liberalism Survive?". Steve Walt from the Kennedy School at Harvard made the point that he did not think that Secretary Clinton would be as hawkish as some people believe. Then, he went on to say: "Moreover, if you look around the world, there are hardly any possible interventions, particularly military interventions, that look really promising. Instead, they all look like potential quagmires, and you would have to be a real enthusiastic liberal humanitarian to want to do them." From Vietnam to Iraq, the specter of quagmire has not exactly been a 100 percent deterrent for us getting into situations.
The second part is recent headlines on Afghanistan: "U.S., European military advisers work to boost lagging Afghan combat readiness" in The Washington Post; "U.S. Training of Afghan Pilots Hitting Stride, Contractor Says," from military.com; "NATO Sees Need to Train Afghan Units," The Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago. Doesn't that sound awfully familiar?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Yes, it sounds awfully familiar, because the war in Afghanistan now is the longest war in American history. It's longer than World War I and World War II combined. In the debate the other evening it didn't come up at all. But still, as we are sitting in this lovely place here on the Upper East Side of New York, there are 9,000 Americans in Afghanistan; there are about 5,000 NATO troops, back to that alliance, that are also in Afghanistan; and it has cost the United States several billion dollars for the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. And, even yesterday, there was the announcement of an additional 500 or so Americans to go to Iraq, and one of the consequences of that will be an additional request for defense authorization to the Congress coming up pretty quickly.
But I think you're right. This is something else that I think is not talked about in terms of strategy. If I was to critique both candidates, while they talk about, for example, ISIS—and we can argue about whether the cause-and-effect was clear and whether one candidate was more nuanced than the other and the other one was trying to remain more ambiguous to a strategic purpose—but a strategy to deal with all these problems I think has to think long and has to think about the integration of military power, which we talk about the most, but also political and economic power, informational power. All that is important if you are going to be successful. A couple of things I think are critical in that regard.
One is, one has to think about national security implications in terms of the budget, how much money are you going to spend. Again, if you have grave concerns about internal security and you are going to deport 11 million people or you're going to build and man a wall—well, that may be appropriate; but one has to think through how many resources are they going to take.
I was thinking about this in terms of resources. Let me just give you an example. The 2017 defense budget was delivered by the president to Congress in February. As of yesterday, it had not been passed. A continuing resolution was passed.
Oh by the way, as a sidelight, Senator Lindsey Graham stunned the audience in an interview, or a committee hearing, of the chiefs of staff of the services, when he asked them: "Isn't it true that the Congress is actually the greatest threat to the U.S. military in terms of how they manage the budget?" We're now in the seventh year of the Congress being unable to pass a budget, and we're going into a continuing resolution again. If they had waited until tomorrow, we would have gone into a government closure.
But if you just look at what the numbers look like, the president asked for the Department of Defense $524 billion, more or less. Frankly, we'll argue about it, but it will come in within $10 billion, plus or minus, I can tell you right now. About $60 billion is for what's called the overseas contingency account. That's to pay for the war in Iraq or to pay for additional expenses in Afghanistan. About $20 billion to the Department of Energy, because all the modernization of nuclear weapons plus the disarmament of all weapons is done by the Department of Energy. So even though it's a non-DoD, you could say it's a very important part of the overall national security budget. Then there's about $8 billion of so-called "related defense expenditures." If you roll that all up, that's about $610 billion. And again, it will come in plus or minus $5 or $10 billion of that when they're finally finished with it for the current year for defense.
But actually, I think we need to think about this as Americans in terms of the national security budget. So think about the national security budget and where we've been and where we are.
Then, you need to think about a couple of other things. You need to think about what does the Homeland Security budget look like, which we created after 9/11. That's $165 billion this year. You might also want to look at what we are going to spend for the national intelligence, CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), NSA (National Security Agency), etc. They come it at about $90 billion.
So if you roll all that up, the national security budget for the United States of America this year will be about $865 billion, for a single year. You know, you mess around, after a while you're going to spend real money on this. [Laughter]
So part of this is for us strategically to think through: What are our priorities, how do we spend the money, where do we make the investments? Mike Mullen, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, used to say, "A robust national economy is the building block of national security."
If you roll back the videotape to September 10, 2001, the defense budget—not the national security but the defense budget—of the United States was $290 billion. We haven't had a lot of inflation. So that's how it has grown. That may be correct—I'm not necessarily arguing that that's totally out of whack based on the conflicts we've been involved in.
But we also need to recognize: Okay, we spent that particular amount of money. There have not been dramatic increases in taxes. So what do you do? Do you spend less in the other accounts to balance the budget—you could do that. You can go deeper into deficit, you could do that—well, we're rapidly facing $20 trillion in debt. You could raise taxes to try to break it there. Or you could do a little bit of all of the above. But you need to do something to manage all these particular issues. When people talk—and he was quite right—about where we're deployed, and the military talks about not having enough funds, one could argue you have a strategy/force mismatch.
You combine that with a certain war weariness in the American population. We've been at this 15 years. I think, as somebody once said, I think it was Bob Gates once said—and it's quite right—"The three words most infrequently said in Washington, DC are 'and then what?'"
We focus in on the defeat of ISIS. Let's use that just as an example. Well, what does the defeat of ISIS look like in terms of investment, resources, cost, etc.? Well, hopefully, we'd take over the caliphate area and we'd push them out of Mosul and we'd push them out of Iraq and all those places.
Okay, and then what? Well, two things will happen—my guess.
Thing number one is they will atomize to a degree into a terrorist organization which will kind of look like al-Qaeda 2.0, and you're still going to be dealing with that for a sustained period of time.
But the second thing you've got to do is figure out, now that the region is devastated, like Afghanistan, how do you make an effort to adjust that so that it doesn't become a breeding ground for future problems?
Half of the population of Syria, as I said, are now refugees. Syrian GDP in the last five years has cut in half. The GDP of Yemen is two-thirds of what it once was. The city of Ramadi, which was liberated from ISIS a few months ago—the estimated cost to build Ramadi is $10 billion. How many Ramadis are there in Iraq and Syria?
So if you are going to do this and avoid, as he said, making the investments to go in there because we don't want to do this anymore, then one I think has to worry about the fact: What happens in these places and do they become breeding grounds either for ISIS, al-Qaeda, or an organization we haven't seen just yet?
DAVID SPEEDIE: I know, by the way, as a footnote to your impressive numbers, both candidates have talked about infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Yes.
QUESTION: James Starkman. Thank you, Colonel. You don't mind if I promote you to general, do you?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: You can call me Jeff.
QUESTIONER: I was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I think I saw you there.
What is your personal assessment in a high-tech age of the military of our total readiness to meet the various types of threats? For example, the Navy apparently has fewer ships, but maybe they're such high-technology ships that we don't need more ships, we just need more technology. What is your overall assessment of our readiness in terms of equipment and manpower for all the services?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Good question.
I think Americans should be reassured that your nation still has the finest and most robust military force on the planet. Do we have some issues right now? Yes we do. Part of that gets back to, as I said a moment ago, we have a strategy/force mismatch. This force has been on this particular tempo now for about 15 years.
The second thing that has happened is, like any corporation, you have personnel accounts and you have operating accounts and you have investment accounts. Well, during the high points of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military basically robbed the investment accounts to take care of the operating accounts and take care of the personnel accounts. So, as a consequence, a lot of the force, in terms of platforms—whether those are tanks, artillery pieces, helicopters, fighter aircraft, submarines, etc.—are aging, and we have to make some additional investments. Well, if you invest in that, then you've got to figure out what don't you do; or do you make adjustments in providing additional funds to accomplish that particular task.
We are at the beginning of a big modernization effort. Mr. Trump, for example, said we're way behind in the modernization of nuclear forces. There is some validity in that. There's about a $3 billion backlog in maintenance of our nuclear forces. At the same time, President Obama has implemented, at the urging, frankly, of a lot of conservatives in Congress, a modernization of the nuclear forces, which is just beginning, which is literally going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars over the next five to ten years.
We are deploying the most expensive system ever purchased by the United States, the F-35 aircraft, which will cost, by the time you spend all the money, trillions of dollars for one airplane. Let me put it to you this way: An F-35, even without the leather seats and the cup holder, comes in at about $150 million an airplane. That's what it costs—and that doesn't count the cost for training the pilot. The cup holders, we're buying those.
We're modernizing some of our tactical weapons, the B61 bombs. We're still buying Virginia-class submarines. So there are a lot of those things going on.
There are problems in certain readiness accounts, that is true. Part of that is driven by sequestration, which limits. But that was a deal cut by Congress and the president, which said further increases in spending on the defense side cannot occur absent adjustments up as well on the more domestic accounts.
The second point I think about it is—again, if you're running a corporation, one is equipment. Equipment is nice. Saudi Arabia has the third-largest defense budget. The Chinese are second. They just don't spend it very well, to my mind. So equipment is great, but you've got to have people to man the equipment. You've got to have smart people to manage the equipment.
So one of the things perhaps, thinking about national security holistically, is I would even say that we need to think that education in America is a national security concern. If the next war is going to be in outer space, the next war is going to be cyber—the first attack in the next war, almost without question, will be a cyber-attack—how do you recruit, develop, and retain the best and the brightest in the military? How do you do that? Those are the people you want. Based on technology, we don't need the huge force that we had during the Second World War or Vietnam.
I'll tell you a funny story and then I'll wrap this up. When I was a brand-new lieutenant in 1973 in Germany, I had a young private who was my driver. One day we were out and I said to him, "Tolland, how in the world did you ever get in the Army?"
He looked at me and he said, "Sir, it was pretty easy. I'm from Texas. The judge said, 'Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or the Texas state penitentiary,' and I picked Army."
He was okay in 1973. In fact, we don't need, don't want, Tollands anymore. We want the same person that IBM wants, and we want that person to stay. Well, if you do that, and we Americans want a professional force, which we do, then that's going to cost more money. That's a very integral part of that readiness equation. You can have all the great equipment you want to, but if you don't have the best and the brightest to man it and think about it and how you employ it, then you've got a problem.
QUESTION: Hi. Daniel Stein.
Based on your own experience in Kosovo and how you saw President Clinton respond to the crisis there with NATO, from that what do you think we can look forward to? Secretary Clinton's use of NATO in Europe—I know she is different, but still relies on General Clark and Admiral Stavridis, several members who were around for that.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: I was on the Kosovo task force in the White House. What did I take away from that? The first thing I took away from that is the following. Presidents are surprised. We think we've got predictability on where the next crisis will occur. I don't believe George Herbert Walker Bush would have arrived at the White House saying, "My crisis will be Kuwait." I don't think Bill Clinton arrived saying, "My crisis will be Kosovo." I don't think George W. Bush arrived and said, "My crisis is going to be Hainan Island"—remember Hainan Island, where we had an aircraft forced down and almost had a confrontation with the Chinese? You don't know what you don't know. So the first thing is you're surprised.
The second thing is the importance of allies and friends. Kosovo doesn't happen without the allies, it just doesn't happen.
The third thing you've got to understand is, where does morality fit in your thinking strategically? If you think about Syria, there is an enormous moral question here. There's the question, if Machiavelli were sitting here rather than me, in terms of, is there interest in Syria? You have to say, in all candor, not a great deal, except for it spreading; as long as it stays contained there, it's an awful thing, but it doesn't have that dramatic an effect. So there is a moral question.
I think many of the people who were involved in that policy—and I was on the NSC (National Security Council) staff, as I said—were affected by Rwanda. They had been through the previous experience in Rwanda. The United States had not reacted. We know what that genocide looked like. I think that colored their thinking.
Some of them were back, Susan Rice being a classic example. When Mr. Qaddafi, as he did say, says, "I'm going to go into Benghazi to kill these people like cockroaches"—that's a quote, by the way—this brought on the memory of Rwanda, the memory of Kosovo, and action was taken.
And then, last but not least, you have to think of the following two things: What are your assumptions and how does this all really turn out?
As far as your assumptions, we assumed that we would have an air campaign and then Milošević would give up. We had three phases of the air campaign. I can tell you this now, but it was classified at one time. I remember on the classified net getting an email after the first five or ten days of the air campaign. A very, very senior person—I can't tell you who that was—sent an email to all of us on the team and said: "We're now in phase three. This guy ain't givin' up. What the hell do we do now?" [Laughter] The assumption was: "This guy will give up; a little bit of braggadocio and it will all end up 'thank you all very much.'"
Lastly, we make the assumption, which I think is unfortunate—of course I'm an old soldier—that air campaigns work and you win the war from the air. Mr. Milošević gave up because of the air campaign, in part.
The second reason he gave up was because the Russians told him, quite candidly, "If you think we're going to pull your chestnuts out of the fire, partner, you're wrong. We're not coming to your aid. Good luck to you. And by the way, we're pretty upset with you because you've slowed up a lot of aid packages from the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) that we need right now."
Number three is we basically conveyed to him, "If you don't give up pretty quick, we're coming to downtown Belgrade and pull you up like a carrot."
Those things really brought it to a close. The assumption that you can do this by air, the belief I think is misguided.
QUESTION: Don Simmons.
How important do you think it is for the United States and our allies to oppose and prevent the accumulation of de facto military control of the South China Sea by China? And then, secondly, what strategy would you recommend for our government now?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: This gets into the category of things that they are not talking about that they should be talking about. I think it also forces us to think again strategically: What are the longer-term issues that we've got to think about? I think the Chinese would love to see the United States get bogged down in Syria. They would probably have a celebration, because if we are focused on that, we're not focused on something else—"If American resources are there, they're not here." So one has to think about this strategically.
It has been interesting to me that when the president announced the so-called "pivot to the Pacific"—and, by the way, they don't like the word "pivot" anymore; I think they use the word "rebalance" or something; but "pivot" now has (it made the Europeans upset) a bad connotation—I don't recall a lot of significant Republican national security leaders coming out in opposition to that. I think everybody kind of bought into that.
If you know anything about economics, I think you would agree with me that the 20th century was the century of Europe—and we fought three wars in Europe, oh by the way, during the 20th century. The 21st century, based on changing demography and economic growth, is going to be the century of Asia. That's just the way it's going to be. So everybody has kind of bought into that.
As a consequence, what you just talked about is of great concern. I think the United States needs to keep their eye on that particular ball. I think some of this, however, is done, frankly, by the Chinese for domestic as well as international reasons. Some of it is the whole idea of China, a sovereign nation, a great power. If you talk to Chinese and you talk about "the rise of China," what I've heard them say is: "No, it's not the rise of China. What do you mean the rise of China? It's the return of China. If you were around in the 15th century, China was a superpower. We're just kind of getting back to where we belong."
But at the same time, this brings the United States into dealing with a whole lot of our allies in the region. Certainly, they are concerned—the Philippines being a classic example, as well as Indonesia and others.
It raises real questions in a way on whether the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)—now, I'm not even close to being smart enough to tell you whether the TPP is a good idea economically—but there are significant national security implications for the United States should we totally forestall any type of economic partnership like that. This particular treaty may be flawed—and I'm not smart enough to say—because of the growing influence of the Chinese.
So I think, again, we've got to think about it holistically. I think we ought to think about what forces we have and how they're employed. We cannot accept under any circumstances the Chinese interfering with the transit through those particular areas.
But we've got to understand, I think, sometimes this is done also for the Chinese to do two things: (1) appease people at home, which they need to do; and (2) try to drive fissures between us and some of our Asian allies, particularly in that region.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Jeff, the point of the pivot, of course, and what alarmed the Europeans, is a pivot to something means by definition a pivot away from something. It went the same way as the "reset button with Russia" remember? That was another short-lived success.
QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.
I'd be curious to know whatever happened to Tolland. He might have amounted to something at some point.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: God knows, I don't know.
QUESTIONER: You can't answer that one. Okay.
I believe it was Mr. Trump, as he likes to be called, has said our military is a disaster and he wants to replace some 25,000 generals. I think that was the number he used.
How does a president do that? I was unaware that a president could come in and on the first day decommission, or whatever you want to call it—cashier—25,000 generals.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: That's an easy question to answer. He can't. The way it works is, first and foremost, a careful look at the Constitution—I was going to say something less kind than that—would reveal to you that military officers swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. They do not swear an oath to the president. You know, "I'm loyal to the Constitution first and you as commander-in-chief to follow legal orders."
This has raised a serious question. Mr. Trump has talked about the generals being reduced to rubble, etc. It gets back to that issue of civil-military relations I talked about at the onset.
Were he to be elected, quite honestly, and were he to pursue some of the policies he has talked about, then again we could have a further crisis in civil-military relations. He has talked about not only taking over the oil wells, but we've talked about waterboarding and worse, we've talked about killing the families of terrorists, we've talked about the use of nuclear weapons—many or most of these being illegal—and you would get to the point where you would have, in my humble belief, several senior general officers, whether they were cashiered or not or he attempted to do so, simply say, "Mr. President, I can't do that. That's illegal." Now you have a real civil-military challenge.
It also begs another question; That is, even besides how one forms a government and national security affairs in the military realm—and they do, in fact, carry over from party to party, administration to administration, to a degree—they are confirmed by a vote of Congress, by the way, when you are promoted—where do the people come from on the civilian side?
Mrs. Clinton, I can tell you, has a brain trust of folks. You may not like them, but there are a lot of people who are writing policy papers about national security for her.
On Mr. Trump's side, I've made a real attempt to figure out who these people are for him, and I can't figure it out. I do know a lot of good friends of mine have worked in Republican administrations, have signed this document of about 100 national security experts in which they said that he is totally unqualified to be president. [Editor's note: 50 national security experts signed the letter.] So I don't know where he gets—I know a couple of his advisers, but very few. So where he gets folks to fill out that government administration in this area I don't know.
Could some people do the great "Washington two-step"—that is, "I reject you, but somehow you got elected, and suddenly I've decided that you need me and the nation needs me and so therefore I'll come back"—that's possible.
DAVID SPEEDIE: So young and so cynical. [Laughter]
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: That's right.
So I think there are some real serious questions there in terms of (1) understanding—you're quite right—about you can't cashier generals absent an act of Congress, number one; and (2) on the question of civil-military relations, if you order some of these things you talked about; and (3) where do you get the qualified people to fill all the different position you've got to fill.
QUESTIONER: Well, otherwise things seem to be going real well. [Laughter]
QUESTION: My name is Chris. First, I really enjoyed your talk. I was very happy that you started with civil-military relations because I agree this is something we really don't talk about enough.
I have been in and around New York City pretty much since September 11, and I can say that there has been an increase in the presence of military officers on the streets here. It's something that does provoke conversation, I think, when you're walking around. I have a friend from Chile and I had lunch with him. He said, "This is something I see as a bad sign, when we have these guys walking around."
I've thought about it a lot. Obviously, I recognize there are important threats from terrorism. And it has popped up a bit in the campaign, because I think Secretary Clinton has talked about some of the concerns that have been raised around the militarization of police and supporting President Obama's move to stop the sale of disused military equipment to some of the local police officials. I think that's relevant to our basic theme here.
Personally, I sort of understand why they are there. But I can tell you that for me the difference between—and this is something I had read about in Iraq—when these gentlemen are wearing sunglasses and when they're not sort of helps determine if the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I walk past them as a civilian.
I know that there's probably a conversation that goes on within military circles about the way the military is used inside the United States and how that is evolving. I'm curious if there is anything you can share about what that discussion is and how you see that going forward.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: First of all, I'll tell you the active-duty military doesn't want to do that. They see their role as being the ones who are defending the borders or the airspace or external.
The construct of the U.S. military is constituted by various elements—for a number of the services, that's an active component of the National Guard and the reserves. The actives and reserves are federal forces.
The National Guard actually belongs to the states. So when you have a local disorder or you have a natural catastrophe, you will have the governor, under his or her authority, call out the National Guard. They stay under state control and they are paid by the state government. That's the way we constructed our forces. So, by and large, for internal things, that's what I think most of the active-duty military would prefer.
Even in very legal terms, there is a real difference, as I understand it from legal scholars, under the law we call posse comitatus. The Founding Fathers—read the Declaration of Independence—were very skeptical of standing armies and how they affected your liberty. They were pretty concerned about that.
Under posse comitatus, for example, a federalized soldier who is performing security in a civilian community, he or she, cannot arrest anybody. But if it's a National Guardsman, who could look exactly the same as far as their uniform but they're working for the governor, they in fact can arrest you. As soon as they are federalized, though, they cannot. So there is a very interesting nuanced difference between what their authority is and who they work for. Part of that has to do with dealing with issues here in the United States.
But the fundamental question to me, folks, is that we Americans have to decide an answer to the following question: How secure do you want to be? If you say to me right now, "I want absolute security, I want no possible way this guy who is a naturalized citizen could detonate a bomb in Chelsea"—if that's what you want, while we can get close to that, I'm not sure we can get to absolute.
The safest country I was ever in was the Soviet Union at the time of the Soviet Union—safe place. Singapore is a pretty safe place—it's the death penalty for owning a weapon, so it's fairly secure. If you want to go to that extreme, where you're going through a metal detector every time you go to the grocery store, which is what happens in Pakistan, we can increase that level of security. Go to Jerusalem, if you've ever been to Israel—I saw more soldiers per square inch in Jerusalem at times than I saw in Baghdad, for goodness sake.
So if you want absolute security, then we are on a continuum between absolute security and personal liberty. Where on that continuum do you want to live? That really is the fundamental question.
QUESTION: North Korea apparently is working on the miniaturization of an atomic bomb to fit on top of a missile, and apparently they are working on missiles that could reach the United States. What do you think we do when it turns out they have a missile that can reach the United States with a nuclear bomb that can fit on top of that missile?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Well, hopefully we do something before they get to that point. But, as one friend of mine said, "The Korean Peninsula is the land of bad choices." I teach at a liberal arts college, and I've frequently said that one of the failures we do in education, particularly in liberal arts education, is, unlike the sciences, we suggest to people that for every problem there's a solution—it's like yin and yang—and you devote enough people, money, and time and you'll find a very elegant solution.
My experience in government, back to Kosovo, is most of the time you are dealing with: "Here are three really lousy options. Now, which of these is the least lousy?" That is, more often than not, what you're dealing with. Korea could certainly be that case.
The second thing about Korea, as a Korean expert friend of mine once said to me, "Never forget we know more about black holes in the galaxy than we know about what happens in Pyongyang on any given day."
But what we do know are two things right at the moment, and this will face the next president.
The thing we know number one: The policy of strategic patience, which is what the Obama administration adopted: "If we just wait long enough, I guess they'll come to their senses, or sanctions will work." Well, that didn't work, and it's not working, and it's not likely to work.
The second thing we need to realize is not working is every time they do something—detonate a bomb, launch a missile—we complain that the Chinese will not convey the proper economic sanctions, China being the best economic benefactor of the North Koreans, that will bring the North Koreans to their senses. Well, guess what? The Chinese are not going to bail us out, and we might as well get used to that right now and figure out what happens next.
The third thing I think we need to realize and that spurs us to action is we seem to assume—I was at a conference and did a book on U.S. policy in Asia with a whole bunch of Asians. I said, "Tell me I'm wrong. We sort of assume that there's an East German solution out there with North Korea. We draw this sort of mental picture that there's some kind of rocky landing, like East Germany, where the plane sets down; it's rocky and bumpy, but we kind of get there."
I said to them, "I don't see that. It seems to me there are two outcomes in Korea right now absent something. Outcome number one is one day we just wake up and this place just collapses, because nobody knows why it works, and all of a sudden there are several million North Korean refugees heading south and a million heading into China, and it's an economic basket case, and there are nuclear weapons that are not controlled and power plants that are not being looked it, and it's just a mess. Or, conversely, the cute leader"—you know, we had the great leader, the dear leader, and we've now got the cute leader—"wakes up one day and decides, 'What the heck, let's just toss the dice and see what the hell happens,' or there's a miscalculation made perhaps by the South Koreans, and we have a conflict, we have sort of Armageddon. That's not very pretty either."
So we better figure out what we're going to do. Like I said, it's the land of bad choices. I think some effort to try to negotiate is possible but very, very difficult. It might force us to do some things which traditionally we have not wanted to do. The possibility of some kind of a surgical strike, which was actually considered in the Clinton administration by Bill Perry when he was secretary of defense. But what the result of that would be, in terms of then a strike by the North Koreans, now with nuclear weapons, at least locally, how the Chinese might react, is one of those things we might consider along the way.
But this is definitely an issue the next president has got to deal with.
QUESTION: Percy Robich [phonetic]. I come from Europe, but I live here.
I read the other day that the second-largest military force in NATO is Turkey. That means, to me, living most of my time in Europe, a bit of uncertainty because of what's going on in Turkey right now. Well, of course, the United States is the biggest, number one; Turkey is number two; considering how big Germany is and France and Great Britain. What is your view on the future for NATO?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: What's interesting about the size of forces, Percy, is the largest land force in NATO is the U.S. Army. The second-largest land force in NATO is the Turkish Army. The third-largest land force in NATO is the U.S. Marine Corps. This puts the other countries kind of in a context that is worrisome.
Certainly, we have badgered the Europeans throughout my career about making investments. For a host of reasons you as a European are more familiar with than I, they have not done so.
Some would argue during the Cold War it was a matter of really strategic ambiguity on their side, that they wanted to not think about a conventional defense of Europe because they went through that twice in the 20th century, called World War I and World War II, and that didn't leave the Central Europeans in great shape. So not having a robust conventional defense meant that, in terms of the strategy, they'd put a greater reliance on nuclear weapons, which then moved them towards thinking in a deterrence aspect, and therefore hopefully that prevents war. But thinking about war in the conventional sense—you know, we did it, but the Germans I dealt with were always concerned about it.
I share your concern about Turkey. Where Turkey is going is one of the great questions right now, not only in terms of the Turkish military, but back to political military affairs and the recent attempted coup and the results, which have been imprisonment of a lot of journalists and college professors, and where the Turkish democracy goes; and finally, of course, of great concern because Turkey is a key player in any way, shape, or form of finding a solution to Syria.
But longer term for NATO, I think NATO, first of all, needs to hang together. Its demise has been written off many, many times, and that continues. It's got to think about its investments in other realms. They mention cyber, an enormous place where the Europeans have to make an investment; special operations forces; and, last but not least, just understanding American politics.
I'll end this with a story. I was in Latvia at a conference on NATO. I was talking to a Latvian parliamentarian. He was telling me, "We need more Americans over here and more ship visits. We need you guys to come over more often. So what are you Americans going to do?"
I said to him, "I don't know. What are you going to do?"
He said, "Oh, no, no. Latvia is a small country and we have an aging population and we have health care challenges"—and he's going on and on.
I said, "Well, you know what? We have encountered some of those things as well. So when you come to the United States, please call me up because I want to make you an appointment with a Tea Party congressman from Kansas who may not know where Latvia is. When you go in and see him and tell him you want us to do more while you're doing less to defend your own country, I'm not sure that's going to go well."
So some appreciation, I think a growing appreciation—and Bob Gates, which our moderator mentioned, put his finger on it—is important, as well as investments in other areas.
QUESTION: Colonel, back in the Vietnam War days, dealing with the enemy in a nonconventional war—or if you want to call them terrorists or whatever—the ranking military and the politicians would use the phrase WHAM, winning hearts and minds. The CIA on a small scale would "terminate with extreme prejudice." The grunts in the field would say, "Kill them all and let god sort them out."
Today the Israelis use targeted assassination, and I'm sure that there is some phrase that the American military uses for what is going on.
In terms of dealing with people in this nonconventional war or terrorists, is there a third, or a third and a fourth, option to those?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Yes, I think there is.
I think, dare I say it, to some degree the whole idea of winning hearts and minds in a foreign country portrays a certain level of American arrogance, that we're going to convince them of the righteousness of the direction we want them to go.
I often say, if we were sitting here talking to an Iraqi soldier and an ISIS soldier, they were up here on the podium, and if you asked them, "What are you guys fighting for?" the ISIS soldier could tell you what he is fighting for. Now, you might think he's crazy, but he would tell you what he is fighting for, and he would be probably pretty fervent about it. The Iraqi soldier might be able to do that, but he might often say, "Well, they pay me sometimes, if my company commander doesn't steal the money," and whatever.
So one of our challenges in Vietnam—I've seen it in Vietnam and I've seen it in Iraq and I've seen it in Afghanistan—the American military can train somebody how to fight, we can train them how to clean their weapons, how to shine their boots—we can do all that kind of stuff. What we can't do is train them why they should.
So the winning the hearts and minds I really believe is a political issue which has to do with the political structure. David mentioned Afghanistan. To me, in many ways, Afghanistan is as much a political issue as it is a military challenge.
The other thing we have to think through is I think sometimes we always assume this is all about us. This is really all about us—it's ISIS and us—it's a binary problem. In some of these conflicts we're involved in right now it's about them.
There's a great story about Lyndon Johnson talking to one of his advisers. This adviser I got to know quite well said, "Johnson thought that dealing with Ho Chi Minh was kind of like dealing with Mayor Daley." [Laughter] "I mean, does he need a new expressway put in? What does he want?" He kept saying to his adviser, "What does he want?"
The adviser looked at him and said, "Sir, he wants to win the damn war."
So it's not about us; it's about them and the issues they're dealing with, a lot of which have to do with very old issues—Kurd-Arab, Shia versus Sunni—and our efforts are on the margins. That's why I think a larger investment by the United States in terms of our military component in training and organizing them and helping them create the political structures that are meaningful are longer term far better than us trying to go out there.
As somebody said to me at one time, "We were not in Vietnam for seven years. We were not. We were in Vietnam for seven one-year tours."
At a senior conference on Afghanistan, a guy said, "Every year we have a lobotomy. Why? Because we rotate guys. They stay forever. We come out. So we have to do this relearning curve over and over and over. And we're going to convince them of hearts and minds?" If you go into an Afghan village and you pull up in your HEMTT (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck) and the back door drops down and you come out and you've got all your battle rattle on and you've got your goggles on, you might as well be a Martian that just landed in a flying saucer. To think that that G.I. with all that battle rattle is going to win the hearts and minds, and only be there for a year until the next guy shows up—good luck.
There was a British parliamentarian (Rory Stewart) who spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, spoke fluent Pashtun, walked across the country, been there 10 or 15 years. He was interviewed in London about a year ago. I'll always remember what he said, which was, "If I went to the remotest village in Afghanistan and I found the most illiterate woman in the remotest village of Afghanistan"—and this would be pretty illiterate, no offense to her, because this is like the 14th century—he said, "she would understand more about Afghanistan than I will ever know."
So to put the burden on us that we're going to win their hearts and minds or we're going to win a war for them, I think we need to realize once and for all we can't do that. We can enable that perhaps, but we can't do it for them.
QUESTION: Nice to see you. To go on with the theme of tonight, obviously, major security challenges for the next president, you touched upon this, and a big theme of the presidential campaign right now, is that of Russia right now. Although four years ago it was said to maybe be a JV (joint venture), it doesn't seem so much anymore of a threat.
But do you see a world where potentially there could be a strategic partnership with Russia and there could be a benefit to the United States from that? Obviously with caution, but do you see a world—people are calling it a "mini Cold War" right now—seeing a potential strategic alliance with the two countries, and seeing if the world could be a safer or more secure place if the two can get along?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: One would argue—and people said this historically—that Russia should be almost the traditional ally of the United States—historically, geographically, etc. There are a lot of issues right now which you would argue bespeak that the United States and Russia should work together.
When the Russians moved into Crimea and basically ignited—that is my word, perhaps not others'—the so-called civil war in the eastern part of Ukraine, the first thing that came to my mind was, "That's it, there's no possible way there will be any kind of a deal with the Iranians."
We always talk about this Iranian deal—and this is another mistake people make—as a binary deal between the United States and the Iranians. It was not a binary deal between the United States and Iranians. It involved the United States, it involved the French, it involved the British, it involved the Chinese.
In my experience, back to Kosovo, when you get involved in negotiations—I've done a lot of international negotiations—the easiest multilateral negotiation is with your opponent. The hardest negotiation is with your allies.
I figured it was dead, because I figured the Chinese and the Russians would pull. The fact that they could stay together bespoke what you're saying, that there are common interests that we can build upon.
There was no solution in Syria absent—I mean the Russians may think there is; I don't think there is—absent U.S.-Russian cooperation.
There is probably not a solution, if you want to call it that, to North Korea. We might point out to the Russians, "Oh, by the way, you all do have a border with North Korea."
One area we haven't touched on tonight, and I'll touch on it quickly, is South Asia. The other part of the world that I really worry about is South Asia—India, Pakistan—and some type of resolution or the potential for a major conflict there. It probably cannot occur absent cooperation between the United States and Russia.
Certainly, we have interests in terms of the threat posed by ISIS. ISIS poses in many ways a greater threat to the Russian Federation than it does to the United States. Just look at geography and just look at the Muslim populations in Ingushetia, Dagestan, Chechnya, etc. In preventing a terrorist group like ISIS from acquiring a nuclear weapon or active material we have common interests.
But at this stage, to put it very bluntly, as long as there is air coming in and out of the body of Vladimir Putin, I don't see a major change in policy. Furthermore, for the Russians, for right now, for both the Europeans as well as the Americans, a major change would necessitate some resolution of the Crimea and Ukraine problem. I don't see the Russians being in a position where they are willing or able to back down.
I want to wrap this up with the following. That is, we talked about a number of complex challenges, and the country faces a lot of complex challenges. You might walk out of here thinking, "This has been very dreary." But actually, in some ways, I would suggest to you the following: This is sort of like the beginning of that great novel A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
We live in a great country—oh, by the way. There's an awful lot of opportunities—oh, by the way. I work with a lot of great young people, and every time I go into a classroom I am more optimistic when I come out about the quality of those young people. And we remain the masters of our destiny—now, getting ourselves to figure out how we are going to enable that destiny is the problem.
It also occurred to me—today, believe it or not, is my late mother's 96th birthday, it is also my son's birthday, and my granddaughter was born five days ago—so I'm an optimist.
When I think about my mother, for example, and think about the character of America's so-called "Greatest Generation"—got through the Great Depression, got through the Second World War, watched her brothers go off to war in Korea and World War II, her husband go off to war in World War II, my older brother go to Vietnam, me go to the Gulf—but she persevered through all that. She was just indicative of the spirit of America, which I believe still endures.
You know the old saying is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is the pessimist may be better informed. [Laughter] But there's nothing wrong with being optimistic.
Even if one thinks about illegal immigration, I always like to say: "Well, in a way it's kind of a compliment. I mean does North Korea have illegal immigrants? How many illegal immigrants go into Syria? Do the Russians have illegal immigration? The Chinese?" The Chinese have a few North Koreans. So the fact that these people keep coming tells me that they're voting with their feet. What are they voting about?
Well, again in my experience—having served in Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, places like that—one thing I've learned is people around the world, regardless of their ethnic background, historical background, nationality, really want the following: They want a better life for their kids than they had. That's what they want. That's why they come here as illegal immigrants. We need to do some things about that—don't get me wrong—but in a way it is kind of a compliment. I think as we think about this we need to remember that we are a great country. There's a lot of reasons to be optimistic. We endured in the past and, by golly, we're going to do it in the future.
DAVID SPEEDIE: Since Jeff raised it, the other unique bond we have is that we both became grandparents for the first time in the last two weeks.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: That's true. That's right. I should acknowledge that.
DAVID SPEEDIE: He has even made a Scot be just a little bit optimistic.
The other thing is I will say is that, although you can't see it because his jacket is buttoned, he's wearing a Chicago Cubs tie.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Proving I'm an optimist.
DAVID SPEEDIE: So—who knows?—this may be the year of miracles. [Laughter]
Thank you very much.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Thank you.