At War with General Jack Keane

Uploaded by HooverInstitution on 14.04.2009

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. During his 37 years in
the United States Army, Jack Keane earned four stars, beginning his career as a paratrooper
in Vietnam he rose to command of both the 101 Airborne Division and the 118 Airborne
Corps. In his final post he served as the Army's vice chief of staff. General Keane
retired from active duty in 2003. In 2006 he and military historian Fredrick Kegan helped
develop a new approach to the war in Iraq that would soon become known as the Surge,
and in 2007, General Keane served as an informal advisor to his Army colleague General David
Petraeus, as Petraeus put the Surge into effect. General Keane, thank you for joining us. Segment
one, the Surge itself. We invade Iraq in March, 2003. For three weeks the war goes well. For
four years the war goes badly. And then as the Surge is put into effect, the war goes
well once again. So well that in all of Iraq last month the number of American casualties
was six. The Surge itself in a moment, but first those four years. Why did the war go
side ways for so long?
Jack Keane: Well, we made some fundamental mistakes. The first is we didn't understand
the nature and character of the war itself. Secondly, we didn't truly understand the enemy.
And these are things that, you know, strategists that we've all read for years tell us we've
got to get it right from the beginning. And as a result of that, we had the wrong strategy.
We had what I call a short-war strategy. It was designed to stand up a political representative
government as quickly as possible, train the Iraqi security forces so they could deal with
the insurgency and get out. Problem One is the Iraqi political maturity was ready for
that kind of representative government that quickly, and of course the Sunnis did not
participate. So there was no reconciliation. Secondly, the Iraqi security forces were not
ready to deal with the size and scale of that insurgency. And then a third thing that happened
was the enemy. The enemy exploited the vulnerabilities we provided it. We were not protecting the
people, conscious decision on our part. The Iraqis could not, and they exploited that
vulnerability and were continuously increasing the violence year over year from between 2003
all the way up to the crisis we had in 2006.
Peter Robinson: Okay, let me ask a basic question as a lay man, member of the American public
trying to assess those four years when the war went sideways, at best. On the one hand
we could argue that we should have known better. That all the things that you just mentioned
now seem very obvious, in retrospect. On the other hand, there's the argument put forward
by my friend here at the Hoover Institution, victor Hansen, that certain -- that war is
war, and a certain amount is unforeseeable. That for example the Normandy landing, they
had the detail about the tide tables, they knew the first 100 yards extremely well, but
had completely forgotten about the hedge rows inland, and we lost thousands of men in the
hedge rows because -- but that's the nature of war. You're going to get things wrong.
How much do you in retrospect blame the military establishment of which you are a part, for
failures in planning and failures to foresee the nature of the conflict. Or was it --
they did the best they could and you must expect to learn as you go in any situation
like this.
Jack Keane: Yeah, well a couple of footnotes to that. First of all, the -- in most of the
wars that we have been engaged in, from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II,
the Korean war, and Vietnam. Some exceptions, but most of the wars we got involved in, we
got off on the wrong foot. That is the nature of war, and it's also the history of American
involvement in war. However, the American character of war has also demonstrated a certain
intellectual flexibility that translates into an operational adaptability. Churchill paraphrased
a comment, these Americans, they exhaust all the alternatives. And then when they figure
it out, they go right to the solution. So off on the wrong strategy here, as we had
been in the past. And we were all contributing to it. I contributed to it myself when I was
in uniform, and also -- I was on secretary Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board. I was supporting
that strategy for most of those years. So I'm part of that, and I don't want to separate
myself from it, to be frank about it. But the good news here is we were able to figure
out what was wrong with the strategy and even more importantly, what we needed to do to
Peter Robinson: The Surge. Let's discuss both the aim and the end, and the means. The end,
and I'm going to quote here from an article that you and Fred Kegan [Assumed spelling]
published in the Weekly Standard in December, 2006. Quote, the key to success is changing
the military mission. Instead of preparing for transition to Iraqi control, that mission
should be to bring security to the Iraqi people. Close quote. Explain that.
Jack Keane: Yeah, our mission in the past had been to train the Iraqi security forces,
bring them up, bring them to an acceptable level so they could deal with the insurgency.
One of the things when we were trying to change the strategy and communicating to the president
of the United States and also to the vice president -- I know one of the things that
resonated is when I -- when I said this. We do not have a plan to defeat the insurgency.
And that is a pretty dramatic statement in and of itself. Particularly when the leaders
of our country are advocating victory. But I'm not certain they truly understood --
I'm talking about nationally, politically -- truly understood that the military plan
was not to defeat the insurgency, to transition to the Iraqis so that they could. The proven
practice of defeating an insurgency is to protect the population. And we were not doing
that. Why? Because it would require increased number of troops, a rather dramatic change
in mission.
Peter Robinson: Right. Can I -- what we discussed is the end, here's the means, from the same
article. We need a Surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any
other option is likely to fail. Close quote. At the time, December 2006, sending in 30,000
more troops seemed like a big deal. On the other hand, from this remove, you look back
at the beginning of the war, Cansake was saying we needed several hundred -- how is it that
you only needed -- you felt that you only needed an additional 30,000 to get the job
Jack Keane: Right. That's a good question. A couple things. Number one is we actually
needed -- in terms of brigades, about eight to ten brigades. There were only five brigades
available. So we had a finite availability of troops to deal with. We mitigated that.
Peter Robinson: In all the armed forces of the United States, all that we had in reserve
that could be deployed to Iraq was five --
Jack Keane: In a timely fashion to make a difference. That was -- that was the issue.
Peter Robinson: And a brigade is roughly?
Jack Keane: Three to five thousand, depending on the type of brigade you have. And then
there are -- there are enablers that come with it. There's aviation, there's logistics,
there's other things that bring those numbers up to the number that you are discussing.
So that's -- that's the issue in terms of the troops, certainly. But here's the other
thing. From January of 2007 to December of 2007 we put 125,000 Iraqi security forces
on the street that were not there a year before. And it never has received the kind of attention
it deserves to get, because that in itself was a very dramatic surge in Iraqi security
forces, which certainly added to what the Americans and the coalition forces already
Peter Robinson: Segment to a chain of command, in Bob Woodward's book The War Within, he
describes how Fred Kagan who was then as I recall in his 30s, former instructor at the
-- at West Point and at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, Fred
Kagan assembles a team of civilians to help him devise a new strategy for Iraq. Woodward
describes your first briefing from Fred Kagan, quote, Keane left the briefing convinced that
it carefully and systematically answered the question of how additional U.S. troops could
be used to protect the Iraqi population. Close quote. Here's the question, General. This
is baffling, to me. How was a small group of civilians able to succeed where the vast
resources of the Pentagon had failed?
Jack Keane: Well, first of all, there was not only civilians there, there were military
in the room as well. We have retired military and we had a couple of active duty military
as well. Nobody over the rank of colonel. There were two generals who were there, General
Dave [Inaudible] --
Peter Robinson: So he's got military expertise. Over here we have the vast resources of the
Pentagon, and over here we have Fred Kagan, soon to be joined by Jack Keane, and skunk
works. And these are the guys that devise a strategy that saved our bacon. Correct?
Jack Keane: It's especially correct. The problem --
Peter Robinson: How did it happen?
Jack Keane: The problem with it is we were wedded to an old strategy, and we just couldn't
get ourselves off of that page. And look at -- the guys that were involved in that, I
mean, they're my friends. And I understand how painful this is, but the fact is sometimes
you just devise a campaign plan and you start filling in the blanks with what you believe,
you know, are the positive things that are happening. And you may not be dealing with
and mitigating the negative things that are happening, the issue -- the fundamental issue
that we had is that --
[ Multiple voices speaking ]
Peter Robinson: You is [Inaudible] and Fred Kagan?
Jack Keane: No, we collectively -- the United States had -- is that the enemy had voted
on the previous strategy. And was increasing the level of violence every year to a staggering
rate of violence in 2006, which was pushing the Iraqi newly-formed government to a fractured
state and possibly a failed state. And that level of violence was the enemy's mantra.
And they looked at it as a center of gravity. And they never stopped that level of violence
increasing every year. If we had done that sooner we would not have had the crisis we
had in 2006.
Peter Robinson: Here I'm probing a little. Here's another piece of this -- that Woodward
goes into in his book, The War Within, that puzzles me. Beginning December 2002 -- you
and Kagan publish a piece together in the Weekly Standard, you've got a plan, and you
begin -- Cheney brings you into the White House and you begin briefing folks in the
White House, including the president. And by January 2007 the president buys off on
the Surge, he announces it. In the late summer of 2007, according to Woodward, President
Bush asked you to deliver a message to General Petraeus. Why? Because Petraeus is in Iraq
trying to execute the Surge and he's running into constant resistance from the joint chiefs
back home. You're retired, you're an informal back channel, and the chiefs are trying to
keep you from seeing Petraeus. So you write down the president's words, president himself
speaks to you directly, you write down his words, you drive to Fort Meyer and read them
to General Petraeus quoting the president. Your -- your notes on what the president said.
I want Dave to know that I want him to win. That's the mission. He will have as much force
as he needs for as long as he needs it. Woodward continues. After hearing the president's message
Petraeus told Keane I wish he told Sencon and the Pentagon that. Close quote. Why didn't
the president of the United States tell Sencon and the Pentagon that. What does it tell us
about the conduct of that war, about what it's like for the chief executive of the United
States to try to conduct a war, that in some strange way he felt he had to use a back channel
to his own commander. What's going on there?
Jack Keane: I don't have a good answer for the why of it. I have an opinion about it,
certainly, because I was involved in it. The president made what I believe was a courageous
decision to change the strategy in Iraq in January of 2007. Over the opposition of [Inaudible]
White House, certainly people in his party, and overwhelmingly people in the democratic
party. We had the Iraq study group report that had come out in the summer, which he
could --
[ Multiple voices speaking ]
Peter Robinson: Two former Republican secretaries of state. Jim Baker, and [Inaudible] Eagleberg
giving him cover for getting out of Iraq.
Jack Keane: He could have easily crawled underneath that and used that as cover. But he did not,
because he still wanted to -- and he understood, I think, very clearly the dire consequence
of failure in Iraq and what it meant for regional instability and also what it meant for the
security of the United States. And he was not letting go of it. So I respect him for
that conviction. I don't think he gets the kind of credit he deserves for it. But now
that the policy decision is made, and Petraeus is put in place, and almost from the beginning
he's getting brow beat by his chain of command above him, in terms of pushing him to --
to reduce forces. Not go to -- don't keep those forces there, you know, beyond 2007.
They were asking him the way staff beats up on subordinates, they ask them, the way commanders
beat up on subordinates, they use their staff to run analysis and options and things like
that. An incredible amount of staff work was being done to do that. And in my mind, they
were undermining the decision that had been made. And I thought it was pretty unfortunate
for Petraeus and his first four star command dealing with a difficult situation. To try
to turn this crisis around and the chaos that he was given. And at the same time not being
supported in that, after a president had made a decision to do exactly what he was doing.
So I tried to provide him assistance with that and let people know what was taking place.
The message from the president, I don't for the life of me -- I don't know why. I urged
people to do it, I don't know why the president just didn't bring the national security team
together and say something like this, look guys, I made a decision, it was a tough decision.
Reasonable people can disagree with me, but we've got a decision we're executing. American
troop's lives are at stake here, and I expect everybody on the team 100%. If you can't,
leave. If I catch you undermining this decision in the future then I'm going to ask you to
leave. Now let's get on this team and let's support what I'm doing. Unfortunately, I don't
believe that meeting
Peter Robinson: Ever took place.
Jack Keane: [Inaudible] ever took place.
Peter Robinson: Even in 2007. That wasn't taking place.
Jack Keane: Right.
Peter Robinson: Okay. Segment Three, Iraq Today. This past March president Obama announced
the new Iraq policy. A couple of principle points. The American combat mission will officially
end by April of 2010 and of the 142,000 American troops now in Iraq about 100,000 will be withdrawn
pretty quickly. Leaving up to 50,000 in Iraq to advice Iraqi forces until 2011, but by
the end of 2011 at the latest, virtually all American troops will come home. Generally
Petraeus, President George W. Bush, others used to oppose announcing any time table for
withdrawal. The new commander and chief has just done so. Your view?
Jack Keane: Well none of us really wanted a time table for the obvious reasons, that
you don't want your enemy to be able to keep track of what you're doing. But none the less,
there is a status of forces agreement that two years from now
Peter Robinson: With the Iraqi government?
Jack Keane: With the Iraqi government. The United States government and the Iraqi government,
it is a time table, obviously, because our forces are going to leave by 2011. What's
not -- what we did not have in the past is exactly how many forces would be leaving each
year. We wanted that to be in the hands of the commanders. But overall, I think the president's
Peter Robinson: President Obama?
Jack Keane: President Obama's decision that he has made in concert with the generals is
a good decision.
Peter Robinson: You do?
Jack Keane: I do. And I support it. I mean, I would rather not see the time table in there,
but I understand, you know, why it's there.
Peter Robinson: The Iraqis are asking for it. Pretty hard to resist that.
Jack Keane: We will have sufficient forces in 2009, is what the commanders were very
concerned about. Do not do precipitous withdrawal in 2009 before we finish these other political
events. There's district and sub district elections coming, there's a national election
at the end of the year. We just had an election in January, and there's also, you know, we're
going to attempt to resolve the Cook-Kurd dispute over boundaries and oil. And then
there's going to be a status of forces agreement referendum that the people about vote on this
summer. A lot of major political hurdles to over come, U.S. force presence provides a
glue to assist with that and the objectivity that takes place in doing that. The other
thing the commanders wanted is they wanted to make certain that in 2011 there was a sizeable
force presence there. And the president has granted them that, some 50,000. It's pretty
close to the status of forces agreement is what it really is.
Peter Robinson: All right. So it's good enough.
Jack Keane: It is.
Peter Robinson: This war is won.
Jack Keane: Yes, it is.
Peter Robinson: It is won. Professor Fu Awajami [Phonetic], quote, as President Obama does
battle on the wider theater of the greater Middle East he will have to draw the proper
lessons of the Iraq campaign. General, give me one or two or three. What are the proper
lessons to draw from our experience in Iraq?
Jack Keane: Well first of all, I mean go into Iraq. We went there on basis of flawed intelligence.
Admittedly, there were other intelligence agencies that contributed to this, but it
-- it was fundamentally flawed intelligence, and I think there's been a number of mechanisms
that have been put in place to make certain we don't make that kind of mistake again.
Peter Robinson: You believe the American intelligence operations are better today than we were in
2001, 2003, when we invaded.
Jack Keane: I don't know, to be -- I don't have the visibility of it, to be frank about
it, that I used to have. And I'm not trying to dodge the question. I just don't know.
I want them to be, certainly. We've been putting enough emphasis on it. We've got some [Inaudible]
Peter Robinson: Do you
[ Multiple voices speaking ]
Peter Robinson: That all we've done is rearrange the pieces of the -- are you a little worried
that there's no substantive change in the intelligence operations?
Jack Keane: I worry about it, certainly I do. But I also know that there's been some
dramatic improvement, Particularly in National Security Agency, under General Keith Alexander
and some of the results that he has been able to achieve have been significant in the breakthrough
technology that he is using. We can't talk very much about it, this is classified [Inaudible]
Peter Robinson: So Intel is better.
[ Multiple voices speaking ]
Peter Robinson: Pretty likely to be better.
Jack Keane: But we missed the nature and the character of the war that followed after that.
You know, after the invasion. And that certainly is a major lesson learned, and you have to
make up your mind what kind of war you're fighting and then what are you trying to achieve
with that. Which has, you know, direct application to what we're doing in Afghanistan.
Peter Robinson: Let me give you sort of the question of questions. March 2003 to March
2009. Six years of war in Iraq. Bitter divisions in the United States, a death toll of more
than 4,000 Americans, and some 100,000 Iraqis. Was the war in Iraq taking it all in all,
was the war in Iraq worth it.
Jack Keane: The straight answer is absolutely, yes. In terms of what we will achieve from
it. We have among the 22 Arab Muslim countries, the only one that elected its government and
is able to hold its government accountable in a region. That is -- that is significant,
and it will forever change the region itself. The Iranians are big losers here. Significant
strategic losers, and Iraq does not want to be aligned with Iran. Iraq wants a long term
political, economic, cultural, and military relationship with the United States of America.
It will be a buffer against the Iranians. The other thing is that the Sunni Arab states
that surround Iraq and are also south of it on the Arabian peninsula are by and large
absolute monarchies where the people cannot hold those regimes accountable. They show
to give them financial stipends and they
[ Multiple voices speaking ]
Jack Keane: Pretty much stay in line. Those Sunni Arab countries are going to be effected
by this Arab Muslim Democracy in Iraq as it prospers and grows, and takes hold of itself.
And I believe it will have positive political ramifications in the region. Therefore, the
region is more secure as a result of an independent fledgling Democracy in Iraq. The United States
is more secure as a result of that stability in the region, and it is absolutely worth
what was expended to achieve those kinds of results.
Peter Robinson: All right. Segment Four, Afghanistan. Last month President Obama added some --
announced that we would be adding some 17,000 troops to the 34,000 troops already in Afghanistan.
Listen to a couple quotations. First President Obama. Quote, the situation in Afghanistan
and Pakistan demands urgent attention. Second quotation. Military analyst and West Point
professor Corey Shacky [Assumed spelling]. In shifting forces from Iraq to Afghanistan,
quote, Obama may pull the plug on a war we're winning in Iraq to concentrate on a war we
cannot win in Afghanistan. Close quote.
Jack Keane: Couple of issues. First, he has not pulled the plug on the war in Iraq.
Peter Robinson: You've already made clear you're satisfied with the plan
[ Multiple voices speaking ]
Jack Keane: Secondly, we definitely can win the war in Afghanistan. Now look, this war
has been distorted. It became the good war in rhetoric leading up to the presidential
election, Iraq became the bad war. And as a result of that, there's had a lot of --
[ Multiple voices speaking ]
Peter Robinson: One thing I'm interested in there, you are anticipating a question, let
me just can ask it now. That's for sure the case on the democratic side. Afghanistan is
where we should be concentrating. Iraq was a mistake. On the Republican side it was almost
the other way around. We've got to win in Iraq, we've got to win in Iraq. Afghanistan
we can -- what is that, just politics, or was one side actually correct about it, more
correct than the other.
Jack Keane: I think it's true, if I could take the politics out of it. We had to finish
what we had started and the momentum we had achieved in Iraq. And in Iraq, it is about
a peace-keeping mission now, and political maturity and growth. And less about security.
The insurgency is defeated, the Al-Qaeda are defeated. The -- in Afghanistan, it was always
a secondary mission because of the scale of the mission in Iraq. It -- and when it --
Taliban reemerged a couple of years ago they started to get some traction because we just
did not have enough resources, principally troops, but also the money we were putting
in there, the training of the Afghan National Army. Now all that said there is not a major
calamity in Afghanistan. There is a rising Taliban influence, and the momentum is moving
in a negative direction. That is true. But it's not threatening the legitimacy of the
regime, they're not about to overthrow the country, it was not anywhere near the scale
of the problem we had in 2006. That doesn't diminish the problem -- Iraq in 2006. It doesn't
diminish the problem, we do have a problem, but it is not of crisis proportions that many
would have us believe. And I also, looking at it and analyzing it, it is very doable.
It will take us a couple of years to shift priorities from Iraq, which are appropriately
due, to Afghanistan. We have to decide what is our strategy. It's appropriate that the
president is doing that, it's appropriate that Dave Petraeus is doing that. We have
to put a joint campaign plan together in support of that. We should take the time to be thoughtful
about how we do that. We have to get our headquarters organizations better aligned than what they
are, and then we must increase the forces, that's true. But we also have to increase
civilian capacity, and we have to put some money into this place, and in time we can
stabilize that country and drive the Taliban -- not out of it, but drive them to a negotiating
table with the reconcilables among them. There will be some irreconcilables, just like we
have in Iraq, that you'll never be able to deal with.
Peter Robinson: You said we need to decide our strategy in Afghanistan. Listen to President
Obama on the war in Afghanistan during a recent appearance on 60 Minutes. Quote, what we're
looking for is a comprehensive strategy -- there's got to be an exit strategy, there's
got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift, close quote. By comparison with the
way President Bush talked about Iraq there is a very striking word missing from the way
President Obama talks about Afghanistan. And the word is victory. And my question to you,
as a man who -- who commanded -- is, what does that do to the folks who are trying to
develop a strategy, what does it do to commanders into the theater when the president, the commander-in-chief
is not talking about a victory, he's talking about an exit strategy, he's talking about
-- it sounds from the way -- the president's rhetoric, judged on rhetoric alone , all you
can be sure about is that President Obama doesn't want to lose. You can't be sure that
he wants to win. Do you see what I mean?
Jack Keane: Sure. I understand.
Peter Robinson: Is that a series matter, or does it bother you? They'll fix it.
Jack Keane: It has to do with the nature of these wars. There's a body of thought that
these wars, because they are wars about the people and not clashes between armies, there's
a lot of ambiguity to them.
Peter Robinson: War lords fighting, you've got the drug trade going on, the long history
of the pastures were divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and some people look at this
and say oh
[ Multiple voices speaking ]
Jack Keane: The fact is when you do win, your enemy doesn't surrender to you and you have
to sign a peace treaty and there's a white flag ceremony or something to that effect.
Look what happened in Iraq. We defeated the main stream Sunnis. They -- they didn't leave
the battle field, traditionally, the way insurgents leave. They came into the political process,
their leaders, which is the best possible outcome. Certainly, there's no kumbaya event
signaling their defeat. The Shiite dominated government doesn't want to do that. They've
got the best of all possible outcomes. Their former opponents are now in the political
process -- why? Because they believe that there's something in that political process
for them to gain political leverage and opportunity in the country. That is a positive outcome.
We may not get that kind of outcome in Afghanistan to the degree that the Taliban will participate
in the political process, but the reconcileables, I believe some of them will move into that,
and see that opportunity. And I will still believe you can talk in terms of victory and
winning these ambiguous wars as opposed to the conventional wars where armies surrender,
and I don't think we should shy away from using the term as long as we understand the
complexity and the character and nature of the war. I think the president clearly understands
the complexity and the character and nature of the war. So much so that it's a little
intimidating because it protracts the war, he knows it's going to take time, and he also
knows that political support for the war over time given our own history and other people's
history will diminish. That's the reality of it. So I think it's okay. I would prefer
us to be a little clearer with it at times. I don't think we should run from those terms
because you can win these wars, and this war is winnable.
Peter Robinson: All right. Segment Five, our final segment, unfortunately. The mind of
a forester. How do you think about certainly problems. We've talked about Iraq, we've talked
about Afghanistan, let's talk about forest structure. You're quoted in the Woodward book
as saying wars break Armies and that they have to be rebuilt, and that when you go into
a war you know you're going to have to rebuild afterwards. So what -- what's your infrastructure
look like now, or in the -- in the coming years. Lieutenant Colonel John Genteel [Assumed
spelling], chairman of the American History Program at West Point in a lecture last year,
quote, due to the five years in Iraq and the six years in Afghanistan, I believe that the
U.S. Army has become a counter-insurgency-only force. Much too much emphasis on counter-insurgency.
Have we become preoccupied with the threat of terrorism and insurgency, are we ignoring
more conventional threats like the growth of China, or is the Army doing about what
it ought to be doing.
Jack Keane: The answer to that is yes. We do have some serious issues in terms of our
focus. Obviously, we're fighting a war, and we -- we didn't select the kind of war, our
opponent did that. And that will continue for some years because our opponents recognize
that for a -- the most preeminent conventional military that's ever been established, one
of its vulnerabilities is to fight very decentralized against people with rifles and machine guns
and explosive devices who fight at a time of their choosing and protract the war. It
disarms your technology. So we're going to see this again. And as a result of that, our
ground forces are pretty occupied with the two wars that we're involved in. And it's
true, that they have not had the opportunity to maintain the conventional skills that they
normally have. That is skills to be able to defeat other armies, other grounds forces,
with the assistance of the other services. However, the Air Force and the Navy, while
participating in this war with some forces, are largely not involved in the war with most
of the mainstream forces. So their -- their skill sets toward conventional operations
are still there and honed to a razor's edge. The problem with the ground forces, because
I think the American people have a right to ask a question -- well, why can't we do both.
Why can't we do this war and also be ready for a conventional war. The problem is the
ground forces are too small. We dug deep into the muscle and we cut back almost 40% after
the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and that cutting into the muscle was finished
about 1998. These ground forces are too small. We should be able to fight wars of this size,
which are not particularly large --
Peter Robinson: It ain't World War II.
Jack Keane: And also maintain a residue of force that is training for conventional operations.
Obviously, the people would switch out. And some of the units would -- but you would always
have some units set aside that are preparing for conventional operations. And right now
we are not doing that. It's the size of the force that is really the issue, and it's not
that the leaders don't have the will to do it, they clearly understand the issue, it
worries them.
Peter Robinson: So you would say to President Obama, look, in your $3.6 trillion budget,
buster, you should have included about 500 billion more for the Pentagon.
Jack Keane: Well, the Pentagon
Peter Robinson: You need to take it from at least 4% of GDP in time of war to four-and-a-half
or even 5% so that we can do both. Fight these wars, and keep ourselves at conventional strength.
[ Multiple voices speaking ]
Jack Keane: Well, you introduced another subject there, but yes. One is we have to grow the
size of the ground forces and spend the money to do that, and I believe we can -- we can
recruit for it. Secondly, we have mortgaged, the truth be known, the future of the Air
Force and the Navy somewhat in their modernization programs to pay for this war. So they have
-- they have some bills that need to be paid. Then the ground forces' equipment itself.
We've been burning this out over these last seven years, and that needs to be taken care
of. So there are many bills inside the Pentagon that are not going to be addressed by the
current budget, and I think that's a mistake.
Peter Robinson: All right, general John Abizay [Assumed spelling]. There are ways to live
with a nuclear Iran, close quote. What do you think?
Jack Keane: Well, I certainly -- I do not want Iraq to have nuclear weapons, that's
a fact. Nobody does.
Peter Robinson: Are we -- is there a military option for preventing them from getting nuclear
weapons, either on the part of the United States or Israel, or are we already past that?
Jack Keane: I don't believe the military option is realistic, as people believe it is. I think
you can delay the development of nuclear weapons. Look, there's a number of them sites, some
of them deep and buried sites which require significant penetration. We may not be able
to get to all of those sites. I doubt if we know where all the sites are. We would obviously
focus on the enriched uranium sites as a priority. But we would -- what the military would do,
you have to understand the limits of military action, it would delay the development of
those weapons for X number of years. Now that may buy you more time politically to be able
to achieve some diplomacy and put some pressure on it. The problem with that is once you
-- you attack unprovoked you give the Iranians a morale descendancy, you put them in the
victim category, and they start to gain support, not lose support from other nations in a world
by some kind of unilateral action or neutral action between the United States and Israelis.
And our national leaders certainly understand this issue, and it's a complicated
Peter Robinson: Leave it alone, leave it alone. Keep working it diplomatically, but don't
-- don't
Jack Keane: I think you keep the military option on the table as a pressure point dealing
with the Iranians. And if you're going to use it, just make sure you understand the
limits, certainly, and our leaders would understand that, of what that military option would entail.
Peter Robinson: Final question. Watching this program somewhere, there's an 18-year-old
wondering whether to sign up, whether to join the armed forces of the United States. At
this moment, when we're in combat in two wars, had the resources are strained as you have
just mentioned, what do you say to that young man or young woman.
Jack Keane: Welcome. Because it is -- the military we have on the battle field today,
particularly familiar with the ground forces because of the preoccupation of two wars is
just so extraordinary. They -- they -- they've been in combat, you know , since 9/11. That
means that all of our senior captains and new majors, they know nothing but war. We've
been deploying since 1989 on average of every 18 months during the '90s. That's 20 years.
So our colonels have been on operational deployments for almost 20 years. In my Army that I was
in, in my formative years, we went 15 years and did nothing. And that was a good thing,
certainly. I'm not suggesting that we wanted to do something, but you look at the resiliency
of the officers and the non-commissioned officers and the career force and what they have been
dealing with. It is enormous. Their morale is very high. Actually, it's sky-high.
Peter Robinson: Why?
Jack Keane: Their performance is
Peter Robinson: Because we got Iraq right, finally? Why would they
Jack Keane: Well, because they -- they have a sense of purpose about what they're doing,
and they -- they respond to a call to duty, and they have strong feelings about it. Different
motivations for people joining, but as they get into the culture of the military, I'm
absolutely convinced having lived this life, we strengthen the values that they bring to
us. And the team that comes out of that is -- is fascinating to watch, psychologically,
in terms of the sense of purpose and mission that they have, and desire to do it right
and get it right. But on top of that, after 9/11 where our morale in the past, in the
'90s, had always been high in Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, and the rest of those places, the fact
of the matter is post 9/11 it became all about America for the first time. All about the
American people for the first time. And the soldiers and leaders actually verbalize that
to you. They tell you it's about the American people. In their minds, in a general sense,
being overseas in Afghanistan and in Iraq, fighting the kinds of enemies that we were
fighting, they believed directly influenced the security of their loved ones and the United
States and the treasures that we have back there. They draw that sense of purpose to
what they're doing. And it enriches their lives in terms of having a satisfying life
and making a sacrifice for a greater good and a greater whole. Who wouldn't want to
be a part of something like that. And the kind of internal feeling that you have about
your sense of worthiness as a human being is pretty remarkable, and the resiliency that
they have demonstrated is better than anything that we have experienced in the United States
military. So we are so far from breaking this force, those comments I made had to do with
people who said this force was going to break, and I believe it was not going to break then,
and certainly not going to break now.
Peter Robinson: General Jack Keane, thank you very much.
Jack Keane: Okay.
Peter Robinson: I'm Peter Robinson for Uncommon Knowledge and the Hoover Institution, thanks
for joining us.