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David Petraeus & Andrew Roberts on War

January 25, 2024
Notes
Transcript
Eric and Eliot are joined by General David Petraeus and historian Andrew Roberts to discuss their New York Times bestselling book Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine (N.Y.:  Harper, 2023). They discuss how and why the two authors came together to write the book, the link between the causes of war and the manner in which wars are waged, the nature of regimes and the advantages that authoritarians have when fighting against liberal democracies, the challenge of maintaining liberal values in the midst of intense warfare, the influence of history on the waging of war and vice-versa, the way in which military commanders should provide their best military advice to Presidents, and the necessity and likelihood of fielding a generation of general/flag officers who are intellectually equipped to deal with the extraordinarily complex and dangerous international environment that the nation faces in the remind of this century.

Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine:
https://a.co/d/aNagP0I

Shield of the Republic is a Bulwark podcast co-sponsored by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:06

    Welcome to Shield of the Republic, a podcast sponsored by the Bulwark and the Miller Center of public affairs at the University of Virginia and dedicated to the proposition articulated by Will Saletan during World War two that a strong and balanced foreign policy is the necessary shield of our Democratic Republic. Eric Edelman, counselor at the Center strategic budgetary assessments, a Bulwark contributor, and a non resident fellow at the Miller Center. And I’m joined by my co host and co conspirator in all things strategic, Elliot Cohen, the Roberty Ozgood professor of strategy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Arleigh Burke Chair and Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Elliott, always good to see you.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:51

    Eric, always, good to be with you. I’m, I’m particularly excited today. Not only because we have two old friends of ours, but, two people who’ve written a book, and they still seem to be on speaking terms with each other which which is a somewhat unusual achievement. And so I, I honor them for that. But why don’t you get his launch, Derek?
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:12

    You ought to know about that since you’ve coauthored books with people, but not me, I would point out.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:18

    So That’s why we’re still on speaking terms.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:20

    I I suppose that’s right. Our guests today are, general David Patreas and, Andrew Roberts, who’s making a return appearance on on shield of the Republic. They are together, the authors of Conflict, the evolution of warfare from nineteen forty five to Ukraine, part, published recently by Harper, general Petreus really needs no introduction, but, you know, I I convention requires me to say that He has been the director of the central intelligence agency. He was the commander of US forces in Iraq, the commander of the international security forces in Afghanistan and the combatant commander of, central command, and a former colleague, whom I highly value for his incredible work, in Iraq in two thousand seven and, eight. David is now a a lecturer, I think, at Yale University, one of my two alma matters, and, also is the chair of KKR’s Global Institute.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:26

    Andrew Roberts is a historian and biographer, and if we try to list all of the books Andrew has written, we would we would take up the entire podcast. But he was most recently with us talking about his biography of King George the third, but he’s written a number of other, books, including a number of military histories and A number of books on leadership in warfare, let me start with you, Andrew. What brought the two of you together and prompted you to write this book?
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:57

    Well, we’d known each other for, several years, but it was the invasion of, Ukraine by Russia that prompted me to call David and and put the idea to him, but there are going to be lots of books about the Russia Ukrainian war in its political and geopolitical aspects. But why didn’t we write one about the military history? The military solely, the military aspects of it and put it in its in its historical context post nineteen forty five and David jumped at the idea which was wonderful. Add. So we got Harper Collins to, to, commission it.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:40

    And of course, they asked how we were gonna divvy up the chat and I said, well, David’s going to write about all the countries he’s invaded. And, we’ll, he also he also, wrote about Vietnam course, very important chapter as Will Saletan I was going to do the rest. And then what we did was to send lots of of, these chapters backwards and forwards to one another until we were we were ready. And, and unlike Elliot’s, experience in this. Actually, co authoring, which I’d never done before.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:14

    This is the first book of my twenty books that I co authored. Actually turned out to be a profoundly intellectually stimulating and and good natured and friendly experience. So, so, yes, it was, it was it was a wonderful thing to have had the opportunity to to do with David.
  • Speaker 4
    0:04:32

    Alright, Eric. Let me just add that, Andrew and I had done a lot of things together in the past. I think he did five sessions alone where I interviewed him on his Churchill book and then various aspects of the Churchill churchill and the military, Churchill and the intelligence, Community Churchill and the Royal Family Churchill and his friends, and, also the George, the third book, of course, about the last king of America. And again, back and forth, we’d interview each other on various topics, not even done the Clived in literary Festival interview by him, twice before, even though I hadn’t written a book. So we had this wonderful collaboration and a great relationship and when he offered this, I’d really been looking for an opportunity to write about Iraq and Afghanistan, which as you noted, the two wars that I commanded at the height of each, but without doing it in a tell all memoir kind of way, and I did wanna revisit Vietnam, which was this subject of my PhD dissertation at Princeton, but at ten years after the end of the war, and we were now several decades later, and I wanted to go through this scholarship that had come out since then, the declassified papers, and dig more into that and from a somewhat different perspective.
  • Speaker 4
    0:05:43

    So, it was really a wonderful opportunity and it was great working with Andrew back and forth the entire way. And frankly, we had some great editors at Harper Collins. What one the head editor, of course, who said you know, you have to write the Iraq and Afghanistan chapters in the first person. This third person that you submitted just doesn’t Bulwark. And he was absolutely right.
  • Speaker 4
    0:06:05

    And so we recrafted it that way. Put in asterisk at the top that said general Petreus drafted this and it it was, I also read those two chapters for the audible version.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:18

    So let me, I by the way, I should stipulate that I mean, the one book that I really, ended up co authoring was with, John Guch, who’s a a wonderful British military historian, and we’re we’ve remained very good friends since. So, I I don’t want anybody to think that, these things always have to end in, acrimony. Although, I’d I know of others. Who’ve, you know, really ended up at Dagger’s drawn. So so many interesting things to talk about in this book let me just begin.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:47

    I wanna read from page two, you say this is not a book about politics and why wars break out. Rather, it’s about what happens on battlefields once they have. And, and that’s, you know, I think you’re you’re faithful to that. I would like to press you a little bit on that, though, because I’m trying to figure out how to formulate this exactly. It seems to me that the that the the causes of awards or the deeper political origins, do affect the way war is waged.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:22

    And I I mean, let me just give two examples. You know, the book came out before the Israel Gaza war. But it’s certainly triggered by Russia Ukraine. In both cases, the way the war was launched and the nature of the regimes that launched it. Putin’s Russia, Hamas and Gaza had a lot to do with how it was waged.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:46

    Particularly, I’m thinking of the quite calculated brutality directed against civilians. So I was wondering if you could comment on that. Is it really possible to separate out what happens on the battlefield from the the natures of the countries that are waging the wars and the reasons that they’re they’re waging them.
  • Speaker 4
    0:08:08

    Not entirely. You’re exactly right. And we actually do discuss, for example, Putin’s grievance filled, revanchist, and revisionist, view of history, his denial of Ukraine’s right to exist, etcetera. And because that is an element of this. Of course, what we really focus on in every one of these conflicts is the quality of the strategic leadership.
  • Speaker 4
    0:08:32

    And the most senior strategic leadership, of course, is the commander in chief. It’s the president of the United States prime minister of the UK. President Putin. But then what we really focus on, of course, is how the then strategic military commander, the overall theater commander, carries out his duties. Does he get the big ideas right?
  • Speaker 4
    0:08:55

    The strategy? Does he communicate it effectively through the breadth and depth of the organization? Does he oversee the implementation of the big ideas, providing example, energy inspiration, getting great people allowing those not measuring up to move on the metrics, how the leader spends his time. And then, is there a process, by which the big ideas are refined as the context changes, etcetera, etcetera. But, again, part of that context, clearly, is in a sense the mindset, the predisposition, of the most senior leader who makes the fundamental decision who rolls the iron dice, as the term is is described for the decision to go to war And that does have an influence.
  • Speaker 4
    0:09:41

    There’s no question about it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:43

    If I could just follow-up a bit. I mean, you’re understandably, what you just said is largely not entirely from the perspective of western leaders, fighting, in particular, the liberal democracies, but not just the liberal democracies, fighting a more or less conventional war. Can you can you apply that kind of template to how you analyze the success of somebody like Yachem, cinema, in, Gaza or or the Iranian regime, which is fighting a very, very different kind of war than the kind of war that, Putin has fought in Russia, or that, you know, for that matter, you fought, Dave, and Iraq, and, Afghanistan at some measure. How how would they stack up in that analysis?
  • Speaker 4
    0:10:36

    Well, again, you obviously have to understand the enemy strategic military leader, in his disposition, is there a willingness to take casualties that might be greater than, for example, hours that’s often the case. If you think about why was the strategy in Vietnam flawed? One of the reasons it was flawed was because it was based on a proposition of attrition, search and destroy that, you know, we kill ten of them for every one of us. But they could replace place their casualties. And because they saw this as a a nationalist, war of independence, if you will.
  • Speaker 4
    0:11:17

    Yes, communist leaders, which were, of course, the source of our concern. But because of their approach, again, you couldn’t win that kind of war. And we didn’t get the big ideas right in Vietnam. We argue in the book until mid nineteen sixty eight when general Abrams finally took over from general Westmoreland. And for the first time, you had a commander who understood priority should be the security of the people, and that had to be carried out in a different way.
  • Speaker 4
    0:11:45

    In fact, we had a template for that. The Marines had been doing that with considerable success. But the army units were thrashing around in the jungle with, quite ephemeral effects. And again, it turned out we could not win a war of attrition, with them despite the commitment of well over five hundred thousand troops. So, yes, you’ve gotta understand the perspective look, the individuals we fought in Iraq is in, if Afghanistan, as you recall Elliot employed one of the most pernicious techniques in the battlefield imaginable.
  • Speaker 4
    0:12:19

    They would be willing to blow themselves up to take us with them. That changes the dynamics of how you fight. It means that our soldiers have to keep everyone at beyond arms length, and if those individuals don’t obey the instructions are given. If the vehicles don’t do that as well, you might have to actually use force. Because you have to have an assumption, especially if the intelligence, is there, that this person could be a suicide bomber.
  • Speaker 4
    0:12:46

    So, yeah, without question that all of this, I think, is absolutely true, and we do try to understand the perspective, obviously, of the the enemy, if you will, this is written from the Western perspective, after all. But again, the great strategic leader of both the French experience in Indochina and the US war in Vietnam was neither French nor American. It was general job. And that’s how we identify.
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:14

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that of course in democracies, you have to bring the people along with you, the domestic audience along with you. And so it it’s much more difficult. You can’t really go out deliberately to fight a war that ignores the Geneva conventions in the way that, Russia has in Ukraine. And obviously, Hamas has done as well. The classic example that we go into in, in some detail is Algeria in nineteen fifty four where the French, essentially, didn’t so much resort to, torture that actually used it as a essential part of the of the war winning, attempted war winning technique.
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:58

    So actually what happens there is you get the domestic, political opinion in this case in, in France. Turning against the war and the very nature of the of the war is one of the things that means that it can no longer be fought by the democracy. So so Elliot, absolutely. You are right. The the the the nature of the regime that you’re fighting is inherent in the kind of war that you’re able to, fight.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:26

    If I could ask just one follow-up, then, throw it back to Eric. Could the two of you talk a bit then about the nature of the advantages or the disadvantages that, the kinds of regimes that were up against, a Russia, a, an, a, Iran, a, Hamas possibly a China, which, all which I think it’s fair to say simply don’t have the compunctions that, the liberal democracies have. It it undoubtedly gives them certain advantages. It probably places them at certain disadvantages, but could you to have you discuss that? Because I think they You know, one of the things that’s, important about the book is that it potentially looks forward to, you know, or forces its readers to look forward to say, how is war, which is as clausewitz says, a chameleon, likely to evolve into the future.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:29

    Yes. We we have one chapter, the final chapter, in fact, chapter ten entitled the future of war, which looks at sensors and cyber and robotics AI drones, space and all these various areas, which are obviously going to be tremendously important in future, conflict. And, and that also fits into the, the point that you made earlier because, in a sense, it’s your own ethical, standpoint which will decide whether or not you go to the nth degree to use these new weapons. Obviously nuclear weapons haven’t been used since, Nagasaki, but they’re going to be all sorts of new and modern, especially in the area of a iron robotics weapons that are going to require an ethical standpoint from the point of view of the people who are gonna be using them because the human in the loop, as he is present, is not going to be, in the loop very much longer. And, instead, it’s going to be the human on the loop who creates the algorithms unnecessary to, to have the overall sort of game plan and have a fighter’s gonna be taken.
  • Speaker 3
    0:16:46

    So all in all, Yes. These these big ethical considerations where democracies are in a sense, sort of hamstrung compared to dictatorships, are, something that we do examine in the final chapter of the book.
  • Speaker 4
    0:17:05

    We also, throughout the book as well, LA. Keep in mind, again, this is post nineteen forty five. Therefore, post Geneva Convention. And the adoption of the law of land warfare. And I reflect on this at times because you hear right now, for example, people sail, they were so barbaric to us.
  • Speaker 4
    0:17:24

    What’s key why aren’t we so barbaric to them? Why don’t we give, in kind And, of course, it’s because we are committed to certain standards that evolved from a war that saw incredible barbarity. Including, in some, many cases, from our own side. I mean, the, the destruction of some of Germans, Germany’s cities and so forth was really quite substantial. And the reality is that if you take actions that violate the Geneva Convention, the laws of land warfare, It is going to have, there will be blowback.
  • Speaker 4
    0:18:01

    There will be a penalty for that. And one of the reasons that I stood against enhanced interrogation techniques, was not just that they didn’t work. Although, have a firm conviction that they don’t. They’re not the best way to get, good information, from a detainee But it’s also that even if you don’t believe that they don’t work, if you think you actually can get something from them, using those, you’re going to pay a penalty for that, a price for that in the court of world opinion that is going to be greater, than what are the value that you get from someone, using those techniques. And this is true in many other ways as well.
  • Speaker 4
    0:18:42

    And yes, dictators, autocrats, Andrew and I went to Bucha, for example, outside, Keith and saw the atrocities visited on the people there by the Russian soldiers. In fact, we wrote a piece around the publication of the book that actually, described Russian military culture as embracing war crimes rather than trying to avoid them. But, I just think it is a reality, but it’s a reality I agree with. I think there should be norms. I think we have adopted them, and I do believe it’s very important that we observe them noting that shore autocrats, Kleptocrats, dictators, whatever can, worry less about casualties.
  • Speaker 4
    0:19:25

    Putin seems very unconcerned about the horrific losses that is forces are taking on the battlefield in Ukraine. Again, many of the forces that we fought over the years, promoted, employed suicide bombing, and really quite, slightly crazed to tactics at times that we’re going to lead to very high casualties for their forces But that’s not an argument that’s sufficient in my mind to say that that’s what we ought to do as well. And at the end of the day, you have to have, I think, a bit of faith and the strength of democracy over the strengths, if you will, of autocracy, which, again, can have more continuity. They can make decisions more rapidly. You don’t have to wrangle through Congress.
  • Speaker 4
    0:20:11

    You don’t have congressional delegations and oversight and all the other, challenges that come with, commanding in a democracy, but I think there are huge strengths there as well.
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:24

    Another important aspects of warfare where totalitarian regimes have a, have a a jump on democracies essentially is that, they can launch surprise attacks. Much more, easily. When you go through the list of, surprise attacks that have taken place since Pearl Harbor with the attack on on Korea, the six day war, the yom kippur war, the lands war, nine eleven, this this, latest Hamas atrocity. All of them are part from, the six day war was started by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes against, democracies. And, the six day war is the only one that isn’t.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:11

    So that does give, give totalitarian regimes a bit of a advantage, but it’s only an right at the beginning because what it tends to do, is to, is to heat up the, response from the, from the people who’ve, suffered the surprise attack. There’s that, that, that, surprise attacks happen so often in history. That the surprising things, and they’re still surprised by them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:37

    You know, I’m gonna pass it off to to Eric, but I I will, you know, there’s there’s a part of me which which wonders. You know, I I don’t I don’t think we would have won World War two without the strategic bombing campaigns. That’s another historical argument to be had there, and that that would distract us. But I would throw that out there. And I I think I’m very mindful of the fact that our wars the wars that you fought in, Dave.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:05

    Those have been wars far from our shores where we had, you know, tremendous overmatch. And so we could afford to be remarkably constrained. In our use of force, and even then. And I just wonder if, you know, we end up facing the kinds of circumstances that, that are closer to World War two in which one way the Ukrainians are facing and other ways the Israelis are facing whether a lot of those inhibitions Will Saletan very least get relaxed, but that’s a that’s a separate thing. Eric, I’ve been hogging the stage.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:44

    So Let
  • Speaker 4
    0:22:44

    me add something to keep in mind that the wars that we were fighting many of the wars since nineteen forty five the element of hearts and minds has been very important. And if you are trying to win hearts and minds, you are very conscious of the possibility of innocent loss of life. In fact, we had a sign on the command post wall staring at me in these five combat commands I had as a general officer that asked a question. Will this operation take more bad guys off the street? Then it creates biased conduct.
  • Speaker 4
    0:23:17

    And if the answer to that was no, in other words, you’re gonna create more bad guys, then you take off the street. You’re supposed to go back and rescope the operation so that the answer gets to yes. And if you can’t get to yes, then you’re supposed to sit under a tree until the thought passes. So, again, to be sure the context is there, and I think it’s a reasonable question that you raise, if the country’s survival was at stake, noting that, of course, every war since nineteen forty five has been limited because there has not been a use of nuclear weapons, again, since that which brought the war in the Pacific to an end.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:52

    I’d love to get the two of you to talk about something, which intrigues me in reading the book. You know, Lord Kane’s famously said that, practical men of affairs are, frequently enthralled to some defunct economist and Charlie Sykes, the progressive historian, in a presidential address to the American Historical Association wrote that every man is his own historian. I’m really interested in the two of your of your reflections on the role that history plays on in war and and vice versa. And Dave, I have you in mind specifically because you mentioned, I should have mentioned it in my introduction that you wrote, a very good PhD dissertation on the US army in in the Vietnam war. And I saw, sort of, you know, traces of all this in the Vietnam chapter, which I read with great interest because I think I’m one of the few people who ever had, blowtorch Bob Komer as a distinguished predecessor in two jobs.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:01

    He was the second under secretary of defense for policy. And he also you recount Dave how he gets sent home by general Abrams after setting up the Kourds program in Vietnam. And is replaced by Bill Colby you didn’t you didn’t talk about his, onward assignment, which which was that Lyndon Johnson sent him very briefly. With a recess appointment to be the US ambassador to Turkey. So if you could talk a little bit about how you thought about command in both Iraq and Afghanistan because of your study of counterinsurgency in Vietnam.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:43

    Of course, the role you played in in you know, getting the counterinsurgency manual written and and promulgated. And Andrew, from your point of view, you know, How does the the the conduct of war affect how historians, you know, write and think about it? Over time? How does that change?
  • Speaker 4
    0:26:05

    Well, that’s a great question. It also, of course, very quickly, reminds me of churchill’s wonderful quote that history will be kind to me because I intend to write it. But I’m a big fan of applied history, I believe, in in the value of it. And I picked the dissertation topic at at Princeton, with an intent, the idea that hopefully I would take some lessons from it, that would be useful if I ever got to a senior position. And it turned out that that was very, very true.
  • Speaker 4
    0:26:38

    In fact, it was wasn’t only when I was in a senior position. It was also when I was speech writer for the supreme allied commander europe. The aid and assistant exec to the chairman, the joint chiefs of staff, or the, chief of staff of the army two years, the executive officer for the chairman, the joint chiefs, in particular, that job. And on occasion, I would walk in and say, you know, sir, in all of history, or certainly all post war history, the chairman has had a veto essentially. Don’t underestimate the importance of your advice.
  • Speaker 4
    0:27:13

    And then I also developed, a view on what the character of military advice to the president should be when it comes to the use of force and also to decisions on, again, build ups and, especially draw downs. And, and I actually shared this with president Bush, when he selected me to be the commander of the surge in Iraq. And then also with president Obama, went on very short notice of course. He selected me to be Mander in Afghanistan. I wanted them to know what they were getting because a year or so later, eighteen months later, whatever it was, there was gonna be a decision on drawdowns And I told them that my advice will be based on the mission you have given us, the facts on the ground, the objective reality, informed by an awareness of the issues with which you have to deal that I don’t have to deal with, such as strain on the force, budget deficits, the opportunity cost of forces staying in Afghanistan rather than going to the Indo Pacific theater, as an example, congressional politics, national politics, alliance politics.
  • Speaker 4
    0:28:24

    You name it all these issues that I said, I acknowledge. These are legitimate issues that you have to factor in. They’ll inform my advice in some way, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be driven by the facts on the ground and the mission that you have given us. This is a fairly big deal because there’s a number of military leaders, including my boss during the surge at one point in time, who was trying to anticipate what Congress would support. And in one case where I recommended the pace, the beginning of the drawdown of the surge forces, which, by the way, was not supported by the joint chiefs.
  • Speaker 4
    0:29:07

    They had tried to box me in with several courses of action that they had drilled us on and And I at the end of that whole process, I remember telling them, Chiefs, this has been very valuable for the staff. And for me, as an exercise, I just want you to know that what I recommend to the president, in two days is not going to be any one of these three options. Now, of course, I was hugely empowered by president Bush. He had gone all in on the surge, and so this is something that you could do, but I felt compelled to do it as well. But This that notion is very important.
  • Speaker 4
    0:29:41

    And when the president turned to my then boss, what do you think about what Dave has just recommended? He said, well, you know, I think militarily it’s okay, but I’m not sure that it’s gonna sell well on Capitol Hill. And I remember the president rightly saying, you let me worry about Capital Hill. I want your view on the military merits, of this advice that he has just provided. So this is essentially, of course, the debate that carried on for decades between, say, the hun the Sam Hunting School of civil military relations noting, of course, that He was, Elliott at Harvard and and great mentor and PhD advisor.
  • Speaker 4
    0:30:19

    And then the the Jaduit school which was that you should factor all this in in the military. I I was clearly a Huntian when it came to that, and it came because of what I gleaned from looking at how senior leaders had carried out their duties, during Vietnam in particular, but also in a number of other, wars as well. So I think history is hugely important. I think it it helps you, it guides you it’s instructive. It’s not precise.
  • Speaker 4
    0:30:52

    Every context is different. But I also took from that recognition of a number of other issues that the army in particular had come to grips with in the wake of Vietnam which was, of course, the imperative of rigorous military readiness reporting with integrity, the importance of unit replacement rather than individual replacement. The importance of extraordinarily demanding training, force on force, the whole idea of a learning organization and the importance of fostering a culture that promotes learning and the after action review concept that is so important, not just to our national training center rotations, but everything that we do, including on the battlefield. So all of these, and then a recognition of the importance of doctrine, and which is, of course, the reason that when I had the the three star tour between the three and four star tours in Iraq, I went to Fort Lebanon with the with the idea that we need a counter uncertainty field manual. What I thought was obvious or what have you, but in part because I’d watched it in El Salvador or I studied it Vietnam, the French and the Americans.
  • Speaker 4
    0:32:07

    I’ve been in Haiti, the chief of operations for the UN Force a year in Bosnia, which in many respects was a very comprehensive civil military campaign plan, albeit not much violence, although we were doing targeting of, war criminals and, terrorists than after nine eleven as well. But all of these gave me a frame of reference that frankly not everyone had. And so we needed this for the entire army and we produced it. Then we overhauled every aspect of the preparation of our units, leaders, forces, all of our commission, noncommissioned war officer, professional military education, courses, the scenarios in the in the combat training centers on and on. And then the importance finally of institutional learning, and so that it’s not just enough, that we’re learning out in Iraq, and we fostered that very explicitly.
  • Speaker 4
    0:32:59

    Every session that we had with the two star division commanders and above, they had to share, two lessons they had learned or initiatives they were pursuing that would be relevant to the others. Again, that was not optional. It was part of this. Would bring in the lessons learned team leaders of there were five or six of these different, organizations all headed by full kernels plus the counterinsurgency center of the asymmetric fair group, all of this. And then, by the way, I would do on my battle rhythm one hour a month.
  • Speaker 4
    0:33:28

    I would do a video conference with the individual who replaced me at Fort Levenworth so that I could report to him the issues that the army needed to capture institutionally. In its doctrine, in its organizational design and structure in the training, that was conducted, collective training, in particular, in the leader development courses that we had, in material requirements, in personnel policies, in facilities, etcetera. You know the acronym that guides this well, dotland p f. So, again, this is I what I took from reading history and then trying to derive lessons from it. And of course, the most formative history for us during my early years, for the first, gosh, fifteen or more years was reflection on Vietnam.
  • Speaker 4
    0:34:20

    Because we were basically focused on the cold war at that point in time, and and and and we had we weren’t fighting anywhere, until the gulf war came along. And, of course, that was one that was sent from central casting for the US army.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:34

    And that was one of the reasons in fact why the Pentagon went for applied history in the way that it did at the time of the yom kippur war. They sent, they set up no fewer than thirty six commissions, that reported on various aspects of the Uncle War. They send a lot of officers out to, to Israel to talk to the, senior Israeli commanders and they and they tried to apply the lessons and and they did it in a way that was tremendously helpful to the United States twenty, seven years later in, in the first gulf war. And you’re right. Everybody is his own historian, but generals are in particular.
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:17

    They I I think it’s a cliche and and a wrong cliche when people say that everybody fights the the last war actually, actually the, the way in which everybody looked at Yomkippur, showed that in fact they were considering all the time, the various aspects of it where history could be applied to to fight the next one. In a way of getting away from that. And when one looks at when one reads David’s, coin manual, the, the two thousand and six coin manual, there are references to the Malayan campaign. The Malayan emergency at nineteen fifty two to sixty. He mentions the Oman the darfur, campaign that the Oman and the and the British Commonwealth fought successfully in the nineteen, late nineteen sixties to mid seventies.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:09

    You know, there is a there’s a constant strike strikes me one of the things that came through quite strongly when we were writing conflict. Was that there is a constant, process of Germans, Germans, sorry, generals. Trying to should I say that again? There’s a constant process of generals trying to to learn from the last war and not and not refight it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:33

    Before I get a bit back to to Elliot, I just, there are two things that your comments, both of your comments, have sparked one, Dave in your accounting of, your discussion with the president of, your recommendations for the drawdown in the force. I remember that period, quite well because I was doing my best to actually support you, with secretary Gates who I think was also pretty supportive. But very interesting in in terms of, the answer the president gave to the then centcom commander who was second guessing you. In the tank when the decision was made, to launch the surge. The then CNO and the then chief of staff of the army both raised concerns, with the president one raised the concern of whether the Congress would be supportive of the surge and the American people and the other raised a question, actually, it was the CNO who raised a question of whether the army rotation base would be broken, by, you know, the surge.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:52

    And the president responded to both of them in the tank One one with the same answer you gave, which he gave you, which was let me worry about the American people in the Congress. That’s my job. But also with regard to the question of the army’s rotation base, he said if there’s one thing that could break the army, it would be us leaving Iraq with our tail
  • Speaker 4
    0:38:15

    between us. It was in wars, what he said. He told me.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:17

    Yeah. Yeah. So let me add more on it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:20

    He he was I think he was
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:21

    a little more colloquial, actually. You know, and and just to just to Andrew’s point, Dave, before I go back to you, one of the things that worries me a bit, and I wonder what for, you know, your views on this is that, the way that General Dupui and others really went to to school on the, you know, nineteen seventy three war is something that I’m not sure we’re doing in, in Ukraine, adequately. We we, you know, I’m I’m not sure that we are, in fact, studying, the war in in Ukraine with the kind of care and deliberation that we did, the seventy three war to try and learn the lessons of future war. It’s one of the things I worry about.
  • Speaker 4
    0:39:08

    Well, you know, first of all, it’s hard to do that if you don’t have boots on the ground. And lessons learned teams and so forth. And we do have, individuals in uniform in Kiev, of course. But we have no operational boots on the ground really outside the effort that is essentially just providing the security assist since in striving to account for it, and make sure it doesn’t go awry. But but back, if I could to when the process began for determining the pace of the drawdown of the surge forces in Afghanistan and how many would come out the in the very beginning.
  • Speaker 4
    0:39:52

    I was brought back from Afghanistan for that. It consisted of three meetings, which took, roughly a week with a weekend in there. In the very first meeting, I reminded the president and the attendees how I believe I should provide what the basis of my advice was. Again, that’s the mission given and the objective facts on the ground, and you know, all the tasks and associated purposes, and troop to task, etcetera, informed again by these other factors, but driven by the facts on the ground. And I then offered the opt the three options and my recommendation, and the president came back and said that’s not enough initially coming out, and it’s over too long a period of time.
  • Speaker 4
    0:40:40

    I wanted to get all the way through two fighting seasons. And not begin to even the to begin the process of drawing down until that second fighting season. In other words, two falls, into the winter of the the the, second year after we started that drawdown. So he gave us, an option to examine we came back in the second meeting several days later, essentially laid out in what the analysis that we’d done that showed essentially we could not accomplish the missions, achieve the, accomplish the tasks and achieve the purposes associated with them. That we had been assigned given the objective facts on the ground, and then came to the third meeting, in a the decision was in between the option he had asked us to evaluate in the recommendation I had made, which, unfortunately, didn’t get us quite through the second fighting season and it was a bit more up front than than I felt was warranted by the conditions.
  • Speaker 4
    0:41:38

    But I remember at the end of that, as they came. And they said, okay. Everybody okay with this. And everybody was sort of supporting. And I said, okay.
  • Speaker 4
    0:41:45

    With, you know, Dave, what about you? And I said, with great respect. Let me remind you. My advice, my recommendations, are based on the, you know, objective facts on the ground, and there’s been no change in the facts on the ground over the last week, and therefore, my recommendation is unchanged. And, by the way, my confirmation hearing for CI Director is tomorrow or the next day, and I can assure you the first question the Republicans ask will be, what was your best professional military advice to president Obama on the decision that he has just announced?
  • Speaker 4
    0:42:16

    And I said, and my response will be, we I fully support the decision of the president of the United States. We’ll do everything we can with the means that are provided to continue to accomplish the missions, which we had done. We had done what we were asked to do over the previous year, but my recommendation or his decision, but his decision was a more aggressive, drawdown formulation of the drawdown than what I recommended, which is what I then said. But when I stated that in the situation room, you can imagine there was a little bit of a sensation of the oxygen going out of the room at that point in time. It was an interesting moment.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:59

    Can I take us in a different direction? So, you know, most of the war is since forty five with the exception of the two Middle East wars sixty seven and seventy three, which are both quite brief. And perhaps you know, the very final phase in Vietnam, we’re we’re not players. Have been a regular unconventional kinds of wars. I think one of the things that’s so stark about Russia, Ukraine, is this is I mean, it’s a full spectrum more because there’s a irregular component number of irregular components to it, but it is an all out conventional conflict.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:41

    And I I wonder if I could get the two of you to talk about the future, because I think maybe I’m just I am just expressing my own view. I don’t think we’re used to thinking about, intense conventional war. And I I actually sometimes worry that the habits that we’ve gotten into from being engaged and protracted irregular conflict, may create habits of thought, which are not particularly useful. If we ever find ourselves in something much, much more intense. But I I was wondering if you just let me ask you to use that as a launching pad to talk about the nature of contemporary and indeed future high end conventional war.
  • Speaker 4
    0:44:29

    Let me start Elliot by just noting that I think the US military leaders, in particular, and forces, have to be prepared for a more challenging, array of potential missions than perhaps at any time in the post World War II period. You know, all the way in the spectrum of conflict from military to civil authorities, and that those tasks are actually becoming a bit more demanding because of more extreme weather events, natural disasters, and so forth are more pronounced than they have been in the past, even the pandemic. The military played a very significant role, in the response to that. Through peacekeeping, although we don’t do much of that anymore, peace enforcement. But then certainly a regular warfare, although we are doing this more in terms of advise assist and enable, rightly, than our forces on the front lines, whether it’s Iraq, northeastern Syria, East Africa, West Africa, or variety of other places around the world enabled, in particular by the advent of this extraordinary constellation fleet of drones that we can put up, and is so important to helping, our local partners.
  • Speaker 4
    0:45:41

    Then through sort of mid level conventional war, if you will, and all the way up to the prospect of, of course, a peer on peer, major conflict. Between the two superpowers of the world. This is different, I think, from any time, arguably since World War two, arguably again. And it’s a very challenging array of missions to be prepared for. Because intellectually, you have to be prepared for all of these.
  • Speaker 4
    0:46:10

    That means you can’t jettison the lessons we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re very applicable on it. I’d contend they’re applicable, actually, right now, in Gaza, and that Gaza should be approach from a counterinsurgency perspective as a campaign design rather than a conventional military operation. But you raise Ukraine and rightly. This is much more a traditional conventional, military operation war.
  • Speaker 4
    0:46:40

    But it is in certain respects strange, and that is, as the great Max boot has described this is the war in which all quiet on the western front meets blade runner. You have aspects of this that harken back to World War one trenches and barbed wire and minefields and, all the rest of that. And yet, right on top of that, you have fairly advanced drones that are digitally tied back to, indirect fire systems. You see, unmanned maritime systems that have been so effective on the Ukrainian side that they forced the Russians to actually withdraw the bulk of the Black Sea fleet from the important port of Sibastopol for the first time in many centuries, etcetera, etcetera. And yes, we’re not, in terms of a military industrial base to even support Ukraine adequately, much less actually carry this out ourselves.
  • Speaker 4
    0:47:33

    So You’re exactly right. I think there are huge lessons from this about the need for much greater numbers of certain types of munitions. If you end up in this kind of extended warfare that is of this nature, And this highlights again, the need for leaders who comprehend all of this, and can be prepared have big ideas about how we would go about each of these types of campaigns. And again, that’s a very, very tall order. Because in the past, we’ve been able to focus on one or the other.
  • Speaker 4
    0:48:10

    We focused on the cold war. It was big, big armies, even the Gulf War was that kind of war if you no civilians on the battlefield, open desert tank on tank, again, sent from central casting for a US army that trains in the Mojave desert. No urban areas to speak of. Yeah. They had to liberate Kuwait City, but the big fighting was out on the desert floor.
  • Speaker 4
    0:48:30

    Fascly different, of course, from the irregular wars, that we have fought would often have, included very substantial urban operations, especially Iraq, and especially during the surge when we had to clear and hold and rebuild Remati falusia, parts of Baghdad, most will, nearly two million people, Vakuba, etcetera. And we see some of that certainly, to a considerable degree, as the Israelis are seeking to destroy Hamas, dismantle the political wing, get their hostages back. And then they had to need a they had a few other big ideas about who’s going to administer Gaza, and how do you keep Hamas from reconstituting and hearts and minds matter If you don’t want to be creating more bad guys, then you take off the streets, in the conduct of operations. But, again, I think Not only does the country face the most the greatest number of threats and challenges since the end of World War two, It also faces the most complex array of challenges since world war two, and that means that leaders have to have a real range of expertise and knowledge, and, and, and, again, awareness of doctrine and all the rest of this. In a way that was not as necessary, certainly say, again, since the gulf war and until we really rebalanced to Asia recognizing the emergence of the challenges in the Indo Pacific region.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:01

    I think that’s right. I think, for an entire generation, really, from nineteen forty five until the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was thirty five years. We, had to prepare for a mass tank on slaughter across the North German planes. And that’s what, concentrated the mines. That actually, of course, the, the real, killing that was going on in in real life as opposed to that, because that never happened.
  • Speaker 3
    0:50:27

    Was was taking place in, in insurgencies. The four hundred million AK forty sevens that were, that were produced in that period, is testament to that. So whilst you had to prepare for one kind of warfare, in fact, what you were doing, for most of the time in most of the parts of the world was fighting a completely different kind of war altogether and and what the rise of China, the close cooperation between China Russia and Iran and the multiplicity of future threats that can come from all sorts of new technologies tells us is that we’ve got to be ready to, essentially to do both to, to deal with a conventional mass onslaught but also deal with the destabilization of societies right across the the planet. So this is going to just cost more money. This is something that it’s very important that people appreciate that the, we have been living in a sort of fool’s paradise having such low, defense spending.
  • Speaker 3
    0:51:36

    I’m speaking from the point of view of course of a Britain, which where we are sort of teetering around two percent of GDP on defense. That is nothing like enough. And and and by the way, we are more than an awful lot of European countries. I think we’ve got to wake up now and recognize that the rest of Europe has to go up to at least an American level of of defense, especially of course if some incoming government in America were to cut off funding to Ukraine.
  • Speaker 2
    0:52:06

    You know, I think I think that’s completely right, Andrew. And I I would also parenthetically say that, you know, I mean, it’s at least are, as you say, at three percent or close to it. But but in terms of what they actually get for that three percent of GDP, it’s really way below what you should be able to get. I mean, it it’s, you know, like, a hundred and twenty five tanks or something like that or or, you know, two two aircraft carriers that I think can fly eight f thirty fives because, that you haven’t been able to for that. There there’s a question of efficiency.
  • Speaker 2
    0:52:43

    There’s a but there’s a broader point too. And, this I’ll I’ll step a little bit gingerly around my friend, Dave Patreas, I I am not sure that I believe in omni competent generals and staffs. You know, I think about your predecessor in or one of your predecessors rather in, Afghanistan, Dave. Who was removed by the Secret Podcast defense, Eric’s old boss, not because he was a bad guy in any way, shape, or form. He was a very admirable guy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:53:17

    Just wasn’t the right general for a counter insurgency. And and, you know, there are parallels in history. I mean, Andrew You know, you and I can talk about, journal Joffre or, Field Marshall, in world war one. Are these really the right guys to fight a large scale industrial war when their, you know, their their experience and very successful experience was in colonial warfare. And it would would not be the first time in history that you have militaries that are quite skilled at, irregular warfare counterinsurgency, going up against opponents who may have rather little combat experience, but actually have prepared for it better.
  • Speaker 2
    0:53:59

    I mean, I think if the the French and, Prussian armies in, eighteen seventy where, you know, the French have a lot more combat experience just because they’ve all been in Algeria. But they really weren’t ready for large scale conventional conflicts. That that seems to me to be a a concern that we should reflect on in, for the years ahead?
  • Speaker 4
    0:54:22

    I have, actually. And the challenge with what you laid out, is that you’d have sort of one set of generals for the big war and another set of generals for the regular war and another set of generals even for civil support to military authorities and a, and a handful of other discreet tasks in between. But you get one chairman of the joint chiefs at a time, and you get one combatant commander at a time. And the truth is that in any given, geographic area overseen by a combatant commander, especially some of them, you’ll have wars of all different types. I contend that’s certainly the case, once again, in central command right now, is arguably a case about Southern command, although that is always an economy of forest effort.
  • Speaker 4
    0:55:08

    I get it. It it it’s the case in Afrikaom, right now as well. And I think you, therefore, you have to have, these the combatant commanders in particular arguably that the service chiefs as well because they’re making, for structure and a lot of other decisions on the Dotland PDF, of course, and they have to understand, I think, the nature of different, campaigns up and down the spectrum of conflict. And so that part of the process of selecting these individuals should be to ensure that they do get it, in that regard. I don’t think that’s impossible, actually.
  • Speaker 2
    0:55:51

    You know, I actually, Eric, I’d like you to chime in because I I mean, you’ve dealt with a lot of generals and admirals. And, I mean, I will con I understand what you’re saying, Dave, but I will confess that I’m skeptical. Mean,
  • Speaker 4
    0:56:03

    we don’t always pick these, the individuals because of the merits of their operational knowledge, expertise, experience, and capabilities. Sometimes they’re picked because they’re gonna be loyal and they’re not gonna rock the boat. You know, they’re not gonna be an HR Mcmaster, who is, I used to describe admirerably, never leave something left unsaid. Which is what you want.
  • Speaker 2
    0:56:30

    Or or as as happens in a lot of wars of this, and Andrew, you’ve actually written about this. At the beginning of a war, you say we have these wonderful people in place, but they are just not the right ones, and you get a lot of people get fired, and not not The reason why we fire people today, which is for, you know, peccadillos of one kind or another, but because they’re just not I mean, if for example, it’s very interesting. We’ve just we, you know, we’ve been talking mainly here about land warfare. It’s very interesting that the United States Navy there is a real purge. There’s a purge of submarine commanders, but there’s a purge at the very top.
  • Speaker 2
    0:57:07

    You’d you had, at Beddy Stark, who’s the chief of naval operations, the right guy for peacetime Planning, and it actually does very useful service in World War two. But he’s gonna be replaced by admiral Ernest Jay King, who is much more of the kind of war fighter that you need. And I, you know, for me, this is actually one of the great tasks of civilian leadership because you cannot rely on the system to to do this on its own. It it just won’t. At least my view, Eric, you really should it kill you?
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:43

    So can I just bat butt in there and and add on your to continue your analogy for a bit? The second world war analogy, of course, General Marshall was, chosen with sixteen other generals above him in the, in the army list. And He in the course of the second world war Saks sixty four generals. So, you know, you did have a a culture of this. When you needed it in, in the second world war.
  • Speaker 1
    0:58:09

    Dave, if you wanted to say something, I mean, because Elliott’s trying
  • Speaker 4
    0:58:12

    to, you
  • Speaker 1
    0:58:12

    know, sign into this argument.
  • Speaker 4
    0:58:14

    Elliott wrote a great book about this. But again, I actually think it is possible, but this you have to bend the system to it. Look, I mean, there is a reason why secretary Gates had me sent back to be the president of a one star board, the only board I sat on in my entire life. And I did it during the Virgin Rock. Despite and I was the president, even though I was not the senior four star on the board.
  • Speaker 4
    0:58:41

    I was a junior four star in the army. So and it was to make sure that we we got the right people for the future several of whom were not as appreciated by the system because they were a bit outspoken. And again, never left something unsaid, as the saying goes, but that’s who we should value. And the challenge, Ellie, is to do that during peacetime, as well as when you’re desperate during war time.
  • Speaker 2
    0:59:10

    Yeah. Easier said than done,
  • Speaker 4
    0:59:11

    but Yes.
  • Speaker 1
    0:59:12

    Yeah. It’s it’s interesting because, I was going to talk about Marshall relieving a number of commanders in the midst of war, but Andrew, you know, took took that point from me and I was gonna mention the special general officer board that promoted HR Mcmaster and Sean Mcfarlane future other, you know, people who richly deserved to be in my view rewarded for their, performance actually on the battlefield as opposed to the criteria that that we actually use.
  • Speaker 4
    0:59:43

    Both of those are thinkers too. And there are several others. So they were they were reflective. They were thoughtful. They were students of history, and they had proven themselves.
  • Speaker 4
    0:59:55

    On the battle bay. Look at why, how did we end up with the junior three star in the entire army? As the commander of the Coalition joint task force in Iraq instead of retaining, general Scott Wallace, who had overseeing the ground operation, was, I thought a, very effective commander, but, of course, had antagonized secretary Rumsfeld with a comment during the fight to Baghdad, that this wasn’t exactly the war that we envisioned when we saw the emergence of many more of the irregular forces of Saddam Fedayeen and so forth. I thought that was an objective and honest and forthright statement. And should should not have been something that led to him being in the penalty box for a few years.
  • Speaker 1
    1:00:41

    And it was more a comment on the bad intelligence honestly than anything else.
  • Speaker 4
    1:00:46

    Yeah. And we’re adapting to it. Again, you know, it’s it’s, you know, no plan survives contact with the enemy, all that stuff.
  • Speaker 1
    1:00:53

    I wanna be mindful of people’s time because this podcast is, spanning the globe from, from California to to London. And, we’re actually a bit, over time. I I I guess I would finish my reflections on the conversation by saying that Yeah. Andrew, rightly pointed to the study of the Yum Kipper war, by the US army after nineteen seventy three and the role it played in developing operational concepts, that led to things like airland battle assault breaker, Fofa, the follow on forces attack that literally helped us win the Cold War
  • Speaker 4
    1:01:36

    big five districts for the army.
  • Speaker 1
    1:01:39

    Yeah. And Dave’s role, in, you know, writing the the field manual, it gave us essentially the, the operational concepts that, he was then able to put into play in the field, during the surge, along with Ray O’Diano, who is the corps commander, the late Ray O’Diano, another great another great general. And I guess my reflection is that I hope that this book will contribute to the kind of discussion we’ve just had over the last hour on a broader national level because I I think we’re in search of those kinds of operational concepts, for the kind of complex challenges that General Petreas has described that we face. But I don’t think we’ve found it yet. So, I hope, that this conversation and certainly the book will will help stimulate that.
  • Speaker 1
    1:02:34

    But I really wanna thank general Patreas and Andrew Roberts, who’ve, stimulated all this, great thought for for joining us on shield of the Republic to, today. And I hope we can have you both back in the future. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    1:02:47

    And I I wanna, second, those things. I I found myself, thinking about, seminar that I attended in late nineteen seventies, which was, you know, about the time, more or less that I met a a young captain, David Petraeus, and it was a seminar on which was really raised the question whether, you know, we’re basically done with war. Apparently not. And this is, this is a very useful book. I completely agree with it Eric said.
  • Speaker 2
    1:03:20

    Grateful to both of you for making Andrew your second appearance, shield of the Republic, Dave, first. But for both of you, I hope it won’t be your last
  • Speaker 3
    1:03:30

    Thank you very much indeed.
  • Speaker 4
    1:03:32

    I hope so.