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Amid Tighter Budgets, U.S. Army Rebalancing and Refocusing

A Conversation with Raymond T. Odierno

Speaker: Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army
Presider: James Sciutto, Chief National Security Correspondent, CNN
February 11, 2014
Council on Foreign Relations

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SCIUTTO: Thanks very much to everyone for coming tonight. Welcome. A real honor for me to be sitting across from General Odierno, and I'm sure for all of you to join. I was reminding him that I met him for the first time in Fort Hood in 2003 before the Iraq invasion, when the 4th I.D., which he was commanding at the time, was meant to come from the north for the invasion before the Turkish parliament got in the way. But the 4th I.D. got there in time to do great work, including capturing Saddam Hussein. And I remember that moment, as well.

Of course, the general one of the architects of the troop surge in Iraq, before going on to command all forces -- Multi-National Forces in Iraq and then becoming the Army chief of staff. So a real honor to have you here today.

ODIERNO: Thanks. I told Jim, I just came back from Turkey. I reminded them of the fact that they wouldn't let me come through the north there 12 years ago. It didn't do much good.

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: If I can, not surprisingly, would like to start tonight on the topic of Iraq. It's been a bad couple of weeks, couple of months there. You have the Al Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq, ISIS, taking over Fallujah. A thousand killed last month, 9,000 in 2013. I just want to ask your view, in light of your time there, do you think Iraq at this stage is recoverable? And do you think a U.S. force presence there, had the administration and Iraqi leadership managed to reach agreement, would have made a measurable difference?

ODIERNO: Well, first, I don't know if it's -- I mean, it's recoverable, but how long it would take to recover, I don't know. 2010, '11, we really bought time and space for the Iraqi people and the government to move forward. Security and violence was at, you know, really significant lows. But we always knew in the end, following the 2010 election, which was a very close election in Iraq, where, really, Maliki's party, who was the one that was in power, actually came in a very close second.

And so as they went through the process of the parliamentary system of building the government to take over, there was hope that there'd be great cooperation, but we realized then, as it took six to eight months to form the government, that there was going to be problems in forming the government.

So what happened is, although they had the time and space to continue -- because security was good -- to build the economy, to increase oil flow -- really, they were never able to reconcile between the different groups. And so what you saw is a continuing mistrust of the political entities within Iraq.

And as that mistrust grew, you saw other factions begin over time -- after about a two-year period -- to start to take advantage of that governmental mistrust and exploit the situation, which then created more violence. And some say Maliki came down too hard on the Sunnis, had to move more towards Iran. All of those are potential possibilities, but the bottom line is that the government in place was not able to come together in order to represent all of the Iraqi people. And when that didn't happen, they then started to revert back to violence.

And so what it's going to take is the politicians to come back together. They have an election coming up this year. And how that turns out will really probably dictate how well they move forward in Iraq.

We do know that the oil is -- that oil exports have increased significantly, so economically, actually, they're doing very well. But the violence now is driving them to separate each other. So for us, it's disappointing, because we believe we had them in a place where they could move forward.

And I believe Iraq is in such a strategic place in the Middle East -- just look at where it is on a map. It's right in the center. It's -- you know, it borders Iran, it borders Kuwait, it borders Jordan, it borders Turkey, it borders Syria. It's in such a key place in the Middle East, I thought it was very important that we would have them move forward as a stable government that is friendly to the United States. They're still friendly towards the United States, but right now, the instability in the country is very concerning to all of us as we move forward.

SCIUTTO: It sounds like you say the key is political agreement. How much of a difference would it make if there was a modest force left for...

ODIERNO: Well, I mean, I think -- the bottom line is, I think it depends on how long you were willing to leave that force there. The security forces were capable and able to do what they needed to do. Again, with political disagreement, I'm not sure how much it would matter, how much -- unless we had a significant amount of U.S. force, which was not going to happen, it was time for the Iraqis to take control of their own fate. It was time for them to provide the security. We had built a security force that had the capability to do that.

"They were never able to reconcile between the different groups. And so what you saw is a continuing mistrust of the political entities within Iraq."

So in my mind, I'm not sure it would have made much difference if we had a small force on the ground. What it would provide is confidence. Maybe it would have allowed us to put a bit more pressure on the political entities in order for them to maybe reconcile a bit more than they did. Maybe that would have made a difference, but it's hard to say.

SCIUTTO: He's political. Do you -- you on several tours there, you lost good men and women. You know the frustration that some Iraq veterans have expressed about particularly the loss of Fallujah, the Marines who were involved there. Do you have trouble personally stomaching the losses in territory, et cetera, the increase in violence since the U.S. was brought home?

ODIERNO: Well, I think, you know, obviously, it -- you know, the war touches all of us personally. We all know people who were killed. We know people who were injured. So, obviously, I will never forget the costs. Those of us who have to participate in war understand the costs, and that's why we are ones that hesitate to get involved in war, because we understand the true costs of war.

But I'll say this. What I tell -- what I tell -- when somebody asks me that question, what my answer is, first off, the men and women of the military did their job. They left Iraq in a place that had peace, that had stability, that gave them the opportunity to move forward. That's what we were asked to do. They should be proud of what they did. They should be proud of what they accomplished. They should be proud of how adaptable they were and how they adjusted to the situation.

It's always difficult to explain the costs that were involved with it, especially when it comes to lives. But, you know, they understood what they were doing. They're proud of what they were doing. They dedicated themselves to that mission, and they did well at it, and that's what you have to remember. You can allow the politics and the outcome now to shade your view on what really happened and how successful you were, and that's the kind of message I try to pass.

It's difficult for all of us. I mean, you know, all of us who spent years and years in Iraq to bring it to a place of success and leaving it at a time when we felt that it was really headed in the right direction and that we'd continue to move towards success, so it is difficult for us to watch it now.

But I think you've got to remember that the -- the good things that were done, the sacrifices that were made. And, again, there's still a lot to play out yet. This is going to play out for years yet. And I think we still have to watch it and see what the real outcome is.

SCIUTTO: If I can turn to Afghanistan, a lot we want to cover tonight. Some reporting today that the Obama administration has -- is effectively willing to punt on a status-of-forces agreement there until after Karzai leaves. They just don't believe they can -- they can make that agreement before the April 5th elections.

When you look at the situation in Afghanistan, do you worry about the same descent into violence after -- well, as U.S. forces draw down and after they leave?

ODIERNO: So I just -- actually, I just returned from Afghanistan on Saturday night, so I just got back. I spent a few days out there. And, first off, I would just say is that, again, I think our efforts there -- Afghanistan has moved forward quite a bit, especially in the last two years. The Afghan security forces are in charge. They are providing security for the nation. So I think we're in a place now where they have the capability to defend themselves.

What they are not yet ready to do is, their institutions are not yet mature enough to sustain this over the long time. So I think it's important that we stay to help them to establish their institutions. And that's what -- the kind of thing we do with some training and advising and continuing to build the underpinnings so they can sustain this for a long period of time.

I also think there is some counterterrorism work that would have to be done that we want to -- and continue to assist them with as they more forward. So I would say, I think it's important that we stay there. It doesn't have to be in large numbers, but we have to stay there to support them, so they can continue to progress forward.

Afghanistan's a little bit different problem. They do not have the economic underpinnings that Iraq had, actually, so that's why it's even more important, in my mind, that we stay there and continue to move them forward.

The one thing that I will say is that the population is a bit more unified. It's a different political landscape, you know, tribal. It's not ethnic or sectarian. It's tribal. So it's a different dynamic. So I'm not worried about huge divides.

The bigger threat to them is that the Taliban would come back and try to take the government back. So I think it's a different situation than you have in Iraq politically. So what we want to make sure is that the Afghan security forces have the capability to make sure the Taliban doesn't come back, and I think we're closer to doing that.

So I do believe there's room for success there, and I think there's a real chance for success. Again, the biggest challenge will be Afghanistan economically, because of the lack of economic development, but it is developing, but it'll be a much slower development than in Iraq.

SCIUTTO: And the continuation of the drug trade, right, even the growth of that. Is the relationship between the U.S. and the Karzai -- and Karzai personally, but the Karzai government, as, I mean, dysfunctional almost, you know, a forgiving word, right? But is it broken and unfixable?

ODIERNO: Well, no, it's not. I mean, I think it's a difficult relationship, as all of these relationships are. It's such a complex environment, complex political environment. You know, we're on the cusp of elections, which are going to happen in April, and so -- and there will be a new president of Afghanistan, and we're going to have a transition of power. So I think, in my opinion, it's more important to focus on that, the fact that you'll have a peaceful transition of power following this election, that's going to happen in April.

"Afghanistan has moved forward quite a bit, especially in the last two years. The Afghan security forces are in charge. They are providing security for the nation. So I think we're in a place now where they have the capability to defend themselves."

That's the key piece, is that you have the election, you have a peaceful transition of power, and that shows that Afghanistan is now moving forward, and not get involved with personalities, which I think is what we're talking about here. There are some personalities now, and it's hard to say, you know, why that's happening. There's lots of different -- I have my theory. There's lots of other theories that are out there. I'd rather not get into that.

But the important thing is you have this peaceful transition. I think we have the potential to do that.

SCIUTTO: Did you meet with Karzai on this trip?

ODIERNO: I did not.

SCIUTTO: Would you have, had the relationship been better? Or that would be -- that would be expected?

ODIERNO: No, no, you know, I -- you know, for example, when I go over there as chief of staff of the Army, I'm focused on our military members and what they're doing. And I learned, as I was commander in Iraq, you don't need everybody getting involved in the dealings with the government. Let Joe Dunford, let the ambassador and others -- that's their job. Let them do that. And so I try not to do that. What I do is I ensure that we're providing the proper support for all the soldiers on the ground there in Afghanistan.

SCIUTTO: OK, moving back to domestic issues, money. Sequester, you know, the impact lessened a bit, by about half, under the budget agreement. You went on the record late last year saying that an Army force of 450,000 soldiers would be too small and at high risk to meet one major war. You know, they're talking about bringing it down 100,000. You still believe that?

ODIERNO: Yeah, I do. So I want to make clear on the budget -- so the -- the bipartisan budget agreement cut sequester in half for one year.

SCIUTTO: Right.

ODIERNO: So I want to make sure -- it didn't cut sequester in half. It...

SCIUTTO: And you're going to get numbers for 2015, right, next month.

ODIERNO: Yeah, it -- it helped significantly for this year, and we're very thankful for that. And what it's enabling us to do is buy back readiness that we were starting to lose -- because we had a real readiness problem because of the way sequestration -- so we were very thankful for that. It helps a little bit in '15, but in '16, it goes right back down to sequestration again.

So what this has done is it buys us a little bit more time in order for us to take our end strength down so we have that match between -- between readiness end strength and modernization. You've got to get that right balance in order for us to be successful as we go forward.

So we have about -- we need about three to four years to do that. And so, of course, there's some -- my concern is, as we're going through that, I'm still worried about the fact we have -- right now, we have 60,000 soldiers deployed around the world, about 30,000 in Afghanistan, 20,000 more around the Middle East, 10,000 other parts of the world. We've got to sustain that and prepare people to be doing that while we're reducing the force and while we're having some problems in having enough money to develop the right readiness.

So -- but what I'm worried about is, as we get through this three- to four-year window, where we kind of get back in balance, I believe for the Army, the end strength is really too small in order for us to meet the requirements that we might have to conduct in the future, and that's my concern.

So, you know, I'm still pressing us to review and make -- review and -- do we really want to go to sequestration levels of support in Department of Defense? And I think that's the same for all the services. So I'm still worried about the end state, which really gets us to a size that I think is just a bit too small.

As I look across the landscape today, a landscape that is very uncertain, and, frankly, is growing more uncertain as every day goes by in many different areas.

SCIUTTO: What's the end state that you need? What number do you need to be prepared to fight that one major...

ODIERNO: Well, I think, you know, so what I'm -- I'm on the record saying, as a minimum, I think our end strength needs to be around 450,000, 330,000 in the active, 335,000 in the Guard, and about 195,000 in the U.S. Army Reserve. And then we would be able to do it -- at higher risk, but we should be able to do it.

At 420,000, it just -- we lose -- we lose -- that last 30,000 makes a huge difference in the capabilities that we have, because you've got to remember, there's a sunk cost in the Army. In other words, there's about 20 percent of our Army that has to be -- just to run the institution, in terms of training new soldiers, training officers, doing -- running the Army, and so, you know -- and so a 30,000 difference makes a lot of difference in combat operational forces as you get to the end.

So I think about 450,000 is right. So we can do that with a, you know, additional increase in where we are from sequestration right now.

SCIUTTO: You know, there's a skeptical view to that that in the age of more nimble, more special forces, you know, some smaller conflicts, no big occupations, you know, who really contests the United States at 450,000 or even 420,000? You know, where do you -- where do you come up against the -- you know, the worrisome challenge?

ODIERNO: Well, again, I would say -- what happens if you have three or four things going on around the world at once? What happens -- I mean, so, we don't know. I mean, you know, it's easy to say, well, I just don't see us having another conflict again. Well, I heard that in 1980. I heard that in 1990. And I heard that in 2000. And yet were constantly engaged.

"What I'm worried about is, as we get through this three- to four-year window, where we kind of get back in balance, I believe for the Army, the end strength is really too small in order for us to meet the requirements that we might have to conduct in the future, and that's my concern."

We've had a major -- we've had a major deployment of U.S. forces, specifically Army forces, in every decade since 1940. So I'm not yet willing to say we're not going to do that. I mean, you know, we have a new -- you know, a new young, unpredictable leader in North Korea. We're not sure what he might do.

As I look across the landscape in the Middle East and what we're watching going on in Syria, the resurgence of a couple things. One, we have a Sunni-Shia divide that we're starting to see spread across the Middle East, which is very concerning. We have worries about Iran. We have worries about the increase in extremism, exploiting what we thought was originally going to be a positive movement towards awakening, which still can be positive, but we're now seeing some of that fall apart and we're seeing extremists, you know, still kind of play a role in Libya, you know, we're starting to see them -- we're seeing more violent attacks in Egypt. We're seeing it play out in Syria. We're seeing it play out in Lebanon. We're seeing it play out in Iraq.

So this is not a time where I can say, you know, things are at peace and we should -- we can depend on -- we don't need an Army, we can get very small, because we're never going to use them. I don't think we ever want to take that off the table. It is about deterrence and compelling others not to do things.

And I think if you get too small, you lose your ability to compel and deter those from making bad decisions. You know, that's one of the things I very much worry about, is you look at wars throughout history, it's about miscalculation by leaders who believe that there was not enough capability to go against them or the will to go against them, so it's important that we sustain enough capability to make sure that people don't miscalculate, so we don't go to war.

SCIUTTO: If...

ODIERNO: You know, and I just want to -- you know, I -- you know, the problem we have as we talk about this is, you know, the Army and our Defense Department is like an insurance policy. You know, but the problem with insurance policies, when people first starting offering you insurance, you say, well, I don't -- I don't know. I don't -- do I really want to pay that much for insurance?

But then when you really need it, you say why did -- why did I do that? Why did I not pay more? And that's kind of the dilemma we're in now, is people want to say, well, you know, we really don't need to be paying that much. You might not be saying that three or four years from now or two years from now or a year from now.

So we have to -- what I owe to -- what we owe to you is that right balance, understanding that we have budget concerns, understanding we have to reduce the budget, so reduce it in such a manner to the right -- right level that still allows us to compel and deter and still allows us to respond, if necessary.

SCIUTTO: Do you find that voice is heard on the Hill when you make that point?

ODIERNO: Well, I think it is. I mean, I think -- this is a very difficult discussion, but I think the fact that this bipartisan agreement at the end of the year I think is a first step to them recognizing, let's really take a closer look at this. And so I'm hoping that, again, they'll look at it in '15 and '16, as we move forward.

Again, I'm not looking at complete restoration from sequestration. You know, there's efficiencies that we have to gain. There's -- we can become more effective. And it's important that we do that. But I do believe we have to be careful that we don't get so small and lose enough capability in all the services that causes us to be able to lose our ability to compel and deter.

SCIUTTO: If I could pivot for a moment to Asia, to steal a phrase which has now fallen out of favor -- it's a rebalance -- what's the Army's role in that? And do you believe that that pivot, that rebalance is still alive, in light of all that's going on, you know, getting dragged back into the Middle East by events there?

ODIERNO: Well, I do. I think -- and rebalance is the right term, because I think what happened is -- you know, you've got to remember, over last 10 or 12 years, especially for the Army, but, really, for all the services -- because we were fighting two wars, you know, we had a lot of our capability invested in the Middle East. So it's not that we're -- that we're all of a sudden going to change and move everything over to the Pacific, but it's about rebalancing our capabilities back to the Pacific, because we had drained the Pacific to fight in the Middle East.

So let me give you an example of the Army. You know, we have about 82,000 soldiers in Pacific Command. But during Iraq and Afghanistan, probably half of them were deployed in the Middle East. So what we've done beginning in 2013 is, we are no longer using that capability in Afghanistan. So they are now fully assigned and in the Pacific Command region. So we now -- you know, 82,000 soldiers -- actually, it's the -- in terms of people, the most people of any of the services in PACOM. So they play an important role.

SCIUTTO: Korea, Okinawa?

ODIERNO: Yeah, it's Korea, it's Hawaii, and the West Coast of the United States all assigned to PACOM, Alaska, so there's quite a few forces there, Japan, where we have people.

Now, what are we doing? The first thing we've done is we've -- the Army increased the U.S. Army component commander to a four-star commander. Why is that so important? Because we want them to be able to engage with the rest of our -- 8 out of the 10 largest land armies in the world are in the Pacific; 22 out of the 24 countries in the Pacific, the Army is the dominant service. It's important for us to engage. It's important for us to build relationships.

We are looking at -- so what are we looking at doing? We are looking at rebalancing equipment sets, some for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, some to do better training with our partners, some to respond to contingency operations. So we are re-looking at that and resetting those, so we have the ability to continue to engage in the Asia Pacific region.

It's important, because it's important to us economically. It's important to us politically. It's important that we sustain and continue to work with our allies over there, as we continue to move forward, and the Army plays a role in that, just like all the other services do.

I know it's, you know, lots of ocean out there, so it is -- it takes a lot of maritime presence, but the -- the ability to work with the other armies, to build relationships is incredibly important. And the Army also, which is often overlooked, has a big responsibility in setting the theater, because we provide a large part of the logistics, a large part of the command-and-control capability, obviously, a large part of the missile defense, a large part of the engineering capability throughout the region in order to support all the services. And so for us, it really is important as we rebalance towards the Pacific.

SCIUTTO: I spent the last two years in China, and there is a perception there -- it's not across the board -- but in China that one reason the U.S. couldn't deliver -- well, one, a perception that the U.S. couldn't deliver on the pivot, you know, even if it wanted to, and partly it couldn't afford it, you know, it didn't have -- you know, it was going to get dragged back into the Middle East, et cetera. I know there's push-back from people, including yourself, on that.

But did you find in your relationships there among our allies, but also our adversaries, that people think there's muscle behind that pivot?

ODIERNO: I think that they're watching very carefully. And I think that they're watching to see what we do. And so that's why, you know, again, it was important for us to, as I said, designate a four-star -- it really -- that got a lot of people's attention when we did that. Sometimes it seems like maybe it's a symbol, but it's more than that, but it got people's attention.

All of us, all of the chiefs of the service -- have spent a lot of time in Pacific region. I will leave in 10 days, and I'll go to China, Japan, and Korea for about an 8-day trip, which is a big investment of my time, to continue to reinforce the importance of the Pacific and to ensure that the Chinese know that we're there to work with them in the Asia Pacific region, you know, that we all have things that are important to us and we need to work together.

And, obviously, with Korea and Japan, two of our allies, and just continue to work with them and let them know that we are there to help and work with them as we move forward in the region. We've had -- you know, we've had several -- I've been to Thailand. I've been to Australia. You know, so it is important that we continue to just work those relationships. So I think over time they're going to see that we're very serious about this and that we are going to stay engaged in the Asia Pacific region.

SCIUTTO: I want to turn to questions. I just have one last question for you. Because we've had such a collection of stories about failure of leadership in the military, including the Army, whether you're talking about sexual harassment -- the AP just releasing a great study on the number of cases, 1,000 sex crimes just in Japan between '05 and '13. You have the cheating scandals, you know, undue acceptance of perks, et cetera. I mean, do you -- and I know this is something you're heavily invested in.

ODIERNO: Yeah.

SCIUTTO: Do you believe there's a crisis of leadership? What's behind this? Where does it all come from?

ODIERNO: I -- well, first, I don't believe there's a crisis of leadership, but it's something that we have to pay attention to. You know, I -- when I go around and talk to my officers, I talk about the profession of arms and the importance of the profession of arms. And I talk about three things, the three C's. I talk about competence, commitment, and character, and that's what underpins everything we do. We have to be incredibly component in what we do, because of the trust and what the American people ask us to do. We have to be committed not only to each other, we have to be committed to the mission. We have to be committed to the institution. And we have to be committed to the moral and ethical values of the United States.

And then, finally, is our character. You can be committed and have high competence, but if you don't have the character that's necessary, then, in my mind, we cannot lead and do the things we're asked to do. So we are focusing on this at every level. We are focusing on this throughout the institution from the time you're a lieutenant to you're a general officer, the time that you come in as a cadet. We constantly talk about this.

I could tell you that, you know, the real issue here is we have some that are not meeting the standards that we have, the high standards that we expect of ourselves, but we have many others who are. The large majority of those are meeting those standards, but we cannot tolerate those that do -- that do not. And it's important for us to make it very clear that we won't. And so we're working very hard to do this.

You know, it's also important to have discussions of why this is happening, and so what we're doing is we're implementing discussions around the Army of why this is happening. What can we do to fix it? Why do we have these small lapses? And what can we do to better protect them and prepare them so this doesn't happen?

And so, for us, we really have a campaign inside the Army that's taking a really hard look at this. I really don't think it's something that we have to worry about, but it's something we have to -- in the long term, but it's something we have to pay attention to and correct right now.

SCIUTTO: OK.

ODIERNO: And we're focusing a lot of effort on it.

SCIUTTO: OK, great. I want to -- I'd love to monopolize your time, but I'll try not to, so we're going to now invite audience members for questions. You know the rules. Please wait for the microphone to speak. State your name and affiliation and keep your questions as concise as possible. So we'll begin with the -- I see a hand in the second row from the back.

QUESTION: Jeff Bialos. I'm a lawyer in private practice, previously was at the Pentagon. My question concerns the role and missions of the Army. You know, I know the mantra is to be prepared across the spectrum of low-intensity to high-intensity warfare, the full spectrum. But the perspective historically, the perception has been the Army has always been more focused on the high-intensity side, to the detriment of the other, and that we -- you know, after Vietnam, we forgot the lessons of counterinsurgency, had to relearn them.

We've just had two extended wars that really focused more on what I would call the low-intensity side. My question is, you know, is the Army -- will the Army forget the lessons learned in this? And is the Army prepared -- is there a tendency and desire in the Army to revert back to the high-intensity focus? Or to put it another way, are the institutional apparatus in place in the Army that commands the career paths and all that to institutionalize that focus on low-intensity warfare? Is it the Army leadership just doesn't want to do that?

ODIERNO: Very good question, and thank you very much. So, first off, I'm incredibly focused on taking the lessons that we've learned over the last 12 years and incorporating them as we look to the future. And there are several ways that we're doing this.

First, we've just -- we've just developed and published our new leader development strategy, which focuses on, really, a leader-centric view of being adaptable, flexible, and able to adapt to the situation on the ground, because I believe the environment that we're going to fight in, in the future is one that's going to be more complex than any one we've ever fought in, which will include a combination of insurgencies, a combination of asymmetric warfare, a combination of potentially some conventional operations, a combination of all of these things together in a very complex environment where information moves very, very quickly. So we understand that. And we're really focusing on that as we develop our new leaders.

The second piece is, we've just published a whole strand of new doctrine, the first time we've published in 20 years a full array of new doctrine, which emphasizes the lessons of the past, looking towards the future, and talking -- really, focusing on a thing called mission command, which -- and mission command is about the ability to adapt and train across a large spectrum of conflict and being prepared to do that.

As we develop our training centers, whether it be for training headquarters or training our soldiers, the environment they're going to fit in is one that is incredibly complex and hybrid. So we will not immediately move back to high-intensity conflict. We're going to have to have the -- because I don't think we're going to see just high-intensity conflict in the future. We're going to have to operate in this very complex environment. So we're absolutely focused on that as we move forward. And it's very important that we do that. And it is important that we embed the lessons of the past and then look to the future.

SCIUTTO: Next up here in the front row.

QUESTION: General, I'm Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School. How does that affect what you're training people to do? I mean, it seems to me -- I came to the Pentagon in '77, and it was a simple world. I mean, we had an opponent. We knew what they were doing; they knew what we were doing. It was sort of -- it was comfortable.

The -- as you rightly point out, the complexity, but you have to understand the cultures and the language and the emotions of not only the leadership, but of the cultures we're going into. How do you deal with that, when there are 193 countries that are members of the U.N.? How do you -- how do you create a training program for that?

ODIERNO: Yeah, I think -- I think there's a -- great question. So we obviously -- I agree that we probably can't do it for all 193. We certainly can focus on some very specific ones that we're concerned about. And this is why my number-one priority is leader development, and that has to do with the development of noncommissioned officers and officers. And it has to do -- because I also believe that it's not only that we have to learn about the cultures. We have to understand the socioeconomic and political underpinnings, but more importantly, we have to do that in an age where information travels so quickly that you have to understand how you're going to operate in that environment.

So what that means is decentralized decision-making, in my mind. As we go to war from now, decisions are going to be more and more decentralized. You know, this big theory of being able to do grand strategy and execute a grand strategic plan in wars is probably gone. We'll have some thoughts on how we want to attack this, but it's going to be a decentralized execution. And so that's going to require us to train our officers -- and, again, I keep saying flexible and adaptable. I know they're fuzzy terms to some people, but it's about teaching people how to think. Critical thinking becomes really important.

So one of the things we want to do is teach critical thinking and how you are able to gain information, to make decisions as quickly as possible in order to understand what action you take. You know, one of the things we've learned over the last 10 or 12 years is not what happened, but why something happened. And as you figure out -- so we're trying to -- as we train our leaders, it's about training them to figure out, why is this happening? Then, what's the right tool to fix it? It could be lethal. It might be nonlethal. It could be military or it could be diplomatic or it could be a combination of both. And we have to understand that. And we have to understand it much earlier in our careers now.

You know, I tell everyone, I -- you know, I had it easy when I was a captain. It is much more difficult for our young captains today, because of the -- the really critical and complex nature of the environment that we live in today. So that's the first thing, is we really have to focus on that.

The thing I learned most -- and I always use Iraq as an example. When we went into Iraq in 2003, we did everything that we wanted to do. We very quickly removed the regime. We gained control of the population. We had no idea or clue of the societal devastation that had gone on inside of Iraq and what would push back on us. We didn't even think about it until we got in there. So we can't allow that to happen again.

So that's why -- as in the Army, what we're doing is we're doing regionally aligning -- we're regionally aligning our forces. And what that allowed us to do is gain expertise in parts of the Army and each part of the regions of the world, and they'll be focused on those areas. So what least we have some level of expertise to begin with. And then we'll have to -- you know, as we shift -- depending on how big the operation might be, we might have to shift some over and continue to train them.

But I think that's part of this lesson that we learned. And that's how we're trying to get at this complexity, because you're right. It's a very difficult problem.

QUESTION: You shouldn't -- the question is, how do you work with State on this (OFF-MIKE)

ODIERNO: Yeah, so -- so there's a couple of things. I feel part of this regionally aligned force concept is for us to stay connected with the State Department. So, for example -- let me use an example. We really did a trial balloon on this in Africa this year. And we had soldiers out of Fort Riley that were focused on Africa. They conducted 98 separate missions, very small. Some are 15-, 20-person missions. All were coordinated with the embassy and interagency here at the State Department.

And so what that's doing is it's also teaching us to work within the interagency as we deal on a daily basis in trying to get after some of the problems and future problems in Africa. That's why that's important, because what I don't want us to do is go back to our corners. You know, the past 10 years, we came out of our corners, worked together. I don't want us to go back to the corners. We've got to -- we've got to continue to focus on that as we go forward.

SCIUTTO: In fairness, I just want to do one from this side of the room, although there's only one, in the way back.

QUESTION: Hi, General. Leaning over here so you actually have a clear line of sight. Sydney Freedberg, Breaking Defense, on your case, again. I mean, I'm...

ODIERNO: Do you follow me, Sydney, everywhere I go? That's what I want to know.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: That's what we're paid to do, sir. But, you know, as you describe these tough choices we're facing with the budget, I'm kind of reminded of a bodily system facing frostbite. You know, you shut off the blood to the toes first, and then you maybe lose the hand, and then you can preserve the brain last, you know, probably the brain in this case being mission command and that leadership development. You know, you've already given up things like GCV, at least for the indefinite future.

You know, what are -- as you are pushed back on those -- you know, the heart and brain of the Army, what do you give up in what order? Because, you know, how do you -- how do you prioritize the things you give up as the resources, you know, slowly freeze you?

ODIERNO: Yeah. I think, again, the first thing that the secretary of the Army and I agreed on early on is that, again, we have to keep -- we want to keep the balance between modernization, readiness, and end strength. I mean, that's really -- that's -- that's what drives your budget, those three things.

So even if we get too small, whatever's left we want to make sure it's ready and modernized. The problem we have is because of the hammer of sequestration, it's going to take us three to four years to get to that balance, because it takes so much out upfront, you can't take all that end strength out right away. Why can't we do that? Because I have 60,000 soldiers deployed. Because we're operationally engaged around the world. And so I've got to do it in a much slower manner, and I've got to continue to sustain a level of readiness.

So, for us, the choice is, you've got to keep those three in balance. But there's some key tenets that we can never walk away from. So, for example, even though our budgets are smaller -- and I can't quite keep the readiness where I want it to -- I've not degraded at all our leader development schools, our basic training, because you can't. Because if you do that, you are cutting out the heart of the Army, because you have to continue to get people trained in the basics. You have to make sure you continue to train your leaders who can continue to lead no matter what. So that's always the top priority for us. And that's the one thing we will not walk away from. And we have to pay that upfront.

What keeps me up at night, though, as I sit here right now, is if something -- all of a sudden, I get a call saying I got to deploy 20,000 or 30,000 soldiers, I'm worried if we've trained -- or if we prepared them in the way I would expect us to prepare them. Because what'll happen is we'll end up sending them in there -- because we'll go, but it'll take us longer and it'll cost us in lives. And that's what keeps me up at night.

So it's important that I try to build as much readiness as possible upfront so we don't have to do that, because that's the contract that we have with our mothers and fathers who send their sons and daughters. And that's what bothers me a lot as we go forward.

SCIUTTO: Right here in the fourth row.

QUESTION: Thank you. Doug Ollivant with Mantid International. Good to see you, General.

ODIERNO: Hi (inaudible)

QUESTION: Do you think that in this town the defense establishment in its conventional wisdom has fully absorbed how much our allies have given up their land power, that among, you know, those who have capability, the British really can't do a Basra any longer, that the Canadians can no longer do a Kandahar, that those who have larger capabilities, like the Georgians, though they're very willing, don't have a lot of capability, which leaves us just with the French, who are the French.

(LAUGHTER)

Can you -- can you talk about what this means for us as we move forward into the next -- next years?

ODIERNO: Well, it is interesting. Now, the one thing -- so the one thing I will say is the one thing I think we'll see in future warfare is a couple of things. And you're aware of this, but I don't really -- it would have to be something very grave for us to do something completely independent. I really believe everything we do, it'll be done in a joint context, obviously, an interagency -- intergovernmental on a multinational context. So I think that's how we're going to do things in the future.

The problem is, is one that you just -- what people tend to ignore is that, actually, our partners and allies are reducing faster than we are. And they already had a lot smaller capability, and their capability is going to be even smaller. So as we do this, it's going to be incumbent on us to understand fully what their capabilities are and how we properly integrate them.

I do get concerned, as I have some discussions, that people say, well, you know, what we'll do is we'll rely more on our allies, because you have to realize that we want to have -- we will rely on our allies, but you've got to understand what their capabilities and capacities are. And we got to make sure we figure that in as we move forward, and that is one of our concerns as we go forward, that we understand that.

And, you know, as I go around the world, last week in NATO, you know, they're still looking at us to lead. They expect us to lead. They expect us to lead no matter where it is, whether it be in Middle East, whether it be in the Pacific, whether it be in the Caucasus, wherever it is. They expect us to lead.

And so if -- you know, and I think it's important that they understand that we're still capable of doing that, so we have to work our way through that maze as we move forward, because they do have less capability. You know, the Italians have been by our side the whole time, but they have less capability. The British, the Australians, you know, they've reduced their capability. You know, the French have stayed about the same. But, you know, for example, they've done a lot of work in Africa. They couldn't have done it -- we've given them a lot of support in Africa in order for them to do that mission.

And so even them who has not reduced needs help from us as they conduct missions, so you've got to remember that as we think about this. Even Korea, they're -- they're in the process of reducing their army, not because they want to, but because of their demographics. Because they've -- because of their population and the limits of their population, they are now having to reduce it, because the number of people who are of age to serve.

So there's all kinds of things like that that we have to make sure we take into considerations as we go forward.

SCIUTTO: Just over here, the gentleman in the glasses.

QUESTION: Edward Luttwak, CSIS. Going back to the non-pivot or the rebalancing, the only two ground engagements that emerge in a Chinese confrontation scenario are India and Vietnam, not exactly two American treaty allies with whom relations are tenuous or difficult. As you know, your Australian colleagues get along very well with the Vietnamese, as you know. So my question is, given the U.S. Army's obvious role as providing the backbone, the supervision, the support, and so on -- which at least the Indians desperately need, have you launched initiatives to open dialogue with them and so on?

ODIERNO: With the Indians?

QUESTION: With the Indians and, in fact, the Vietnamese, because everywhere else the Chinese are insular and peninsular. Only there, they're on the ground.

ODIERNO: Yeah. So I traveled to India in -- about six months ago, and we have -- we've opened staff-to-staff discussions with the Indian army. Their chief of their army was just here on a visit, so we are -- we are working with them. I think we've -- we're building a relationship and a partnership.

Vietnam, we are -- we are -- we have not fully in the -- into staff talks, but we have had discussions. We're starting to -- we're continuing to build that relationship. So I think we are beginning to do that. Still a lot of work to do with Vietnam, but I think with India, we really are starting that relationship, and I think it's very important. You know, they just had some of their soldiers here at Fort Bragg, actually, conducting an exercise with our -- so we are -- we are slowly building that relationship with them as we move forward.

SCIUTTO: A brief follow on that, just if I can. How much do you find that China is the driving force for Southeast Asian partners, a country like India, fleeing -- if that's too strong a word -- into a closer relationship with the U.S. to balance China as its strengths become more pronounced?

ODIERNO: Yeah, I don't -- I think what they're -- I don't think they're fleeing. What I think that -- they just want reassurance.

SCIUTTO: Right.

ODIERNO: You know, this is about reassurance. This is about understanding that the United States is going to continue to play a large role in Asia in the Pacific region. I think that's really what it's about.

And, again, we're -- you know, I would argue, we're not doing this to challenge China. That's not -- that's not our intent. Our intent is that we want everyone to be able to operate within the Asia Pacific region. It's very important to us. It's important to us as a country. It's important economically. It's important politically. And, therefore, we have to stay engaged. And I think that's -- so we want to create a proper balance in the Asia Pacific region.

SCIUTTO: Right here in the front.

QUESTION: Thank you. Bob Bestani from Department of Energy. I know we've made a very conscious decision not to engage in Syria, but that is such a central state to that whole region, just as you were mentioning Iraq is. And I'm wondering, from your perspective, as a military analyst, how do you see that whole situation sort of playing out? Because I personally don't see any prospects for any political solution to it. I think it's going to be a military on the ground sort of thing. But how do you see it unfolding?

ODIERNO: Yeah, I don't know yet. You have to watch it. There are several things going on in Syria. It started out as a -- you know, kind of an awakening and overthrowing the government, a people's say in the government, but it's devolved into something I think that's a little bit different than that. You're seeing, you know, some of the Sunni-Shia divide that's playing out there.

And I also -- I also agree that you're seeing -- even within the opposition, you're seeing an extremist part of the opposition fighting with a more moderate side of the opposition. And so I think what you're seeing playing out in Syria is what you're seeing in the Middle East, a struggle between extremists and moderates, a struggle between Sunni and Shia. So we don't know what's going to happen. We don't know how it's going to turn out.

And what I would say, though, right now is -- so, you know, if somebody asked me, do I think I should put thousands of soldiers here? I would tell you no, because what we would do is we would be the uniting factor of everyone. We would go in there, and the extremists would want to come after us, the Syrians would want to come after us. You know, so we wouldn't solve anything. Right now, we'd create more violence than there is now.

So I think what we have to do is watch and see what's going on, try to influence as much as we can, and then when -- you know, if -- if I comes to a point where we think that the deployment of troops is appropriate, then we'll make that decision, but it's not now.

And so I didn't give you the answer to your question. I think what I did is I validated probably what you already knew, that it's a very complex, difficult problem, and there's no really -- I don't see any solution yet, but that doesn't mean there won't be one.

Now, you know, I think -- I think the fact that we might get them to get rid of some of their chemical weapons is important. I think that's very good. They're well behind where they should be right now. But I think we still think that's going to happen, so we're watching that carefully, so if nothing else, we'll have removed a threat of some chemical weapons from Syria.

And I just think we have to continue to make sure people know we're engaged, and if things start to go against where it really has some impact on our national interests, that we have the capability to respond if we want to.

SCIUTTO: Short of troops, would a more robust arming of the moderate opposition make a difference there?

ODIERNO: Yeah, I think -- you know, I think we believe that's a good way to go about it. The problem is, can you actually control where the weapons go? And that's the dilemma. I mean, I think our -- we've wanted to arm the moderates, and so -- but the problem is, you know, is that where it will end up? Or will it end up in the wrong hands? So it's very difficult, so you have to be very careful as you do that.

SCIUTTO: More, let's see. In the back here?

QUESTION: Thank you, General. My name is Genie Nguyen with Voice of Vietnamese Americans. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your service and thank all of our men and women in uniform on the ground, because they are the first who come to life and death to protect this country and the world.

So come back to my questions, I'm very touched with what keep you up at night. That's a concern you and 30,000 other parents and families, wives, and daughters. It's a concern to our whole nation. So I'd like to pose this question. As a person from Vietnam, after the war, and as an American now, how do you protect our people, our men and women in uniform, from being selling short by Congress, by all politicians?

Because I must say that the war in Vietnam was won on the ground. We won on the ground. We were sold short in Congress by politicians, Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Zhou Enlai. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: I think, if we could go to the question, which I think you have there, is has Congress sold them short, the soldiers?

QUESTION: So -- so are you -- are you able to convey this concern to Congress? And what do you think about the sudden sequestration? Would you suggest they revoke it? Thank you.

ODIERNO: Yeah, thanks. So my -- my responsibility as the chief of staff of the Army is to provide my military advice to secretary of defense, the president, and to Congress. I am -- that's my responsibility.

And so what I do is I spend a lot of time making sure they understand the impacts on their decisions on the capabilities of the Army. And I continue to do that. And I convey that to them on a regular basis.

The key piece for me on sequestration is, I think sequestration cuts the military and makes it too small. And I've been very clear about that, and I will continue to be clear about that. And I think over time, with our engagements, I think that's why we were able to get this bipartisan agreement. They started to listen.

And so we just have to keep talking about it and making sure they understand the consequences. And I'm confident that if they believe it's necessary, they will come around. And that's my responsibility. And I've got to give my honest military opinion so they understand what it means to the young men and women in uniform and what they might ask them to do.

SCIUTTO: So if I have this right, I think we just have time for one more question. And I'll just remind you, this has all been on the record, so a lucky one on this side, right in the front row.

QUESTION: Thank you, General. Glenn Gerstell. Could you comment on the Army's position relative to cyber, both offensively and defensively? And are you resource-constrained in that area? Do you feel that you have trouble attracting sufficient talent from the private sector? And maybe you could just comment generally. Thank you, sir.

ODIERNO: Yeah, so, first off, with all the budget reductions we've had, I mentioned one thing is one we've condition to focus lead development and we've increased our investment in cyber, even though during the difficult budget times, so we are very focused on what we're doing for cyber.

And I look at it three ways. There's three things that we have to do as an Army. There's -- we have what we call strategic cyber, which I call what CYBERCOM does in protecting the nation and making sure that we're capable of protecting our nation. You have operational cyber, which is the ability that we have in each one of the regions with our combatant commanders to both protect and in conflict, maybe, use some offensive capability. And then we have tactical cyber, which I consider to be in the Army Corps level and below, which we have to be able to protect ourselves and our networks wherever we go. We have -- we're relying significantly on this.

And so we have to be able to do that and potentially be able to conduct tactical offensive cyber operations, because I think in the future, that'll be another way for us to maneuver in the battlespace that we might be in. So I think we have to develop those techniques.

So what we're doing, the Army has made some key decisions we'll announce very shortly. We're establishing a center of excellence down at Fort Gordon, Georgia. We are developing a career field for cyber in both enlisted and officers. We are -- we have set up a cyber center of education at the United States Military Academy. So we are investing heavily in cyber.

I feel comfortable of our training programs and how we're training, but we're looking at new ways to recruit, frankly. You know, we want to have a combination of military and civilian capability in cyber. We are looking at maybe we recruit -- do direct commissions and other things as we want to develop expertise. You know, there will always be a problem with competition, because as we develop and train these young people, which we'll probably do it better than most, there will be a lot of other people who will want to steal them away from us, so we'll have to deal with that when it happens. But we're invested, because we think it's absolutely essential in this complex warfare that we're looking to in the future.

SCIUTTO: Let me take this opportunity to thank everyone, certainly thank General Odierno. We took you around the world today.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you for covering so much.

ODIERNO: Thank you very much.

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