HBO History Makers Series: Richard B. Myers

Thursday, June 29, 2006

ELIOT A. COHEN:  Okay.  Let me welcome you all to this meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations.  My name’s Eliot Cohen.  I’d like to begin by thanking Richard Pepler and Home Box Office for their generous support of the History Makers Series, of which of course this is part.

Let me begin by asking members of the audience to turn off cell phones, pagers, any other electronic noisemakers that you might have. 

I’d like to remind the audience that this meeting will be on the record and furthermore than it’s being teleconferenced.  Council members around the nation and, for that matter, around the world are participating in this meeting via a password-protected teleconference.

Well, our guest today is General Richard Myers.  I think you all have General Myers’ biography, so I’m not going to say too much, other than that it is a tremendously distinguished military record of over 40 years’ service in the United States Air Force, over 4,000 year—4,000 hours—sorry—flying, including—(laughter)—I don’t know if it felt like 4,000 years—

GENERAL RICHARD B. MYERS:  Parts of it did.

COHEN: —four thousand hours of flying, including 600 hours in combat in Vietnam, service in a number of areas:  as commander of our Pacific Air Forces, as commander of the North American Air/Space Defense Command, as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and of course as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from October of 2001 to October of 2005. 

Well, let me welcome you, General Myers.

MYERS:  Thanks, Eliot.

COHEN:  And I think the way this works, I get to fire a few questions at you for about half an hour, and then the audience chimes in.

We begin with just a personal question.  What made you choose a military career?

MYERS:  Well, I started college in the early ‘60s, and the draft was there.  And I was in engineering, but I was not confident I could get a good enough engineering job to get me a deferment.  And I didn’t mind serving.  I just didn’t want to be drafted.

So at the land grant school I was in, ROTC was mandatory for two years.  Then you could elect to continue for your junior and senior year, which I did as a hedge against being drafted.  And then the Air Force taught me to fly in ROTC as part of their programs, and that kind of hooked me.  That was—I can still remember the first flight, in a little Cessna 172.  And it was—I was just along for the ride, basically, and it was just amazing to me, astounding.  And I said, “I like this.  I don’t know if it has military utility, but I like this.”  And that sort of hooked me.  So that set my course.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers,
Council President Richard N. Haass, and John Hopkins
University Professor Eliot A. Cohen.

But up until then, I was sort of hedging bets.  I didn’t mind serving.  I just didn’t want to get drafted.  So I said this Air Force thing might be okay.

COHEN:  Well, what was the biggest high during the military career and the biggest low?

MYERS:  Well, there have been lots of highs.  You know, you join the military and then, I think, in every service it’s a little bit different, but what you really want to do is, you want to get to command.  And command at the 05 or lieutenant colonel or commander level is sort of the first big command opportunities.  There’s obvious others before that.

So it has to be a high when you’re chosen to be a squadron commander in the Air Force.  And then other commands—I think all of those are highs.

The chairman’s job is not a command.  You’re an adviser.  But it—I mean, it was very humbling and flattering, actually, to be nominated to be the chairman.

COHEN:  So what were some of the toughest times?

MYERS:  Well, I think when you lose friends in combat.  You know, when you wake up in the morning and hear so-and-so’s been killed on a night mission, and you’d already gone to bed and were sleeping for the next day’s mission—those sorts of times are always the hardest.

I think probably, as chairman, the hardest time is when you’re a part of the decision-making apparatus that commits men and women to battle, knowing that some are going to be killed, some will be injured, some very badly injured, and all are going to have some scars or many will have scars from that experience.  That’s—I mean, it’s just a very sobering responsibility.  So that—I don’t think it’s a low, necessarily, but it’s certainly some of the more somber moments you spend.

COHEN:  Well, let me use that to segue a bit.  You were the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 9/11.  Is that right? 

MYERS:  That’s correct.

COHEN:  And as I recall, the chairman was out of the building.

MYERS:  He was on an airplane on the way to a NATO meeting.  So he was over the North Atlantic somewhere.

COHEN:  So just—what was that like? 

Myers and Cohen.

MYERS:  I was on the—on Capitol Hill doing some—doing an in-call, a courtesy call with a senator.  I had been nominated for the job of chairman and—but had not had the confirmation hearing.  So I was over there with Senator Max Cleland from Georgia.  And he said, “I make a very good tea.  So don’t have anything to drink, and we’ll make tea, and we’ll have this little conversation about national security.”  And as I walked into his suite, it was a little before 9:00, you know, and the first tower had been struck but not the second.  And we’re standing around saying, “What in the world happened?”  I remember the day being beautiful.  I said, “How could a pilot be that stupid, to hit a tower?  I mean, what”—but then you think, “Well, whatever.” 

And so we walked into the meeting, and then the second tower was hit shortly thereafter.  The meeting was over very quickly.  And on the way out, the security—I talked to General Eberhart at NORAD, and we talked about what he was doing to react to all the hijack codes that were in the system.  There were several other hijack codes.  We had the United flight over Pennsylvaniaand so forth.  And he said, “The decision I’m going to make is, we’re going to land everybody, and we’ll sort it out when we get them on the ground.”

And then I made my way out of the building, trying to head back to the Pentagon when we got the—my security guy got the call the Pentagon had been hit.  So we come across the 14th Street Bridge—if you’re familiar with Washington—across the Potomac there.  This is the first time you get a—as you come up on the bridge from D.C., you get a good visual of the Pentagon.  And there was this black smoke, a lot of it, coming out of the building.  And you think, “Is this a really bad movie I’ve just been introduced to, or this reality?”  You have to think a minute, and then you—you know, you go on with your day, which was a smoked-filled day, actually.

COHEN:  Did 9/11 in some fundamental way transform the way you thought about national defense, about America’s strategic challenges?  Were the issues—there obviously has to be some kind of change.  But can you tell us how large a change it was and in what ways?

MYERS:  Well, I think it certainly defined my tenure as chairman, obviously.  I think it—what it did was amplify, magnify, increase the sense of urgency for those sorts of things that we knew were going on around us, but had a hard time quantifying.  We knew we had to transform out of still a Cold War mindset in our Department of Defense, our military.  But our sense of urgency was heightened by and increased by September 11th, 2001.  We knew there were other forms of threats to our national security, but not quantified as well as we learned to do after 9/11.

So certainly, I think it changed the way we sort of looked at national security matters, and no longer necessarily armies and armies, and navies and navies, and air forces and air forces, but other things that could threaten us.

We need a strategy, and the strategy in this case is going to be predominantly nonmilitary; it's going to be those other instruments of national power that are so important: diplomacy, education, economic, informational—other ways of trying to change the equation a little bit so men and women don't want to join jihad. And until they do, our children and our grandchildren are at great risk.

COHEN:  The term that people began to use was, of course, global war on terror.  That was the administration’s chosen term.  Is that a good term?  I mean, is this really a war?  Should it be framed in that way?

MYERS:  I think we all agreed on that initially.  And I don’t know if there was a—I don’t think there was a formal voting process, but we all thought “global war on terror” pretty much captures it. 

But after you think about it for a while, I, at least, became convinced that it wasn’t—it perhaps wasn’t—as we started to develop our strategy for winning the global war on terror, that it didn’t really—that the words probably didn’t accurately tell you what this is all about.  And certainly “global” is okay.  “War” is a bad term, because if you think it’s a war, then the military is your instrument of national power that you use against it.  And certainly what we’re talking about here is all instruments of national power, particularly as you look at a long-range strategy for combating what is not terror, necessarily, but violent extremists. 

So, I don’t think it’s a war on terror, it’s a war on violent extremists who use terror as a method.  And maybe that’s a bit too academic.  And I don’t know, you’d have to ask Secretary Rumsfeld, I think we talked about it, and I think we both agreed, and we tried to kind of change the moniker that we hung on this thing.  But it was decided that, no, the American public pretty much understands “global war on terror”; if we were to change names now, it would be a communications problem.  And so—but I don’t think it’s an accurate—technically accurate term.

COHEN:  To the extent that it is a war, did you, at the end of your tenure as chairman, feel we were doing a lot better than we’d been doing shortly into your tenure?

MYERS:  Oh, in many respects, yes.  In other respects, probably not.  I think one of the things that became really obvious as you go through the time I went through, is if you want to be successful, whether it’s Afghanistan, Iraq or the larger global war on terror, you need all instruments of national power, which the military is one, but there are others.  And to harness those is a very difficult problem.  And there’s some goodness in that, but there’s also some things that aren’t so good, and one of them is that, you know, if you have an Afghan embassy that is less than 50 percent manning for a long period of time, then who makes up the slack?  Well, it’s probably the military because we can tell people to report to certain countries, and that’s not true of all departments and agencies of our government.  And you don’t have the right expertise, necessarily—you can fill positions, but you may not have the right expertise.  So that was a pretty big awareness as we went through this, of some of the changes that had to happen, and how do we harness all this; how do we do the strategic planning at an interagency level, which is really fine art, not often practiced, and not everybody’s very good at it.

COHEN:  I guess through your tenure as chairman, we fought two pretty substantial wars, which are very much with us:  Afghanistan and Iraq.  And I don’t want to get you talking about where you think we are right now, since the purpose of this series is really more historical than present-minded.  But still, you know, I think it’s fair to say most people would say that after some quite dramatic initial successes in both cases, there’s been much—certainly much greater challenges than one had a sense that we anticipated.  And in some cases, it looks as if there were some pretty large mistakes that may have been made—that were made.  And I just wondered what your take on that was, maybe starting with Afghanistan.  In retrospect, are you happy with how we planned and conducted the Afghan operation?

MYERS:  For the most part, yes.  And I don’t know if most people understand that when we first went into Afghanistan, October 7th, I think it was—I’d been the chairman for a week.  And when we first went into Afghanistan, the thought was we’ll defeat the Taliban and the al Qaeda that are there, and that will be the end of our participation, because there was this allergy to nation-building, and so we’re not going to do nation-building.  And then it became pretty apparent, as you went down this path, that, holy mackerel, Afghanistan—there’s hope there, but they’re going to need some help.  And we’re still—and the international community, and NATO, and so forth, are still in the middle of that help right now.

But I was happy with the initial plan.  And I thought the way it played out is pretty well, and we’ve had very good international participation.  As you know, NATO will take responsibility for stability and security here.

COHEN:  Where did that energy come from?  And in that respect, do you wish we had somehow inoculated ourselves against it?

MYERS:  Oh, I suppose it came from on the political side, probably.  You know, that’s not my thing, but I think that’s where it probably came from, and the previous administration talking more about that, and so it was a way to differentiate.  But, you know, very, very quickly, you get into the reality of things, and you’ve got to—(audio break)—the Taliban, which was the government and those sorts of things, and there’s an obligation to help with what follows.

COHEN:  What about Iraq?

MYERS:  The question again is—

COHEN:  Well, I mean—


COHEN:  Well, I think a pretty common view that one would hear is that the U.S. initial operation of Operation Iraqi Freedom was, as conventional military operations go, was very successful.  That’s more or less what was expected, but that we did a pretty—I guess the biggest—

MYERS:  We did a poor job in preparing ourselves for the aftermath.

COHEN:  Yeah.

MYERS:  Yeah.  I guess what I would say is that what was really—what was the weakest link was understanding what was Iraq going to be like after major combat?  What would you expect?  And I know that—

COHEN:  What did you expect?

MYERS:  Well, I—it was—I know in my office, I know General Franks spent a lot of time, and so did the secretary, and so did all of us together listening to academicians and historians and others that said, “Here’s what you’re going to find when you go into Iraq.”  But I don’t think any of them—and the intelligence community, of course, had their view.  It turned out that none of them were very close to the mark, for various reasons.  And one of the reasons may be that when you live in a dictatorship for decades in a generation or two, that all initiative and aggressiveness is sort of beat out of you.  You know, you don’t get paid to raise your hand.  And so—and, of course, there were a lot of—there were probably, in hindsight, a lot of mistakes made that didn’t allow that to happen perhaps as quickly as it could have. 

But just predicting what we thought—you know, that Iraqis would very quickly take over their own affairs and they would relish the fact that they had freedom of choice and they belonged and—I remember one of the predictions was, “Well, gee, as soon as you liberate Baghdad, that the Shi’a—and the Shi’a side of town over to the east—they’ll run over to the Sunni side.  People who have everything will come out of the slums, and there’ll be great retribution,” and that never really happened.  But that was—that was, by the way, a person who said, “I’ve studied this my whole life.  I’ve been in Iraq.  I’m—you know, I’m fluent in Arabic.  I know how this is going to go.”  And that was just one—you know, one of many opinions that you log into your mind.

But I think the fact is nobody did know.  I mean, we didn’t even know how—didn’t accurately predict how Saddam would react to the military major combat, and it was contrary to—(audio break).  We’d knew it’d be quick, but we just were surprised at the lack of aggressiveness on—

COHEN:  In retrospect, is there something—if you had to do all over again—and we were back in let’s say, 2002, and let’s say the decision is still the same—the decision is to go to war—what kinds of things do you wish we might have done different?

MYERS:  I think the place I would focus on is on the transition between major combat and the so-called phase four stability phase.  And the plan was always that that would—that you’d go from military—the military being in control of that phase as you went out of major combat into stability and reconstruction, that the military would carry that along for a while until at some point you decided it was appropriate for civilian authorities to step in.  And I think in my planning horizon, I thought that would happen not in June of ‘03 like it did in the CPA we stood up—the Coalition Provisional Authority—but much later on.

And so, you’ve got to think about that transition, and that could we set up the CPA?  Again, all instance of national power—not all departments or agencies still have their bullets in the CPA, so you give Ambassador Bremer a very tough task, and then you don’t fill it up. 

And I think we made some mistakes in the military side in how we gave Lieutenant General Rick Sanchez the same sort of tools to do it again to do in the country, based partly on that—on that analysis that didn’t turn out to be right in terms of how people were going to react—

COHEN:  Do you think that, in the end, conclude that it was just too difficult a task, given—


COHEN: —Iraq, as it turned out, is—

MYERS:  No.  I think it is a very difficult task.  I wouldn’t say it’s too difficult.  And that’s at a part—I mean, you know, with hindsight, you can start—you can point to anything and say, “Well, gee, I wish I’d have turned left or right,” but I don’t spend a lot of time doing that.  This was a task that’s never been tried before, that I know of, in history—in modern history.  It was a very challenging task.  We knew that.  I would give, for the part that I’m—had the most to do with was the military part—I think you got to be proud of the United States military for the role they played in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  They have shouldered more of the responsibility, in my view, than probably in a perfect world they would have or should have.  But they did it, and they performed admirably.  They’re out there—I mean, they’re the—they’re responsible for a great deal of the success.  Not all of it, certainly.  I mean, we’ve got a lot of people from a lot of walks of life that have contributed to the success.

But no, I don’t think it’s too hard.  No.

COHEN:  Let me shift a little bit to a topic you and I have talked about before, and that’s civil and military relations.  And maybe the place to begin is by getting you to talk a little bit, if you would, about your former boss, Secretary Rumsfeld.  And he’s certainly a controversial figure.  He’s going to go down in history as a very important secretary of Defense, if only, you know, by virtue of having served twice and longevity in office and all that.  Could you just talk little bit about what that relationship was like?

MYERS:  I think—I don’t know if most of the audience knows, but the—this is a very—certainly always your civilian bosses and the military relationship is very important.  And it’s based on trust in one another and among a group of folks.  I mean, the secretary has to have trust in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the chairman and the vice chairman, and vice versa.  So it’s knowing all along that the civilians are the boss but that you have your obligation to say your piece and to make sure you’re providing the best advice you can. 

One of the issues, of course, that I believe very strongly in is that it’s not the place of the military to endorse or criticize your civilian bosses.  That is not in accordance with our ethics and the way we’re brought up. 

So it’s hard even to answer the question, I mean, on this stage.  There is a network that wants to do a balanced, they say—a balanced piece on Secretary Rumsfeld, and they said, “We’ve got lots of detractors, you know, and somebody—you know anybody who’d like to speak in his—you know, tell about him from a different angle?”  And I find that hard, as a military person, even a retired military person, to do that, because I think if it starts—when you start judging your civilian bosses, then you become politicized immediately, and that’s not what this is all about.  So—at least in our country. 

There are some countries where that’s appropriate, and sometimes the military criticizes, and sometimes the military takes over.  We don’t want to do that.  And I mean, you don’t want to—I don’t—I’m a citizen.  I don’t want that to happen.  I’m very happy with the process we have.

So it’s a difficult subject.

I will say this.  There is nobody in the building that has more intellectual or physical energy than this now 73-year-old man, who is not in it so he can run for office again or anything.  He’s in it for, I think, the right reason.

He is a lot more collaborative than people believe when they’re—when you watch him on news conferences, and he—you know, he’s talking to the press, you get this opinion of a person that is very sure of himself and so forth.

When you actually get into discussing the issues, he’s very collaborative.  It doesn’t mean he’s easy—collaborative—but he’s very—he wants your opinion.  He’ll want the opinion of many people, and he’ll work his way through the issue until he gets conviction that he can recommend something to the president.  And—because when he does recommend something to the president, I’m usually there.  And if I’m not there, General Pace is there.  You always have the option—he always makes sure you had the option of speaking up if you don’t agree.  And that’s your obligation.

So it’s a much different process, and if you don’t know him well, you might think:  Well, he just tells them what to do.  That’s not the secretary.

COHEN:  Of course, you’re a retired general now.

MYERS:  Yes.

COHEN:  And over the last decade or so, there have been a number of interesting issues that have risen with respect to retired general officers.  One, of course, is, should they feel free to endorse political candidates?  And I’d be curious to know what you think about that. 

Or secondly, if they are really deeply discontented with the way they believe the country’s military affairs are being conducted, how should they speak out?  What things are okay for them to say?  What things are not okay for them to say?

So if you could talk a little bit about those two topics, I’d appreciate it.

MYERS:  Well, I think—these are personal beliefs now, and I believe that the ethos you have when you’re on active duty follows you into retirement, particularly as a senior officer, and that if you speak out in retirement, it starts to create a dynamic inside the civilian and military relationships that’s not a healthy one. 

An example: 

So Dick Myers retires, and also I’m criticizing this, that and that.  And your civilian boss is going to say, “Well, gee, why’s he saying that now?  Why didn’t he say that when he was sitting next to me and I said, ‘Dick, what do you think?’”

And so if I were the civilian boss, I’d say, “Gee, I’m not sure I’m going to share so much with this military that I don’t know what they’re going to say when they retire,” and so you start to break down this trust, the sharing that has to occur, the complete openness that there has to be when you’re committing men and women to combat.  I think it’s unhealthy, and I think it’s—in my opinion, I think it’s inappropriate for especially retired senior officers to start making those comments that really politicize them, in many ways.

I think—for similar reasons, I think it’s—I mean, it’s fine if—if Dick Myers decides to run for office and declares allegiance to some political party or independent party, whatever, that’s fine.  I have no problem with that.  But I think I would never be used as a pawn, potted palm, as we used—I’ve been using that a lot, by the way, but in a better sense—but used as a potted palm on a stage of some convention somewhere, where they say, “Well, look here.”  And your only thing is to stand there and be identified as a former general officer.  I don’t think that’s—I think that, in a sense, cheapens the service you gave to your country and is—and you’re being used.  That’s my personal opinion. 

It may be a little bit wrong.  It’s not illegal.  Feel free.  But I just—that’s my view.

COHEN:  Do you think most retired general officers would agree with you on that?

MYERS:  A lot of them would.  But the last presidential campaign, there were at least, what, 70 or 80 that didn’t, that stood on the stage.  So—

COHEN:  Yeah.  Of course, there are all the others who didn’t.

MYERS:  Yeah, there’s thousands that didn’t.  And so, you know, I just—it depends.  I mean, if they want to turn politician, fine.  I mean, if you want to become a political operative, that’s fine.  But declare it and get on with your life.  But don’t refer to somebody as a—don’t play on the fact that this person had a 35-military—(35)-year career and retired as a three- or four-star general and then is identifying himself over here and not let him speak or be part of that—I mean, just use—it’s just not—(inaudible).

COHEN:  A somewhat more esoteric civil-military relations point:  that under the Constitution, the president is really the commander in chief.

MYERS:  Absolutely.

COHEN:  And of course we didn’t really have a secretary of Defense—I mean, a secretary of War and a secretary of the Navy—but you know, the way the system has evolved, the secretary of Defense is, in effect, a kind of deputy commander in chief.

Well, first, would you agree with that as a characterization?  And secondly, is that healthy?

MYERS:  Gee, I’ve never thought about it as deputy.  I just note that if the chain of command runs from the commander in chief through the secretary of Defense to the combatant commanders—and it’s the chain of command.  I mean, there’s levels of command.  And I don’t know that deputy is a—I think it is—it’s a little esoteric.  I’d have to think about it a little longer before I—

COHEN:  Did you have many interactions with President Bush as acting in his capacity as commander in chief?

MYERS:  Oh.  Oh, absolutely.  Yes, absolutely.  And weekly, if not two or three times a week.  Depends on—depending on what was going on in the world.  Absolutely.

COHEN:  Is there anything you can say about that that’s—just for little local interest?

MYERS:  Well, I think one little anecdote that is interesting that will give you some insight into how the president used that role is—was the way he worked with General Franks in working up the plan for major combat.  And I don’t recall the exact number of meetings—I’m sure it’s in Tommy’s book; you can look that up—but five, six, seven, eight, 10 meetings with the president, discussing the plan and the president not giving the tactics of it, but asking:  Okay—I mean, one of the big questions of the time:  What if the Iraqis all collapse into Baghdad, and they make it Fortress Baghdad, and then you have to—now you’re in urban warfare, lots of civilians.  How are you going to handle that, General Franks?

And I mean, that was a hot topic for many months, up until the time we went in, in fact, through the fall of Baghdad—was something we—the president was particularly concerned about, wanted to know how we were going to handle it.

He had other concerns, and so he would do what a commander in chief does.  He would—I think he worked very well at the strategic level, saying, “What about this?  What about that?  If this went wrong, what would you do?”  And making sure that his field general had thought through the issues.

But at the same time, he was—when it was time to go, we were sitting around when President Bush finally made the decision to go, and we were talking about the exact date and who would go first—are we going to do this—is it going to be land first, air first?  If air goes first, how long is air going to go before we go on the ground?  Are we going to have Special Forces here?  Where—all those sorts of questions.  And we finally decided on a date, who’s going first and all those sorts of issues.

And somebody in the back of the room says, “Well, gee, Mr. President, if you pick that”—on the president’s staff—“Gee, Mr. President, if you pick that date, that means on Sunday you’re not going to be able to do what you already have scheduled to do, and then on Wednesday you have this other event,” and so forth.

And he says, “Let me just announce now that from now on, we’re on Tommy Franks time.”  And in other words, his schedule will drive our schedule while we’re in this—early throes of how this whole thing’s going to come together.

COHEN:  One last question.  Then I’d like to open it up for the membership.  As chairman, you were the principal military adviser to the secretary of Defense, but not actually in the chain of command.

MYERS:  Absolutely.

COHEN:  Could you first explain a little bit what exactly that means?  And secondly, would it have been better to have been in the chain of command?

MYERS:  Well, what it means is that you’re the principal military adviser, and by law, you provide military advice to the president and the National Security Council and the secretary of Defense, who’s on the National Security Council.  And it’s your obligation to give your best military advice. 

You have to include the advice of the other Joint Chiefs if that advice is different from your personal advice.  And the other chiefs have the right to petition the president or anybody if they feel very strongly about an issue.

And we have a staff, the Joint Staff, that serves the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the chairman, that looks at things from a pretty much strategic viewpoint to prepare the chairman or the vice chairman or the Joint Chiefs to formulate that advice. 

And of course in the last several—in the years that I was there, we had lots of meetings scheduled.  We’d be—we’d schedule them two to three times a week, usually meet about two times a week with the Joint Chiefs for a couple—several hours several time, an hour to three hours, depending—with the combatant commanders and having them brief and make sure we were up to speed on the plans and the issues and so forth, so we could provide our best military advice.

There was some thought about if you had this global—I’m going to use this term, because it’s now the term, of course—the global war on terror—if you had this global war on terror, gee, maybe you need a commander a little bit higher-level than our unified commanders.  If you’re trying to think globally, there’s no real command that—where this fits neatly.

There’s no real command that—where this fits neatly.  And they said, “Well, maybe the chairman ought to be this person.”  And my initial thought—and I’ve not been asked to think about since—but my initial thought was, “I’m not sure this is a good idea.”  I think this arrangement we have—we’ve always tried to avoid this idea of a general staff in Washington, D.C., and we have our combatant commanders in the field who have command authority, and you don’t have that in Washington.  And I think that’s a good principle.  And if we weren’t organized right, it probably wasn’t right to make the—I mean, it was tempting because of the doable nature of this—this struggle to kind of bring it up to Washington, but I resisted.  And I think you can have the influence you want to have as an adviser as opposed to being totally a commander, at least.

COHEN:  Thank you. 

Okay.  I would now like to open the meeting to invite members to join in the discussion with our questions.

Remember that the title of the series is “History Makers,” so please keep your questions, if you would, focused on General Myers’ past experiences rather than current events.

Please wait for the microphone—it will be brought to you—and speak directly into it.  Please stand, state your name and your affiliation, and perhaps most importantly, if you could have only one question and no statements.  And if you can be concise, everybody would be grateful.

The floor is open.

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, Herbert Levin.  General, with missiles and drones, what’s the future of manned aircraft?  Are there going to be any more pilots?

MYERS:  I think there will be pilots for—you know, for probably as far as you can see.  But the proportion of pilots and robotics or unmanned, aerial vehicles, I think, will start—is always start with a change.  And, you know, the U-2 mission, which was a manned reconnaissance mission, was going to give way to an unmanned, aerial vehicle that has many of the characteristics of the U-2. 

One important one that the U-2 doesn’t have is it can stay aloft for a day.  And so I think you’ll see more of that in the reconnaissance and surveillance area and eventually going over into this work going on right now, as you know, probably into combat vehicles as well.  So I think you’ll continue to see that.  In fact, we can drop reference from some of these unmanned, aerial vehicles today, but I’m talking more in the sense of more like our conventional fighters or bombers.

And I think—I’m just guessing; I have no idea because I’m not close to this at all in any sense—but the Air Force is looking for the bomber follow-on.  And I don’t know that you can—you can’t take in your mind and say, okay, we’ve had the B-52.  We’ve have the B-1.  We have the B-2, the stealth bomber, so the B-3 or whatever it is—or the B-10—it’s going to be something with wings—it could be a missile.  It could be something to do with space, maybe.  I mean, I don’t—or it could be an unmanned thing.  I mean, I don’t think anybody’s going to lock in on that concept yet.

So the answer, I think there’ll still be pilots required for some time to come, but I think slowly as missions can give way to the unmanned area, they will, if they can earn their way onto the battlefield, if they can do that.  But they’ve done that in some areas, so—

COHEN:  Over there?  Professor Marten.

QUESTIONER:  Thanks.  Hi, Eliot.


QUESTIONER:  Kimberly Marten from Barnard College.  I’ve heard it say that the Joint Chiefs actually had very good information and were giving very good advice as the occupation authority was being set up, but that one of the problems was that the occupation authority was not integrated with the command structure in Iraq, and that meant that it wasn’t taken very seriously.  And I’m wondering if you can comment on that. 

And also, let us know whether you think this new initiative that was put into effect at the end of last year that said that now stability operations are going to be on an equal footing with combat in the Pentagon is going to make a difference in that or whether sort of the long-term Pentagon emphasis on the importance of combat is going to make those kinds of changes very difficult to implement.

COHEN:  Sorry for the mike there.  Excuse me.

MYERS:  That’s a complex question.  I was thinking about the last part.  The first part was—tell me the first part again—just—

QUESTIONER:  That the occupation authority—

MYERS:  Yeah.  Let me—

QUESTIONER: —was not well-integrated—

MYERS: —Yeah.  I was really focused on the last part there—

QUESTIONER: —difficult timing—

MYERS:  As I said in the answer to Eliot’s question before on the—on how quickly it went from not the terminology phase three to phase four, but from combat—major combat to stability and reconstruction efforts, the transition could have been smoother in a lot of respects, in my opinion.  And we—like I said, when CPA stood up, it was not fully manned.  When we stood up General Sanchez—you know, some of the—that part had not been, you know, planned through like other parts had been that we—people discarded on the way forward.  We had other ways of doing that.  We actually sent up a joint task force to work the stability and reconstruction that was never used.  We trained it, we stood it up and it was never used.  That was pretty much the Joint Chiefs’ idea, for various reasons.

But if you remember also in June of ‘03, things looked pretty peaceful, actually.  It wasn’t until you get to the fall where you start picking up on insurgent attacks, and they repeat the next April.  So it—and who was in charge and there is just a lot of issues that surrounded that.  But I think where we need to—we need to think about (and catch those ?) lessons and do better in the future, just to see how the military is organized to support the whole effort there starting June and beyond.

COHEN:  Could I make—just to elaborate on that question—should there have been one person in charge in Baghdad for the first year, two years?

MYERS:  Probably—well, for the first year, we had—Ambassador Bremer was that person.  I think—

COHEN:  Well, but, I mean, the military did not report to him.  I mean, one person combined—civilian and military—

MYERS:  But the fact was that Ambassador Bremer would report back to the secretary of Defense.  That was the original agreement.  As it turned out over time, that wasn’t always the case on how it worked out.  So—but that was the thought.  Yeah, the unity of effort—in the military terms, the unity of command was an important concept.  It didn’t play out the way it was set up to play out for lots of reasons, and—(audio break)—for lots of reasons on many different sides of the question, actually.

And then on the other question on the preeminence of stability operations and combat operations—I think there will be interest in this and continued interest in the Pentagon.  And the reason I say that is—it goes back to my other comments—if you can’t harness all incidents of national power, which—when you get into stability and reconstruction and those kinds of issues, and whether it’s Darfur or Liberia or Sierra Leone or wherever the issue is, it’s usually—to solve modern national security issues, in my view, it’s not just the military.  It—in fact, the military can probably do—a very small—the likely role the military will play, but it’s going to be combined with the economic and the diplomacy and the educational, in many cases, informational instruments of national power. 

And so I think there will be interest in how we do this, because if you don’t, if you don’t figure out how to do this, then the burden’s going to shift, I think, disproportionately to the military.  And I think the military will be as sensitive about this as anybody.

So I tend to think that it’s going to get a lot of interest.  It would among the Joint Chiefs that I served with.  This would have been a very high priority, and we would have pushed this very hard. 

How it plays out down the road, if budgets shrink and other things, I don’t know.  That could certainly impact it.

COHEN:  The gentleman up here.

QUESTIONER:  General, Kevin Sheehan, ORIX Venture Finance.  I understand your point with regard to the importance of having a relationship of trust and confidence with the secretary.  And I wonder:  How did that play out with respect to your responsibilities in reporting to the Congress?  Because certainly your obligations in the—as a senior military officer would be different from those of the secretary.

MYERS:  Right.

QUESTIONER:  And certainly there would be occasions when the military, as an institution, had a different view and you had different views than the secretary did.

MYERS:  The way it plays out is that you’re absolutely obligated with Congress to give them your personal views.  It’s one of the things they ask you before you’re confirmed.  The Senate Armed Services Committee, you know, sends you lots of questions and lots of things to answer.  And one of them is, “Will you provide your personal opinion, even if it differs from that of the administration or your bosses, when asked by Congress?”  And you won’t be confirmed unless you say yes, and I don’t think you’re doing your job unless you say yes.

And there was at least one notable occasion—and I don’t know that I’d do it any differently, but—when I was asked by a member of Congress—and he wanted it in writing—my opinion of the intelligence bill that was about ready to be passed.  It was going to reform the intelligence community and create the director of National Intelligence.  And I took a position that was not the White House position.  And I might tell you in private what—the phone call I got later on, not—certainly not from the commander in chief, but somebody else, about what they thought about that.  But that was one of those times where you had—I gave them my opinion.  And life goes on.

COHEN:  Over here.

MYERS:  And I would just say I had some help in explaining to some what my obligation was to Congress.  I mean, some said, “Well, why would you do that?”  Well, remember, he’s obligated to do that.  So it wasn’t that he’s out there freelancing.

I appreciated that help, such as it was.

QUESTIONER:  Rodney Nichols.  General Shinseki said he thought we might need a lot more troops than were initially deployed.  As you look back, historically, was that the right decision, and was he treated with the respect his opinion deserved?

MYERS:  Just to put it all in context, this is—the answer to the last part of your question is no, and let me get into it a little bit.  And that’s why it’s still—why not urban legend?  I like that.  It’s an—you know, it’s just legend and myth that floats around out here. 

Ric had a great deal of experience in Bosnia.  And when cornered by a senator—and it’s in the transcript—you can see that he said, “No, this is something I’d have to rely on the combatant commander to determine.”  And the senator was persistent, said, “No, but you have a lot of experience.  Come on.  Give me a number.”  So he gave a number.  Some will tell you he gave the number that he did because he wanted to make sure the combatant commander had enough flexibility that it could be one person to several hundred thousand.

In any event, as it played out, it was never a number or—that debate never played out in the Joint Chiefs of Staff or in front of the president when he said, “Are we ready to go?  Are we ready to go for phase one through four?  How are we doing?” 

So it—I don’t know.  It was never—Ric never indicated to me or the Joint Chiefs that I ever heard that this was, you know, a very passionate position.

Having said that, it’s, I think, bad form for—it goes back to the trust issue again.  When Ric gives his opinion, a senior military leader—a distinguished soldier gives his opinion, then if people disagree with it, his bosses, they ought to call him in in private and say, “You know, explain that to me, because I don’t necessarily agree with that.”

QUESTIONER:  (Are you saying they had ?) enough troops?

MYERS:  That’s a different question. 

And let me just finish the answer.  And so after the fact, of course, after they made—it was made a political or a newsworthy item, I did weigh in and say this is not how—this—you know, in private, you can’t—that’s not how you do it.  I mean, we all have our opinions, and sometimes we screw up, and sometimes you screw up, and that criticizing—and I got—I’ve had people call—one of my questions up here in New York, in front of the Oxonian Society—it was the last question.  In fact, they didn’t want to ask this guy to ask this question.  And I said, “No, he’s been waiting here all night.  Please ask the question.” 

And I knew he was going to ask a tough question.  And he stood up, and he said, “You know, you’ve stood there in front of the press and the Congress with this liar Rumsfeld all these years.  What makes us believe we ought to believe you and have any trust and confidence in you?”

And my basic—and they said, “That’s it.  Take him out, and it’s over.”  (Laughter.)

I said, “No, I’ll answer this,” because he was not actually invited.  He worked his way into the meeting, whatever.  But it’s—it is—but I thought it was an interesting question. 

And I just asked him back.  I said, “Do you want your military advice in a time of war where you disagree to be on part of a press conference or in front of the Senate?  Is that where you want to have it?”  And I said I wouldn’t do that.  That’s not what I think is proper.  And you don’t know what I said in private, so thank you for your opinion.

But I think the truth issue—I would put it this way.  There were certain things that had to be done in the stabilization business that weren’t done because of lack of resources.  I don’t necessarily think that would be troops.  I think—especially in the early days.  I think it was more an issue of things I’ve already talked about.  The other departments and agencies that could have been doing their part—we had, what, 18 (billion dollars) or 20 billion (dollars) to dispense, and we were compiling together organizations to help make sure we did that right.

I can still remember—this is now over in Afghanistan—what’s the big issue in Afghanistan strategically?  One of the most important ones?  Drugs.  We had one person—a terrific lady that the State Department had sent over working the drug issue.  We needed three people.  We had this huge budget she was trying to manage, and there’s only so much you can do in 24 hours in the day, and she was supposed to have more people, and some would come in for a little bit, then they’d leave again.  There was never continuity.  And when I came back after having come back from a trip where I’d spoke to her and talked to the ambassador about that and then talked to, I think, at that time Secretary Powell, I believe it was—could have been Secretary Rice—but I came back, and said, “This—you know, we need to shore up this office.  You know, how can we hope to deal with this issue with the knowledge we have and to bring—“ so that’s—(audio break)—I think that’s more of it. 

I’m of the belief where General Abizaid is, and that is—there’s two things involved.  One is the perception of liberator or conqueror, the more troops, the more hatred, and you could make the situation a lot worse.  And the other part is that it’s not just about security and the insurgencies.  It’s about political and economic as well.  And those two pillars were not emphasized enough, early enough, in my opinion.  And now, clearly the way ahead in Iraq is mostly political.  I mean, there’s still some—there’s going to be security concerns for a long time—don’t get me wrong—and big challenges, and that’s not solved—but the political progress is the main way of solving it at this point.  And then the economic has to come a lot further than it is.  It did pretty well for a while when the insurgents attacked key roads, and it’s actually—you know, there’s a—a lot of work needs to be done in that area, too.

COHEN:  Well, General, it’s a complex thing, and I wouldn’t think it’s an easy answer.

QUESTIONER:  Bill Luers, UNAUSA.  This is a very historical question.  My sense is—I entered the U.S. government under the Truman administration, and I worked through many presidents.  And my sense has always been that the presidents who had some prior experience in military service, particularly in combat, were more capable of dealing with military issues and relating to the Joint Chiefs than those who’d never had any experience.

When you look at today, none of the senior officials of this government has ever had any direct experience with the military or with combat.  Is it a problem?  And does it need to be considered when you’re considering your role and the role of the armed forces in how they approach the president during these critical decisions?

MYERS:  The answer is probably yes, I think you’d have to consider it.  In a way, we were forced at the National Security Council—when you looked around the table—of course, you had Colin Powell, who had a lot of military experience, now the secretary of State; Secretary Rumsfeld, who had actually a lot of not combat experience, but naval aviation service plus Reserve duty, so very sensitive to Reserve issues, which later on, I think, were mostly helpful; but then some others who didn’t have any, and, yeah, I think you have to consider that as you try to lay out your logic and as you try to convince people, “Here’s my advice and here’s why it’s the way it is.”  The thing to consider is how much foundation do you have to build before you get to that point?  And there is some learning there on my part, matter of fact, and there’s a lot of things you assume people know and they don’t know, so they haven’t—

QUESTIONER:  What kinds of things?

MYERS:  Reserve forces—Guard or Reserve; how they look at their service.  I mean, we made some decisions—I mean, I think you could go to any Guard or Reserve unit that’s served—been mobilized in the last four or five years, and you’re going to find a great deal of pride in their service.  You find reenlistment rates up pretty high.  You find recruiting doing pretty well.  I mean, they’re proud of this, and I’m not sure that was—the pride these people have in their units and their desire to be part of the action, if you will, I think, is not well understood.  I mean, we go through debates on who to mobilize, not to mobilize, do we do this and that, and maybe we need to give them more time off here.  And you go talk to the Reserve bosses, and they say, “These guys and ladies are ready to go.  Just tell them to go.  They’ll be fine.”  And that’s the case.  And yet—then they’re—if you haven’t dealt with these kind of issues before, you might not—it would be counterintuitive.

COHEN:  I think we have time for just one more question.

MYERS:  I always worry about the last question.  (Laughter.)

COHEN:  All the way in the back there.  Could you stand up, please, and identify yourself?

QUESTIONER:  Yes, sorry.  Richard Dreyfus.  The definition of national security has always seemed to be that we had the security of the Atlantic and the Pacific, and Canada and Mexico, and we could at least know that we had some sense of safety and security.  When the towers came down and when we saw that a very few number of people could do an enormous amount of damage, are you satisfied that there is a current definition of national security that we can fulfill, and that the military, providing the common defense, is structured in the appropriate way for a world that has apparently offered up some very new and very difficult adversaries?

MYERS:  That’s very well put.  It’s a theme that I talk about when I go out and talk in public.  And I was hoping Eliot would get me somewhere close to that theme tonight.  He did not do it.  (Laughter.)

But—so now that I have the microphone for a second, what I do know is that—and what I say, and I keep questioning myself, you know, is this really the right way to put it?  But I think the threat from violent extremism is a very serious threat.  These people would use any means to have their way.  They don’t have necessarily a great message of hope, in fact, their message is to go back to the 7th century and have a theocracy that is very dictatorial in nature and a very extremist form of Islam.  If they could get their hands on something besides airliners, that unfortunately that day killed 3,000 of our citizens and others, if they could get their hands on biological weapons or fissile material, even if it weren’t a nuclear yield, if it was just a radiological device that rendered square blocks of a community uninhabitable for decades, I wonder what that would do to our psyche.  And I think it would create fear, and fear is a—after 9/11, we all modified our behavior a little bit, my guess is.  Anybody who said, nope, I stayed—I was going to Europe that next day, and by golly, I went to Europe; and I was planning on a vacation somewhere, and, yes, that’s what I did; and my business plans were the same, I didn’t change a darn thing—I’d like to—I’m sure some of you are out there that did that.  Most everybody else said, “Ooh.  What’s going on here in this world?”  And it was all because of fear.  It was unknown, it was fear.  There’s more of that, I think, in our future, unfortunately, because you just have to read the writings, go to the website, see what they say.  And I worry about that.  And I’m not sure that that isn’t the greatest danger we’ve almost faced to our way of life and our democracy. 

So do we have an adequate strategy to deal with it?  In my view, not yet.  And I’ve heard some say, well, you know, it took them a long time to come up with a strategy for the Cold War.  That doesn’t satisfy me very much.  I think—I don’t think we’re at that point where we—we need a strategy, and the strategy in this case is going to be predominantly non-military; it’s going to be those other instruments of national power that are so important:  diplomacy, education, economic, informational—other ways of trying to change the equation a little bit so men and women don’t want to join jihad.  And until they do, then I think our children and our grandchildren are at great risk.  And that’s just the way I feel. 

I’m not predicting the next tragedy in this country, but I think it would be foolish to sit up here and say it’s not going to happen again.  It happens in the Levant every day, it happens in Baghdad regularly—I mean in lots of places in the world.  And our oceans aren’t the protector they once were, and our neighbors to the north and south aren’t the protectors—they don’t provide that protection.  This is a much different threat.  And we’re still trying to accommodate to that. 

It did hurry up our defense transformation, but we’re not through with it yet.  I mean, we’re—big organizations move slowly and clumsily, and we’ll stagger along. 

But more importantly, the strategy needs to be refined, and it needs to be—and it’s foolish to think, in my view, that the United States can solve any of this on our own.  It requires great cooperation among the international community and like-minded nations.  And I don’t know that we’ve harnessed all of that.  It requires the organization here in town, the U.N., to think this is a really serious threat. 

And we’ll probably think about this the next time there’s a—there are horrific incidents every day.  But the next time we have something 9/11-like in some other country, we’ll think about this again, and your question will come up again.  But that’s—I think it’s a great question, and I think the answer is a lot of hard work, but we’re not to the point where we need to be, is what I would say.

COHEN:  Okay.  That’s a sober and thought-provoking way to end the session.  I want to thank you very much for that.   Is there anything you wanted to add?

MYERS:  No, I just thank you for your time.

COHEN:  Well, thank you.

MYERS:  Thank you for your time.  (Applause.)







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