|AGENDA 2000: MILITARY SCHOOLS|
November 12, 1999
GWEN IFILL: And tonight we are we hear the views of four retired military officers who ran the graduate colleges that turn out most of this country's generals and admirals. Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt was commandant of the National War College from 1995 to 1997. Air Force Major General Perry Smith was commandant of the National War College from 1983 to 1986. Lieutenant General Paul Cerjan was president of National Defense University from 1992 to 1994, and commandant of the army war college from 1989 to 1991. And Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper served as president of Marine Corps University from 1989 to 1990. Let's start here. What are the most important issues, do you believe, Admiral McDevitt, that the presidential candidates should be talking about this year?
REAR ADM. MICHAEL McDEVITT (RET.), Former Commandant, National War College: Well, I think what we are you're going to hear are the... the issues you'll hear about are going to be national missile defense. You're going to be hearing are readiness, and you're going to be hearing about recruiting. I'm not sure that those are the most important issues. I think the most important issue is in terms of our broader security strategy, which has to reconcile the notion of our... of major wars or the two -- major theater wars that we have, humanitarian interventions and peacekeeping and other issues associated with presence as well as homeland defense. Those three major pieces are, to me, the issues that need to be addressed by the candidates. And I'm not sure that each and every one of them are addressing all three of those.
GWEN IFILL: General Smith, do you agree with that?
MAJ. GEN. PERRY SMITH (RET.), Former Commandant, National War College: I agree with that. I would like to add a few others things. One of the other things they have got to address is how they are going to fix the military. The military is broken in a number of dimensions. Morale is down, recruitment is down, retention is down, logistic support is down, munition support is down, training is down. All those things need to be fixed. And the military also needs a champion. They need somebody that they can look up to, that they can admire. Bill Clinton did not serve that role particularly well in a number of dimensions. And if we get that and we debate those issues and the constituency of the military in its broader context, can find somebody who can provide that kind of leadership, then I think the military will be satisfied as we go into the next presidential candidate.
GWEN IFILL: General Van Riper, one of the things that you just heard General Smith allude to was the leadership qualities of this President that we have now and the degree to which people are looking for a different kind of leadership quality in the next chief executive. Would you agree with that?
LT. GEN. PAUL VAN RIPER (RET.), Former President, Marine Corps University: I would agree absolutely. In fact, I think there was a long discussion in the media today, the country as a whole is looking for a different type leadership, more traditional.
GWEN IFILL: That's an interesting point, because also in "USA Today" today, President Clinton was talking about the value of having had military experience. And he said that it shouldn't necessarily hurt you not to have had it, but it definitely helps to have had it. Do you think it's important for the next... of course, all the men who are now leading in the race for President seem to have some sort of experience. Do you think that's important?
LT. GEN. PAUL VAN RIPER (RET.): It's important, but I certainly wouldn't say it was a disqualifier. A lot of fine citizens with great experience other than the military that do very well.
GWEN IFILL: General Cerjan, we hear a lot about what's important as far as the grand strategy for military preparedness for the next century, say. What does that mean, and what role can candidates play in talking about that and talking about what the role the military should have now?
LT. GEN. PAUL CERJAN (RET.), Former President, National Defense University: Well, I think that the candidates have to define what the grand strategy and what the strategy is in terms of where they want to lead the United States in the next ten years. And out of that is define the national military strategy where the military can then take its direction in terms of where they need to go to prepare for those eventualities. I don't think I hear that being talked about in terms of strategic ideas, strategic assessments of what the world looks like, who the regional powers are, who are our peer competitors, which right now on the horizon look to be China over the next ten years or so. And I'd like to add to General Van Riper's comment about the whole issue of leadership. I think that character and integrity have to be the centerpiece of whoever is elected the President of the United States because out of that emanates the leadership for not only the administrative side of the government, but I believe congress as well and people across the United States. We need to have a moral leader that we can look to.
GWEN IFILL: Admiral McDevitt, would you like to add to that?
REAR ADM. MICHAEL McDEVITT (RET.): What is left to say? Certainly the importance of leadership cannot be overemphasized. And I just would like to say that I, too, believe that while military experience is important to provide a context for some of the defense issues that come up, it's absolutely not necessary. I was fortunate enough to work for Dick Cheney, and here's the man with no particular military experience, though he was a tremendous leader and very effective, so you don't necessarily have had to have worn the uniform to provide the kind of credible, necessary leadership for not only the country but for the Department of Defense.
GWEN IFILL: General Smith, as the nation's next President strives to decide exactly what to do in terms of where the United States should go and what role the United States should play in a post-cold war global situation, exactly what kinds of guide posts should he, probably he, be using?
MAJ. GEN. PERRY SMITH (RET.): Well, it's been exactly ten years today since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and we have not developed a new strategy to deal with this very complex situation where we're the single and sole superpower dealing with a lot of chaos and anarchy and mini civil wars and micro problems around the world. We need to develop that with specific priorities of regions and areas of interest. And if we do that, then the American people and the American military will better understand when they're called to go to duty and there will be less confusion. The morale will be higher. And I think that would... that would enhance the situation a lot.
GWEN IFILL: General Van Riper, what kind of things would you like to see these candidates talk about? Not necessarily just about the military and the future of the military, but in general, what kinds of debates should they be having?
LT. GEN. PAUL VAN RIPER (RET.): We've touched on it, and in fact this argument about our national security strategy, in my mind, is the key. We've had no real thinking on the strategic level for almost 40 years. In fact, would I say it's a crisis in thinking. Not only have we not had the thinking, we haven't had the public debate that's so necessary. I remember as a graduate student the kind of debates we had about containment. We don't have that today. We need to get the vision from the leadership and then have a public debate as to where this country is headed.
GWEN IFILL: Isn't the debate about containment sort of outpaced by the end of the Cold War?
LT. GEN. PAUL VAN RIPER (RET.): Clearly at the end of the Cold War, containment was no longer the national security strategy. What we've failed to do is develop a coherent strategy for the future in terms of enlargement, engagement. Those aren't the types of strategies we need to be talking about. They're mere words, they're bumper stickers, no intellectual substance to most of this.
GWEN IFILL: General Cerjan, what other issues are you listening for when you listen to these candidates-- non-military issues, just as a citizen?
LT. GEN. PAUL CERJAN (RET.): Well, I've got to go back again and agree with General Van Riper and General Smith. When you talk about national security strategy and the debate, you define the direction the United States is going to take in the next ten to 15 years. In doing that, you also define where you want your military to be. If you look back in the last ten years since the wall went down as Perry brought up, we have had somewhere in the vicinity of 27 deployments around the world where in the previous 30 years we had only had eight. Well, when you start talking about what you're doing with your military and you're employing them around the world, sooner or later, you can't go to the same well all the time with the size of the force that we have. So the force has to be properly sized to meet the national security strategy.
GWEN IFILL: Admiral, are we just scattering ourselves too thin too far and not without a goal about what it is we're trying to accomplish around the world?
REAR ADM. MICHAEL McDEVITT (RET.): Certainly that's one of the criticisms many outside observers have. And I happen to think that one of the things that needs to be brought under control is this notion of these open-ended commitments. While it's arguable whether some of the humanitarian interventions that we've made around the world, whether we should or should not do that-- I happen to think in most cases we should. But by the same token, we haven't thought through the fact that we're liable to be there ten years later. For example, the no-fly zone over Iraq that was established right at the end of Desert Storm, we're still having pilots flying that no-fly zone now, nine years later, ten years later, with no end in sight. It just seems to me that we need to be thinking more clearly about end states and what's the terminal point rather than adding one commitment after another after another and another.
GWEN IFILL: General Smith, are we thinking enough about that?
MAJ. GEN. PERRY SMITH (RET.): No, we're not. We're not building the coalitions as much. Think about that no-fly zone we just talked about. Only the British and the Americans are flying over that no-fly zone. The Saudis are not, the Kuwaitis are not, the French are not. We need to build our coalitions better so we can get more support and have the U.S. military not so stretched so far around the world. If we could do that, we could cut down on the personnel tempo and the operational tempo, give these people a little bit of a break from their crazy lives of moving, moving, moving. And the military morale would go up, retention would go up, and I think the situation could be improved quite dramatically.
GWEN IFILL: In a year, almost precisely a year, Americans will finally have a choice to choose among two men who want to be president. Which... General Cerjan, can you give me some sense of what you've heard so far? Have you heard any sense of whether of these candidates are talking about the issues that we're talking about today?
LT. GEN. PAUL CERJAN (RET.): Very frankly I think we're still in the early stages. And they're all trying to feel their way. I think on the democratic side you have two candidates who have to try to get their constituency put together, so they're not really defining the issues for the presidential campaign. On the other side of the aisle, you have a candidate who appears to be out in front with another one, McCain, coming up very close to it. So they may get to the point where they have to debate each other as opposed to look at the presidential issues. But I think that across the board, they would serve the American people better if they would define the issues for the people of the United States in terms of where we want to go strategically and how that impacts the man on the street back home. And when the man and woman on the street back home understand where the direction is being laid out by these individuals, then I think it makes a clearer choice in who we want to elect to be President.
GWEN IFILL: Admiral?
REAR ADM. MICHAEL McDEVITT (RET.): I think... I don't disagree with what Paul said, but I think the reality is the defense issues are not going to be at the top of the agenda for all of the candidates. Were that we would like that to be the case perhaps, but I think that the domestic issues... I mean, after all, I think it's still going to be, the economy stupid, and domestic issues. And the one that concerns me the most, which does have a payoff in terms of the military down the road, is the issue of education. We've got to do something about improving the quality of education across the board because we depend, in the military, upon educated young men and women who can handle modern and sophisticated systems. And we've got to make sure that our educational... that the schools around the country are producing those kinds of viable members of the military.
GWEN IFILL: General Van Riper?
LT. GEN. PAUL VAN RIPER (RET.): I think the key will be the candidates, at least in my mind, who can articulate to the general public why national security is important. Put that at the top of the agenda. That's what the national government is for. The local and state governments can handle many of these other issues. And we've had a failure of that in the past. I don't believe the American public knows what is in our international security strategy today. The fact it's no longer just the vital interest, but also has been added as important interests, which is kind of a catch-all. And third, humanitarian operations. Those are things our national strategy says today, and it's been done in a closed shop.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you, gentlemen, all.
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