HH: Perhaps the most important of many interesting conversations is the one I’m about to have now with retired General Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the United States Army. You see him on Fox News all the time. He’s one of the architects of the surge, and he joins me now to discuss today’s vote in the Senate. General Keane, welcome, thank you for joining us.
JK: I’m delighted to be here.
HH: Now today, I’ve talked with Constitutional lawyers, Andrew Roberts, Michael O’Hanlon, Joe Scarborough, Buck McKeon. Everyone is all over the place. Step back and tell us what’s at stake, and what do you think the President and the Congress ought to do.
JK: Well, I think this military intervention, based on what took place, should have occurred about ten days ago, in my own mind. For the life of me, I don’t understand why the President is seeking Congressional authorization when he did the very same thing in Libya without it, and other presidents have done much the same thing. All that said, the obvious reason is he needs, I think this administration has been driven by mostly political considerations when they’re making national security decisions. And as a result of it, they delay, they hesitate, and they do half measures. And I think while most presidents consider the political implications of their national security decisions to a certain degree, this president is driven by them. They are singularly the most important thing that he’s making the decision on. So I’m convinced that after the United Kingdom humiliated Cameron and fulfilled what Henry Kissinger’s been saying for 20 years, is that a European national leader cannot, can no longer ask his people to sacrifice for anything that happens outside their country. I think when that happened, President Obama needed political cover, and here we are with this sort of soap opera that’s unfolding in front of us. And you know, if you talk privately to many of the Congressional leaders who I’ve been in contact with, because you know, they call me and ask me, to understand the operation and what it will be and so on, while some will say I’m glad the President has come to the Congress, most will say we wish he had not. And that’s just the reality of it. We’re not going to a campaign of war. We’re going to conduct an operation that’s going to last a day or two, and it has a beginning, and it has an end. And it has, there’s nothing open-ended about it. There’s a lot of people wringing their hands, it’s going to be all sorts of retaliatory measures as a result of this. That doesn’t make any sense.
HH: General Keane, one of the people who voted against the resolution in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today is Senator Marco Rubio, of whom we are big fans here at the show. And in his statement, he said after a few days of missile strikes, it will allow Assad, for example, to emerge and claim that he took on the United States and survived. This is one of the reasons that Senator Rubio voted against it. What do you make of that argument? Do you think that Assad could do that, and that he would be strengthened by these attacks?
JK: Well, he’ll claim that to be sure. What else does he have to do? I mean, he’ll certainly, that’s rhetoric. Whether that’s a reality is up to us. We hold the cards here, and I think that’s what Senators McCain, Graham and others have been trying to elicit from this administration, that it should not just be an attack that’s punitive because of chemical weapons. There should be some strategic value if you’re going to go to all of this trouble. And the strategic value should be that we want to reverse the momentum that the regime has, move it in favor of the opposition forces by the degree of the attack on the military capacities it has, not superficial, don’t spread it all over the place. Focus on absolute true, military capacity, like his air power, which we absolutely have the capacity to shut down in one night or two, I mean, totally take it off the table. And that’s within our capability.
HH: Now General, let me ask you, and we’ll continue in the next segment before we run out of time. The biggest objection I get from my audience, and I’m a strong proponent of acting in the way that you and the Kagans have described, and many others, is that we will empower al Qaeda elements who will be even worse, and will not only be anti-American and deeply Islamist, but will attack Israel. So what if we take out his air force? Aren’t we just becoming, the cliché is Kucnicih’s, al Qaeda’s air force then by doing so?
JK: Well just, I mean, this is got, you know, the Jesuits beat the daylights out of Keane to get me through the intellectual crucible of their decisions. So one of the things that came out of that is you know, totally indebted to them how to think logically. And I mean indebted, because it helped me so much. Just think about this, and I appreciate your audience understanding this. The Assad regime has, you know, a decent military capacity. They have tanks, artillery, rockets, mortars, they have attack helicopters, they have aircraft that bomb people. They have a full suite of military…they’re not a good military by any means. I mean, they’re like a lot of the militaries in that part of the region that the Israelis had no trouble dealing with. But nonetheless, all that said, hundreds of thousands of people wanted political and social justice and economic opportunity, and have stood up against that military power, and have fighting it for two years. And they have died in astounding numbers, over 100,000 killed, two million refugees, close to three million displaced. Now just think about this. We have less than three to four thousand foreign fighters that represent the radical Islamists. They’re in the north, they’re concentrated, they’re territorial, they’re no longer in the fight. But we fear them to the degree that it paralyzes our thinking about what would happen in a post-Assad era, or what would happen when we take action. Does that make any sense, that the Syrian people who stood up against this military might, with everything that they had, sacrificing their children, their family structures, their way of life, they would let a few thousand fighters with AK-47’s, and yes, they’ve got some skill sets from having fought in Iraq, have their way with them? Does that make any sense whatsoever, when they are standing up against this military machine?
HH: General, you had Jesuits, I had Franciscans. And the Franciscans would come back and say oh, now, General, and we have a minute to the break and we’ll come back after that, but what if it happens? Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t. What’s the Jesuit say in response?
JK: One is what happened? What’s going to happen? That the radicals who number a few thousand are going to push against whoever takes over after Assad. And so they’re going to push back. What’s the consequence of that? So what? We can deal with that. And my issue is what is the United States doing to enable the moderates, who are the largest force there, who are aligned politically with us? And what are also doing now, not later, to undermine these jihadists who are in that country? What are we doing? And the answer to that is not much.
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HH: General Keane, how would you, people say who would we give, and what would we give the weapons to, what kind of weapons, who would we give them to? Get granular with us. You know what you’re talking about, and people really want to know that we could actually deliver weapons that would make a difference to responsible or at least more responsible hands than al Qaeda or Assad. How does that happen?
JK: Well, let me give you a couple of facts. I’m the chairman for the Institute for the Study of War, which is a think tank in Washington, D.C. that deals with conflict operations. And to be quite frank about it, I mean, I’m trying to provide some accolades for some of our analysts there, they actually had some impact on the Central Intelligence Agency about 18 months ago. And my good friend, General Petraeus, was the director there, and I was interacting with him. And as a result of some information we provided, and they looked at it very hard, and they came to a conclusion and reversed their conclusion that the moderate forces were not fragmented and unreliable. Quite the contrary, they were reliable, and we could vet them, and provide weapons to them. That was their position. They got the Pentagon to agree with that, they got Secretary Clinton to agree with that, and last summer, they made their presentation to the White House, and the White House rejected it. And that is absolutely outrageous, because the moderates are aligned with U.S. interests. Just think of that. We depose Assad, we have Syria, who’s aligned with U.S. interest, the moderates in control as a buffer against the Iranians, who believe that Syria is their anchor point to achieve regional domination. So no question this is in U.S. strategic interest. What they want, and what they’ve always said, and I’ve had them in front of me face to face, saying we don’t need your troops. We don’t need your airplanes. They will take both if we offered it to them, but the point was what we need is anti-aircraft weapons, and we need anti-tank weapons, and we need trained assistance. We are doing some training assistance, which is in the public domain now, so I can talk about it, by the Central Intelligence Agency in Jordan. But the amount of it is so small, it has very little impact. We have to increase that, get the U.S. military involved so it has scale. Second thing is the Saudis have been giving the opposition forces, and audience, please listen to this, they’ve been giving them weapons for eight months, and none of those weapons have fallen into jihadist hands, which are the concern of many. It’s just not going to happen. The jihadists are in the north, and they are geographically separated from these folks. And they’re not about to turn over their weapons to them, nor are the jihadists about to get into some kind of gunfight with them to take them away from them. The moderates actually outnumber them. It would be a heck of a fight. Now I will say this, that the jihadists have resources, and they have some weapons systems that are certainly better than the moderates. So we have to put arming the moderates on fast forward, and also provide a training assistance. But most importantly, we have to think strategically, and this is the State Department’s job. What is the strategy to enable the moderate opposition forces, which has a political and a military element to it, to politically, economically, socially, and militarily succeed? What is our strategy for that to happen?
HH: General, we’ve got one minute and a half left. What is your degree of confidence that we can enable the moderates to win? And I’m looking at the new Foreign Affairs at the picture of Khamenei, the mind of the Supreme Leader, a very disturbing article. Won’t he just keep upping the pressure via the Quds Force, and via Hezbollah, to defeat whatever we try and do, vis-à-vis the moderates and Assad?
JK: No. We can deal with this, but we have the capacity to deal with this. Certainly, the Iranians are all in, and they’ve got Revolutionary Guards, and they also have the Quds Force in there, which is the first time they’ve really deployed outside their country since they took power in 1979, to give you a sense of how important this is. But I don’t have a lot of confidence in this administration to make that kind of commitment. This is what McCain and Graham have been trying to get from the President. Make a commitment to them and see this thing through. And they’ve been very reluctant to do it. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, to be quite frank about it, and it’s very disturbing, because you know, this can be achieved. It is achievable.
HH: It takes will. It takes purpose. It takes American courage. General Jack Keane, thanks for fighting the good fight, both in uniform and continuing to do so now. I hope you’ll come back soon and continue to educate the public.
End of interview.