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tv   The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations  Bloomberg  April 11, 2020 9:00am-9:30am EDT

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♪ david: do you have any regrets about your decision to actually become secretary of defense? gen. mattis: i would tell you if you are enjoying life, and it is shortly after an election, and the phone rings, do not answer the phone. [laughter] obviously. david: what are the biggest national security issues? gen. mattis: in terms of urgency, it would be north korea. in terms of power, it would be russia. and in terms of political will, it would be china. david: have you ever thought of running for office or president yourself? gen. mattis: you are a very bad man. [laughter] >> would you fix your tie, please? david: well, people would not recognize me if my tie was fixed, but ok. just leave it this way. all right.
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i don't consider myself a journalist, and no one else would consider myself a journalist. i began to take on the life of being an interviewer, even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody tick? pres. trump: mad dog plays no games, right? ♪ david: most of the people that i have interviewed in this series are people i have known quite some time. in the case of jim mattis, i had never met the man before. because of his nickname, "mad dog," i thought i better be careful when i shake his hand, because he might be growling or mad at me or something, but it was quite the opposite. i recognized quickly he has a certain reserve and a manner that would make a person want to follow him as a leader in the military, and i suspect that had
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he never gone into the military, had he been in business or politics, he would have been successful there as well. although i only spent one hour with him, i think he has great potential to be a leader in our country. and i don't think we have heard the last of jim mattis. you are minding your own business after having spent 40-plus years in the marines. you are out in your native state, washington, and you get a call from vice president-elect pence to come and meet donald trump, who you had never met before. what did you think that meeting was about, and do you have any regrets about going to the meeting or -- [laughter] your decision to actually become secretary of defense? gen. mattis: i don't live a life with regrets. i would tell you that if you are enjoying life, and it is shortly after an election, and the phone rings, don't answer the phone, obviously. [laughter] but on a more serious note, i was brought up by the greatest
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generation, and i was brought up to believe that government service is an honor, it is a privilege, but it is a duty. whether it is the president of the united states asking you, and you are a republican or democrat, it doesn't matter, as long as you are prepared to do it, as long as you know you can do it, then the response is affirmative. david: so you took the job, but you resigned after a few years over a policy disagreement. any regrets about having resigned? gen. mattis: as you will all understand, ladies and gentlemen, these are the finest young patriots in our country signing that blank check payable to all of us with their lives. the men and women of our military. i loved being back around them. this is probably the best job i could have imagined. i only miss being around those people. there just comes a time -- i don't live a life of regrets --
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there comes a time when you know what you have to do. david: so you don't ever look back? gen. mattis: no, i look forward. i am like dallas. [applause] david: i wish i could do that. i always look back at the deals i should have, i missed. i wish i had that same ability. but, ok. [laughter] so, you disagreed with president trump on syria. i realize you have been very , very careful about not criticizing president trump at all since you have left, in any public forum, so i am not probably going to persuade you to do so here, not that you want to do so. but the reason you want to be not commenting on your service as secretary of defense or saying anything negative about president trump is what? is it because you are a former cabinet officer, former military person, or just generally think it's not a good policy? gen. mattis: i resigned over a policy disagreement, you are right. i put that disagreement in a page-and-a-half letter. the letter has been released, that is all the more i need to say about it. the french call it a "devoir de
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reserve" -- a duty of reserve, a duty of quiet. you don't need to have a former secretary of defense talking about the current policies in a way that is injurious to the country. and i would point out that secretary ash carter, my predecessor under the obama administration, said the same thing when he would respond to a congressional question that he considered political, even while he was there. so it is not unique to me, is my point. it is not some protective effort around president trump. david: years down the road, you might feel better about commenting on this? gen. mattis: it is a good question, david, but like most of us in this room, i am from the west as well, and there is something called the ride for the brand. i could always come out on this policy or strategy, this is where i come down. that is not meant as personal or political, and i don't feel i needed to be silent about those things after that president
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leaves office. but while the president is there, the last thing we want to do is to have the former secretary of defense saying, "i disagree with a certain policy." guess what? the president is still the commander-in-chief, as elected by the american people, and the troops have to obey him. the last thing you want to do is have the troops saying, "well, the former secretary of defense does not agree with that policy." that's why i don't talk about it while they are in office. david: does president trump call you for advice anymore or not so much? phoneattis: no, the hasn't rang on that one. [laughter] david: you recently came out with the book, "callsign chaos," and it is a terrific book. i highly recommend it. explain what "callsign chaos" means, for those who have not read the book. what does "chaos" in there? there? gen. mattis: so i was a colonel in the mojave desert, and i had an operations officer from brooklyn with a rather droll sense of humor.
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i was talking to my operations officer of this regiment of about 7000 sailors and marines out in the mojave desert, and i saw on his whiteboard "chaos" written, and he said don't worry about that, you don't need to know about that. so i say, oh, yes, i do. [laughter] i used some of my powers of persuasion -- i waterboarded him. [laughter] i found out my irreverent subordinates had decided that my callsign should be chaos. "colonel has another outstanding suggestion." it was rather tom in cheek. -- [laughter] it was rather tongue-in-cheek. they did not see the brilliance of all of my ideas that i identified. so i adopted that as my callsign. any time you hear about this "mad dog" thing, my troops all laughed at it, knowing my callsign was "chaos." that was never my favorite nickname that the press assigned me on a slow news day. david: let's talk about that -- gen. mattis: no, i'd rather not, actually.
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[laughter] david: you never described how you got that. you obviously don't like it. i would think that "mad dog" shows that you are tough and so forth. why don't you like it or use it? gen. mattis: first, the marines teach you to be tough in other ways than self-aggrandizing and stuff like that. [applause] one thing, too, that i have had to do, and you will all understand this, is sign a lot of next-of-kin letters, and the last thing they need is thinking there is someone with the self-image of mad dog up there with their sons' lives, basically, in his hands. so, i shy away from those words. you have signed more than 800 of those letters? gen. mattis: i have. david: that must be the most difficult thing, to write the next-of-kin that their son or daughter has been killed. gen. mattis: it's difficult to me. it is nowhere near what the families go through. david: you have been involved with meeting goldstar families since you retired, and that must be an emotional experience. gen. mattis: i think it is
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necessary we pay our respects and never forget the sacrifice s of those families. when you think this great big experiment that we have, that you and i call america, it will need to be defended, and we will continue to need this sort of commitment, this devotion to our country. david: your first time in real combat is when saddam hussein invades kuwait. when you got into kuwait, relatively quickly, were you surprised at how, relatively speaking, it was easy to get there? gen. mattis: it was a lot of training and a lot of fire support. i am very proud of that campaign, because it was the last time i brought everyone home alive. ♪
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♪ david: so, when you started your life, you started in the northwest, washington state, and you were a great athlete or a great student, or which would you say? gen. mattis: none of the above. [laughter] david: but you were a little bit wild, and you would do things that today i would think parents wouldn't let kids do. when you were 13 years old, your parents would let you hitchhike around the west, is that right? gen. mattis: well, i maintained a degree of silence about some of my activities around my parents. [laughter] but yeah, i did start to
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hitchhike. i think it was a more trusting nation in those days. my parents were rather adventurous. they weren't irresponsible, and had they known some of this, they probably would've put the kibosh on it. david: so, how did you come to the marines? did you say, "i'm going to be drafted. i'd rather be in the marines than the army?" or did you, like my father, my father said, "i like the uniform. it's a great uniform. i'm going to go in the marines." what appealed to you? gen. mattis: one thing, i probably would have been drafted. it was during that era. it was a little bit unexamined, it was more or less assumed that if you went into the military, a lot of the guys in the neighborhood, my older brother was in vietnam as a marine. it was just kind of a natural thing. it wasn't a very reflective or examined decision. david: you go into the marines. what was your first assignment after you left officer training? gen. mattis: it was the best assignment i had in the military. it was second lieutenant in the infantry.
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you have about 40 sailors and marines, and there's nobody between you and your troops. you are living right amongst them. you know them as well as you know your brothers. you can spot them 200 yards away by their walk. you know who they are. it is just a great, tightknit crew. david: ok, so your first time in real combat is when saddam hussein invades kuwait, and president bush, 41, decides the united states is going to have a response. pres. bush: now the 28 countries have no choice but to drive saddam from kuwait by force. we will not fail. david: what was your involvement, and what did you do in that war? gen. mattis: i commanded an infantry battalion. i was in the first marine division. those of you who remember the war, you remember the big minefields and the trenches of oil and all of that sort of stuff, barbed wire. my battalion job was to open two of the routes through for marines to follow. david: did you think at the time, there were predictions there would be tens of thousands
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of american troops killed. when you got into kuwait relatively quickly, were you surprised at how, relatively speaking, it was easy to get there? gen. mattis: it was a lot of training and fire support. i am very proud of that campaign, because it was the last time i brought everyone home alive. david: ok. so, you were an officer when that occurred. when you are an officer, you get special treatment in that kind of combat. did you sleep in the same places as the troops? did you have a better place to sleep or better food? gen. mattis: in the infantry, you always eat last, you never live better than the troops. as a matter of fact, even when i was a two-star general, we established what is called the level of comfort for a 23,000 man division as whatever a whatever which is infantry lance corporal, which
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as, which is whatever infantry lance corporal, which is what a very young troop has, if he has nothing but a blanket to lay in, nobody has anything but a blanket except the wounded and sick. and those, we do everything we can for. everyone lives like a lance corporal. david: so the food that you eat, mre food, is it very good, or not so great when you are in combat? gen. mattis: let's just say it was not quite as good as the meal we had today, david. [laughter] david: eventually you got back into combat again because 9/11 occurs. your next assignment is to go into afghanistan and try to capture, i assume, osama bin laden, is that right? more or less? in the end, you go over there and you have the troops. why did you not capture osama bin laden? gen. mattis: i had an admiral who had read a lot of history. he said, "no one has held kabul in 500 years. fall back ong to kandahar, their spiritual home, and dig in. can you get the marines from the mediterranean and pacific fleet together," this three-star admiral asked me. the intelligence agency said they had osama bin laden. they were very pinpointed, so i had a quick computer study, and i knew what mountains on the
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pakistan border, if you put troops on them, they could see each other and block the two valleys. i was going to move my troops up the two valleys, but i changed from navy command-and-control to army command-and-control, and i had not spent the time getting to know my boss 900 miles away, and we missed the opportunity. the person who made the mistake was me. i just assumed, because we were there to go after this guy, that everybody was attuned to the intel. you should not make assumptions like that when your organization is shifting and adapting. david: they told you to pull back? gen. mattis: they did not tell me to go. david: ultimately you leave afghanistan and come back to the united states again. but then you are asked to go into another war in iraq. gen. mattis: right. david: so you get in there, and ultimately the fights between
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the sunnis and the shiites turned out to be much more than anybody anticipated. as you look back on the political problems that arose in iraq, subsequent to saddam hussein being captured, what do you think was the mistake that was made, or what could have been done better in hindsight? gen. mattis: it is interesting to get the question look back in hindsight, but let me tell you what it looked like in foresight. we are in, basically, a very hot summer of -- what would be? 2003. and iraq has fallen. one of my briefs one day, a young officer who was briefing said, by the way, the enemy is picking this up that somehow we are going to disband the iraqi army. 's we were just bringing the were just bringing the army, the iraqis back into the barracks, we were starting to pay them, trying to talk with
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them that we were not here to occupy or humiliate you, you worked for a jerk, he is gone, you are going to be the new iraqi army. i dismissed it as idle gossip and said forget that. let's get on with the brief. the next day i walk in, and everybody is quiet in this great, big cavernous palace we had taken over. the lieutenant down there had a piece of paper for me and three , "the iraqit said army is hereby disbanded." the first lieutenant, fresh out, said, "general, we started an insurgency." that's what it looked like in foresight. it did not take hindsight to see the problem. david: ultimately, you were trying to at one point capture fallujah, among other things, but you found there was not enough political support to go and do the tough things you thought the military needed to do, is that right? gen. mattis: well, we had a troop cap put on us, so we did not have enough troops. for example, i was responsible for an area about the size of north carolina, and i had about 15,000, 16,000 troops to try and control it. just do the math on the geography, you can see the problem.
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then we had four contractors who were misguided. they drove into fallujah without checking in with the marines who were in the area. these guys, unfortunately, drove into town, right into the heart of town, and they were murdered by some of the tribes there, the terrorists. their bodies were desecrated and it was not pretty. we were ordered to go in. i said, i have got a better idea. we were told no, after a couple of days you will assault the city. so we had to move the innocent people out and then go after the terrorists, and i did not have many troops i could throw into the attack. i said ok, we are going to do it, but don't stop me now that we are going to do it. unfortunately, they stopped us while we were deep in the city and house-to-house fighting, so it was a very difficult time for the marines. david: would you go back into government again, or are you done with government service? gen. mattis: i mean, i grew up in a country that when the country calls, you do it. ♪
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♪ david: as being former secretary of defense and more than 40 years in the marine corps, today, what do you think are the one or two most important national security issues this country faces, leaving aside whoever is president? what do you think are the most important national security issues and challenges? gen. mattis: when i came in office, i was working alongside a son of texas, secretary rex tillerson, and together we determined that we needed to rework the strategy. in my case, it was the national defense strategy. and that strategy basically said, we are going to have to continue to deal with the
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terrorist threat. it is an ambient threat. it is just going to be out there. but the primary threats to the country, to go to your question, david, are clearly authoritarian regimes that are acting badly. in terms of urgency, it would be north korea. in terms of power, it would be russia. and in terms of political will, it would be china. we are going to have to address those. so we wrote a strategy accordingly. david: when you think the u.s. will be able to, if at all, get out of afghanistan with our military? gen. mattis: the point i would make is you can want a war over, you can declare a war over, and you can even order troops home, and then something the military says, the enemy gets a vote. the idea that you can say it's not a problem anymore, the problems don't stay over there. you are going to have to deal with the world as it is, not the way you want it to be. david: would you say the same
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with respect to iraq? you think iraq is a situation where we don't have to worry about what is going on there -- or syria? gen. mattis: we have to be engaged everywhere in the world. i think we need to intervene militarily with large forces less. but, it doesn't mean you can disengage. the greatest generation came home from world war ii and said, it is a crummy world, and whether you like it or not, we are part of it. so the bottom line is, we are going to have to get together with our allies and stick together with our allies, because we need every one of them right now, and make certain we address these issues. it doesn't mean we have to do it all ourselves, but we are going to have to stick together. david: have you ever thought of running for office, maybe president of united states, yourself? gen. mattis: you are a very bad man. [laughter] david: because you don't want to do it? why wouldn't you be a perfect person to be a candidate someday? gen. mattis: there are a lot of great americans. i have great confidence in the american people. i have never lost that confidence. we will find our way through rough patches, and we will have great leaders. david: suppose someone is
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elected, whoever is the next president, president trump, or whoever might be the next president, and that person calls you and says, duty calls again, can you serve your country one more time, would you go back into government again, or are you done with government service? gen. mattis: well, you can never say you are done because when the country calls -- i mean, i grew up in a country that when the country calls, you do it. what i -- but i would tell you that i think it is also time for a lot younger people with fresh ideas. good listeners, they have got to study history, listen to those who came before, but it is time for young people. gen. mattis: compared to people running for president, you are still very young. [laughter] gen. mattis: and i am still at the top of my game, david. [applause] david: for somebody that is looking to you, say, what are the attributes you think are most important for somebody to be a leader? what would you say some of those attributes are, to be an effective leader? gen. mattis: i followed george washington's example of listen to others, listen really well, learn from them.
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and then you help them, and then you lead. you don't just start off yelling at people or telling them what to do. and i think trust, you have to be able to build trust. if you can build trust, then you will delegate decision authority down below, and at that point, you start winning, because everybody feels like they own it. they are making decisions. you have made it clear what you want. but you've got to be able to build trust. trust is the coin of the realm. that would be the key thing, can you build trust? david: you have obviously given your life to the country in this sense and committed an enormous amount of time, most of your life to this. any regrets about not getting married, having children? if you had been married, do you think you could have done what you have done? gen. mattis: i always had the idea that i will get out of the marine corps next year and get a dog and get married. i had my whole life planned, for you young people in the audience. i knew i was going to do my
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patriotic chore in the marines for my three years, then i was going to get out and go back to my hometown, teach physics and history in high school and go coach football and go fishing. i had it all figured out, and then along comes life, right? i always thought, next year i'm getting out of the marines. so, i never made the decision not to get married, but it happened that way. i am still looking, if you know anybody. [laughter] david: i think you would be a pretty good catch for some people, or anybody. so, if i was a 17-year-old or 18-year-old and i wanted to go into the military, why should i go into the marines over the army or air force or the navy? why would the marines be better? gen. mattis: [laughs] i spent too many years fighting alongside soldiers, living under air cover by the air force, being carried on navy ships. i truly love all the services. obviously, you grow very fond of your own, but i would just tell you that after the military, no matter which one you go into,
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coast guard included here, you come out with a, from that formative experience, with a much more sense of gratitude for everything you have in this country. ♪
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haslinda: hello. i'm haslinda amin in kuala lumpur. a fresh start for a country mired in corruption, defeat of a party that had ruled since independence, but ongoing power struggle and then his sudden resignation changed all that. the country has a new prime minister, the former party is back in power, and mahathir is left pondering his political future. with ur conversation mahathir


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