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tv   After Words Mark Esper A Sacred Oath - Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense...  CSPAN  May 22, 2022 10:11am-11:10am EDT

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can accommodate and can accept different factions in a new fusion that is a center right fusion. that has men and women capable of carrying that torsion standard multiple. not just one. so that we can win elections affectuate change dodged bullets in meaning, you know existential problems in this country and get us back on track and have a great 21st century american century. i think we can but we are not there now and we've got to go through some cycles to get there. i think. well, that is a note to end on and we will end there. the book is the right 100 year war for american conservatism. let's thank matthew continent and paul ryan. thank you. thanks for writing.
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well, i'm honored and privileged. to be here this morning with former secretary of defense mark esper, i might also say former secretary of the army mark esper. colonel retired united states army mark hesper served in uniform on active duty served in the army national guard served in the army reserve one of the few people. i know that served in all three components of the united states army for a distinguished 21-year career. doctor esper phd vice president esper of one of the largest defense in aerospace companies that we have in our in our defense industrial base. professional staff member on the
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senate foreign relations committee had a policy on the house armed services committee national security advisor to one of the most distinguished senators fred thompson a very varied career in you brought extensive background to your role as secretary of defense, and we're here today to discuss your late your book, which is entitled to sacred oath memoirs of a secretary defense do an extraordinary time in i like to start by seeing that i believe if i'm correct that when you graduated as a second lieutenant from west point you raised your right hand and you said i mark esper do solemnly swear that i will support and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign in domestic that i will bear true faith and allegiance to the same that i take this obligation freely without any middle reservation or purpose of ovation and that i will well in faithfully discharge the duties on the office on which i'm about to enter so help me god i take an oath took an oath to the
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constitution. is this what you're referring to secretary esper when you talk about the title of the book the sacred oath. well, first of all general pinara, thank you very much for that very kind introduction and and litany me litany of my resume. but yeah, look it's the sacred oath. and actually that was the second time. i took the oath the first time as an 18 year old with freshly cut hair and a and a new uniform as a west point cadet in 1982, and and i took that oath another dozen times or so after that and to me, that's what it came down to is my sacred oath as i as i navigated my way throughout a career but really in the 18 months or so that i served as secretary of defense. i often had to go back to what is my oath and what guided me, you know, the principles of west point's motto of duty honor country is what i often had to go back to and ask myself. what is the right thing to do in this situation. so hi. so give me a little bit better explanation. that was a great explanation but a little bit more insight you you approach something that that in the book you call values
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based decision-making you were looking at values was the values tied back to the oath it was tied to to duty on a country. point class had its own motto that you use tell us a little bit about that. well, i think you know for any cabinet secretary you have a lot of authority and responsibility particularly with the department defense, you know, 2.8 million people in terms of service million members and civilians responsible for operations around the globe. it's a hefty job and so you have to have certain things to guide you it begins with the national security strategy what the president wants to accomplish your national defense strategy, but at the end of the day it comes back to your moral compass and those principles that guide you and for me in many of those situations where i didn't have, you know, sufficient guidance or or had to sort through this situation myself. i went back to those core values of what's important for our national security or what's important for the institution of the defense department or even more so what's important to the institution that we call the
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profession of arms and those things are very very important to me particularly when you consider the unique unique relationship. that the united states military has with the american people and how special it is that in our country as can as compared to many many others. we understand the role of the military and society and that that the military takes its guidance from civilian leadership, but there were a number of times when there were decisions that you didn't agree with and you were talking sometimes to the president sometimes to some of his senior people in the white house where you actually said is you said in the book my oath is to the constitution not to the individual talk a little bit about that. yeah. look there are any number of occasions and i'm probably not the first defense secretary of cabinet member of the faces where people propose ideas that you just think are wrong or inappropriate. my job is always to push back right and if it's the president to offer up better ideas better solutions trying meet his intent
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and get to a you know, a better more enduring place that's best for the country consistent with what the president is trying to do. so that becomes your role and as i think about i always got to go back to what is my oath and my oath is to the constitution. it's not to for any of us. it's not to a president. it's not to a party. it's not to a philosophy, right? it is to the constitution and i think the reason why we have a senate confirmation process, is that congress the people's representatives want to know that that's what's guiding you and that's what you intend to adhere to and that's what i promised when i was confirmed 90 to eight in july of 2019. one of our colleagues dr. charlie stephenson a former professor at the national defense university is wrote a book title the nearly impossible job of secretary of defense secretary austin now is the 28th secretary of defense you were the 27th. charlie's book was written before your ten years, so he covers a number of your of your predecessors, but he talked about the job of running the
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largest most complex organization in our own federal government. i would argue in the world you're talking about 1.3 million active duty 880,000 drill in reservists. 750,000 civil service employees 750,000 contractors 5,000 locations worldwide, and he said that it's really nearly impossible and then you talk about how you have some extraordinary circumstances that you were dealing with beyond those that your predecessors had to deal with you had a global pandemic the likes of which we hadn't seen in over a hundred years and you had to put in place operation work speed. i'd like to get to that you dealing with still dealing with wards on the ground where our troops were in harm's way in iraq and afghanistan and other areas and you had some of these other concerns about, you know, withdrawing troops from europe by bringing troops back from syria talk a little bit about you know, you title it extraordinary times, but frankly, i think the title nearly impossible times probably would apply to your tenure when you when you think about all the
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things that you had to deal with in some of the challenges because you talked about the commander in chief in the book. you said he was idiosync tragic unpredictable and unprincipal and yet you were having to make decisions to deal with all those issues with that kind with that person with your boss. no question about it. tell us a little bit about that. well, first of all, it is a great job. it's a very demanding job and you have to rely on the people below you to really to really deliver and i had a great crew of both civilian and military leaders to do it, but when you think about the scope of it on one hand, you have to be a diplomat and a statesman and engage in foreign policy next you have to and the department you have your responsible for the combatant commanders and giving them direction on how to function around the globe in terms of military forces. you have to give guidance to the service secretaries and service chiefs about how to prepare for the future how to organize their forces equipment to buy and then of course your responsible for schools and hospitals and child development centers and you know the health and welfare of not just service members and civilians, but i think there's
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up to 10 million other dependents who rely on military healthcare. so you have all that. right and then on top of that at least during my tenure and look there it's a demanding job regardless, but we do face this first global pandemic in 100 years. we got the worn afghanistan we have conflict in syria. we have the aftermath of the exchanges the conflict with iran and then you put on top of that, you know civil unrest you put on top of that all the other things we face and it was a really demanding tom and i'm quite frankly very proud of of what my folks were able to do during these very challenging times of 2020 and how we navigated all this to both defend america abroad but support america at home either like you said with covid what warp speed but recall we had 20 30 40,000 people army doctors nurses and others deployed in cities across the united states setting up field hospitals and reorganizing the javits center into the largest hospital in the united states to
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deal with covid and many of these service members. god bless them. particularly the national guard left home and own lives their own welfare to treat their fellow americans. it was a monumental time for us military. well when governments are incapacitated a large a large geographical areas was the case with covid. there's only one outfit in our country that can do that. and that's the department of defense we do it for hurricanes. we do it for fires. we did it for the civil unrest we did it for covid because you were secretary of the army. you knew the head of the army material command general gus perna and when it came time to put operation warp speed into effect and let's face it. you had some very talented scientific medical experts, but my understanding and i i got had the opportunity to work with him a little bit particularly to help him get ready for his confirmation, but also for his testimonies before the hill it was pretty much a dod operation and my understanding is is it really did go at warp speed because people predicted that we never see a usable vaccine for
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years and years and years talk a little bit about that and what was accomplished by operation. eat in and the personnel from the department of defense that were integral to that success. well, look you're so right about gus perna, but first of all, let's talk about outcome outcomes. it was probably the greatest public private partnership in in us history and probably you know in some ways on parallel with the apollo program and i will tell you there were a lot of skeptics that said you'll never get a vaccine with sufficient efficacy out in in time. it'll take five to 10 years and yet this this combination of dod and and hhs right? i was able to co-lead it with alex azar. we delivered in less than 12 months less than eight months two vaccines with 90% plus efficacy and you and i wouldn't be sitting here together with our without face masks if it weren't for those vaccines, but but go back to where it began. yes. i got to know gus perna general perney. he was ahead of army material
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command at a time when we were making sweeping changes in the army. i stood up army futures command a way to kind of break the acquisition gridlock and so that we can modernize the army from the reagan era and gus perna. i quickly learned was a selfless selfless team player who put his duty first and was willing to give up parts of his organization. for the better good of establishing afc and that told me a lot about him. so when it came time in the spring of 2020 to set up warp speed and dod specific responsibilities were logistics, but but really distribution manufacturing pulling that piece put all together. it was very apparent to me and in general mark. milley that gus perna was the right guy and look he was about ready to retire and you came back he extended his active duty time and worked 24/7 and delivered for the american people. look we had our share of hiccups. but by the time i think president biden was inaugurated in january, we were delivering over a million doses a day to the american people just a tremendous effort and he and and
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our counterparts at hhs deserve a lot of credit. amen, and i enjoyed talking to him because he came from italian background like i did so we talked about our grandparents and had come from italy and of course the kind of foods that we like these spaghetti and meatballs a little glass of wine here and there so he was just a great leader and great accomplishment. let's talk a little bit about because i want to get into a series of questions. of the role of the secretary of defense the statute that governs the department of defense is primarily found in title 10 of us code and that was updated in 1986. i was privileged to be the staff director of the armed services committee when we passed what is now known as a goldwater nickel fact and to make sure we had total civilian control of our military. we put in title 10 that everything in the department of defense is subject to the the authority direction and control of the secretary of defense and that was your understanding of your statutory authorities, correct, right? well, look, i learned goldwater nickels all the way through my career in the army and of course, it was past the year. i graduated from west point and
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absolutely look the secretary defense has all the authority there are only two people in fact in the entire united states that can deploy us troops abroad. it's the president united states and the secretary of defense. so every couple weeks, i would sign deployment orders and the chain of command runs from the president. to the secretary of defense to the combatant commanders. we have a series of both geographic and functional combatant commanders and what a lot of people don't understand and general mark miller used to try and educate our colleagues about this. is that the chairman the joint chiefs of staff is a statutory advisor correct to the secretary of defense and to the president and that is the role that he's responsible for. he did a great job for me and i think he served the president. well all so, but that's his role. it's not a command rule not our operational role. and so that's the and understanding those the roles at different people play is critical and then you've got the service chiefs and service secretaries who are also in the chain of command but not in operational mode, but in terms of as you know from title 10
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manning training equipping and organizing the force the force that they then hand off to the combatant commanders to deploy and employ and that's very important distinction in our in our way and as the secretary of the army the civilian head of the department of the army you were subject to the authority direction and control of then secretary. jim mattis, right but your army chief who was then at one point mark milley was subject to your authority directed and control. so the point is and that was the framers of goldwater nickels. wanted to make sure we had absolute civilian control of the military and so it go it in like you say, there's only only one person other than the commander in chief. and by the way, he has to go through the secretary of defense to the war fighting commands. and so there were a number of instances where you know, there were times when there were suggestions made to the war fighting commands one that comes to mind in the book that frankly would concern me as someone that is really a student of this area was you mentioned in the book that at one point there was some
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suggestions by some of the senior staff and the white house that we move 250,000 active duty military to the southern border to help protect the border and that perhaps some people in the department of homeland security wall so involved and the us northern command, which is one of the in commands established by don rumsfeld after 9/11 whose whole mission is to protect the united states of america the land space the airspace some of the sea space northern command actually started planning for that operation based on a suggestion by a staffer at the white house at no authority to do so and you as secretary of defense and in the chairman of the joint chiefs didn't know about it. tell me a little bit about that situation. that should worry us that that one of our warfighting commands would be acting on goddess and direction that didn't come from the secretary of defense. well, yeah, i recount this story where i'm in the oval office and stephen miller speaks up from behind me and says, you know, we need to send a quarter million troops to the border to deal
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with caravans coming up from from central america, and i think he's joking i turn around he presses again and i say i don't i don't have a quarter million troops to deal with that nonsense, you know dhs can handle it and he suggested they were working on it and i came back to the pentagon and a day. later pulled general milli aside, and i told him check on it. let's make sure nothing's going on into our surprise. there was planning happening and i assume it was kind of layers below the commander and dod likes to lean into things and for all they knew that was guidance coming from the white house. i don't know exactly how it flowed, but that was my assumption and i shut it down immediately because i just thought it was completely foolhardy. it wasn't the right way to address the problem and look we have a problem on the border. we need border security. we need to know who's coming across and and what they're bringing, but the solution wasn't a quarter million troops that i didn't have the begin with it's beefing up dhs. it's giving dhs the the officers the material the resources they they need to do it. and so i kind of shut that down immediately and put the word out if anybody in dod or dhs or
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whatever has a problem come see me and i'll deal with it because at the end of the day nobody was going anywhere unless i signed the deployment order and i knew i wasn't about to send a quarter million troops to the border. we already had some troops down or a few thousand just like president biden has today, but it just another outlandish idea. so in that area, of course as you mentioned the our active duty military the garden reserve were called up for covid and did a variety of things from medical essential things to basically operating medical stations, but handing out supplies and things of that nature and we call that defense support to civil authority and there are a number of times in the book where you basically because of the civil unrest there were requirements for our military to perhaps be a participant in one thing people should understand for example had those 250,000 active duty troops been sent to the border. they have no law enforcement authority under posse combatitis. now the president can declare certain national emergencies and perhaps but the guard actually
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the national guard can actually exercise law enforcement. so talk a little bit about some of the civil unrest situations that you had to deal with and how you solve the role of the active military compared to that of the national guard. it's like i was fortunate in the sense based on experience that i served on active duty. i served in the guard i served in reserve so i had a fairly good understanding of what the not just the roles and responsibilities of each were but also the training and the equipping and what they could do and i was i was in the dc guard for example and look you're right particularly when it comes to civil unrest there is a role for the national guard principally to support law enforcement. that was the important thing that i tried to keep bringing forcing with with the president alongside attorney general barr that law enforcement should deal with civil unrest and if they need support then it's the role the governor is to make that determination and if it's in the capital then of course the president through his chain of command can do that, but my view was we were all should always be last in terms of consideration
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and then use the guard because the authorities they have and you know after the you know the walk we made through lafayette park, which was a mistake for me and certainly i know general millie phil's the same way that night. i directed that a memo be prepared for me. i signed it out mid-afternoon the next day the basically said look we we have a role in providing support the civilian authorities particularly in dealing with civil unrest because as a right now look i believe in all law and order and i believe that americans should have the right to exercise their first amendment rights of assembly and protest and petition and unfortunately it was you know, the people in that crowd that were doing violent things that we're denying people that peaceful right so we had that i want to make sure people understood we had a right to safeguard americans, you know rights to protest their government, but the same time we are an a political organization and need to stay away from, you know being caught up in in the politics of those moments and those days and look that's a tough thread to you know tough
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thread to weave there as you go through this day by keep in mind we had in the wake of the tragic murder of george floyd hundreds of cities were civil unrest was happening and you have to give people that room to express themselves peacefully about what they see is injustice or whatever the case maybe and you felt like i think you created the right balance, even though there were people that maybe wanted you to go a little bit further using active duty troops a couple of anecdotes in there about people making suggestions about things we wouldn't do which is shoot our fellow americans and things like that, but did you feel like that in in the areas where you got pushed on you were able to implement the correct balance between law enforcement and in the role of our military particularly the national guard. yeah, i think in terms of outcomes you if you look at it. i think we got it right at the end of the day that law enforcement led we would argue internally that it should be local law enforcement and then state and then federal and then if you need the guard you could use the guard but in all these
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instances to include lafayette park the guard perform. mission of protecting federal buildings and federal activities and one of the mistaken reporting coming out of that day and the subsequent days was somehow that the guard used violence and shot pepper balls and rubber bullets. none of that happened the guard performed its mission and and stayed in terms of protecting those institutions and activities. so i was very proud of them, you know you had on any one day during that summer of 2020 you had guardsman out in the streets, you know, protecting federal facilities and americans right to protest you'd had another group of guardsmen in hospitals the field hospitals taking care of their fellow americans who are dealing with covid and yet other guardsmen out deployed in you know, hotspots around the world and even then you still had guardsmen dealing with wildfires in california or flooding in the in the midwest. it's just was a tremendous time for the national guard and i think it was their year and and, you know from your own service in the army reserve in the army guard since nine eleven we've
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had over one million members of the national reserve mobilized and deployed overseas or at home and they get demobilized and they are true bargain for the taxpayer because you don't have to put in place all the infrastructure that you have to have for active duty troops that are on active duty 365 days a year. so the garden reserve you've made the point. they're an operational now, they're very different from the strategic reserve. they wore in the peak of the cold war and you see them on the front lines every single day and i know the american people appreciate that and they appreciate the leadership one one thing in that area and i want to read from my paper because because of some of the concerns you had you in general millie then chairman of the joint chiefs establish what you call the four knows no unnecessary wars no strategic fatigues. no politicization of dod and no misuse of the military you've addressed that with the guard. so, how are you able to deal with these concerns and handle decisions you didn't agree with you didn't agree with the the
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plan to troops from germany, although you put an alternative there was withholding of aid from ukraine finally it did get over there blockade and cuba and venezuela activity with iran. some instances that suggested call up retired officers from active duty in court marshall because they're saying things people didn't like and what were you prepared to do if there was a case when there was a red line that was crossed and you weren't able to support it. look a lot of great questions here and it's one of the things, you know, i wrestled with a lot you go back to the book sacred oath this oath this to the constitution but part of the constitution is article 2 which establishes the president. he's the commander in chief and and you're also bound to obey his lawful orders and you know, many ways. i was fortunate because president trump rarely issued orders, but for the the germany case, but kind of walk through these things sequentially you're right in terms are ukraine assistance, which we are obligated to do under the law because congress appropriated, it would be me at times or me and john bolton or john bolton
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and mike pompeo and i would engage the president and kind of push into release the security systems for ukraine. it eventually happened. we learned why later i at least did through the media why he was holding it up, but that wasn't a case case where my duty was to go back to and push and press and make every possible argument. i could to get that released and i talk about it in the book in other cases with you know, nato or nick the case where i got the written order to withdraw troops from germany. my game plan was to really give my commander now, we're talking about combatant commander general todd walters for european command. i gave him a series of principles. i wanted to do some planning off of that. i would reassure our allies. i would deter russia. take care of our troops five things and he came back with a pretty good concept that at the end of the day met the president's direct order to withdraw troops, but at the same time allowed me to take those troops that we withdrew from germany and either consolidate them and other countries or eventually push them forward closer to russia, which meant these met these principles.
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i had to find as reassure allies and deter russia, and i thought it was a very clever idea put forward by by the combat commander. i endorsed it we briefed it to the president. he know exactly what we were doing when our brief tim and it met what he added and so i thought it was again. i didn't like its origin, but what we came up with the end of the day was a workable solution to meet the president's intent, but for me to do it in a way that made strategic sense that bolstered our presence in europe and that deterred to russians and look where we are today and frankly. i wish they had followed the plan because we would have had more troops in the romania poland and right and we're expanding our troops and i mean one of your first trips actually you went over to nato to reassure on nato allies, but actually to put them on the spot. i mean even when you and i will work on the hill together our bosses were saying nato our nato allies aren't carrying their fair share. so that was a legitimate thing for the president to maybe you were a big supporter of nato and i think we see today nato's more important to never would that be
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your assessment too? look i do i was i served a nate to as a young army officer in europe in the in the 1990s, and yes, i went to brussels as acting sex death before i was confirmed before i think the president put my name forward he won't tell. at that i and i said to publicly that i believed in nato that i thought was important. but and this is where president trump was right? they needed to live up to their obligations. i think at the time only six or seven countries. yeah was living up to its 2% gdp commitment and he was right that germany was in the wrong for supporting nord stream, too. so i also carried those messages as well. and and so i think unfortunately ukrainians are paying the price for everybody not being on guard enough or worry enough about russia, and i think hopefully now we'll see more nato countries meet those commitments well, and let's talk about russia because frankly one of the things that that you did early on as secretary of the army with jim mattis and then his secretary of defense, we had a new national defense strategy. actually there hadn't been one in a number of years and as you
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know from your service and osd policy from other jobs that it's a fundamental planning document for the department of defense the department of defense decision-making process, which is being reviewed by a congressional commission. planning programming budgeting and execution system, which is how the department puts its decision into monetary factors. it becomes a budget they submit to the congress is guided by a bunch of documents. one of which of course is the national defense strategy, which would flow should flow from the overall national security strategy and when matters took over sec def you took over second army you spent a lot of time and came out with a national defense strategy. that was really revolved around what you call great power competition near peer competitors china russia to a more limited extent north korea and iran and then global terrorism. and of course russia was a centerpiece china was a centerpiece talk a little bit about what you did as secretary of the fence to ensure that the national defense strategy was
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not just a bunch of words and look at what's happening. now russia basically is is doing some of the things the new strategy said what's going to happen if we didn't determ and then i'm going to go to china next but let's talk about what you did as secretary of defense to try to implement that strategy and i'd like to get your sense. where do you feel it is today? right? well, look, i thought it was a solid strategy. and and i think this is another accomplishment of the trump administration one of the things that it did first time ever was consolidate a us government view that china is a strategic adversary and i thought that was extremely important particularly all the years. i worked on china issues. and so but that said, my sense as secretary of the army was that it wasn't being implemented and as i came in a secretary of defense what i told others what i told my chain of command what i said to the congress to the senate during my nomination was i would make implementation of the end of the nds national defense strategy my priority top priority and so within a couple
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months of taking office in july 2019, i had the senior leaders conference. i brought everybody in civilian and military leading heavily on my civilian side to draft up what we call the ten objectives, right? that would be the implementation objectives by which we would implement the nds. so it was everything from defining china's the pacing threat to new operational concepts such immediate such as immediate reaction forces. we needed to update all of our war plans. i mean it goes on and on and on about the objectives because look when you're leading a large organization like dod, right 2.8 million people. i can't get out and tell everybody what i want them to do. and so you do it through documents such as the nds you do it through documents such as an implementation. and that's the way by which you do it and you supplement supplement it by visiting the commands by visiting people and explaining an emphasizing and urging and checking on it and i made that part and parcel of my weekly duties was every week to check on with the entire team assembled. how are we doing in terms of implementation?
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where do we need to make changes tweaks adjustments etc? and i think we made a lot of good progress. so everything actually under title 10 is supposed to flow from the requirements of the warfighting commands. in other words. it says the secretary of the army you will organize train and equip in support of the requirements of the war fighting commands. you've talked about the contingency plans. did the war fighting commands, you know, there are a lot of them central command european command, you know pacific command. did they make the adjustments in their contingency plans to take into account? china is the pacing threat and in russia and in the in the nds before you left, well, we were beginning we had begun reviewing all those war plans from principally the china and rush war plans to make sure that and the requirements of the combatant commanders actually met what we could supply or provide and if it didn't then why aren't the services adapting? why isn't our acquisition system adapting to that and why weren't we budgeting for those resources or people or organizations that they needed and that is really the the meat and potatoes of
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being sect deaf is making sure that you have sound war plans that meet the intent of the commander in chief and his policies and that you have budgeted and resourced it to deliver what the combatant commanders think they need and of course part of my job was getting into the plans and second guessing the combatant commanders understanding what they were doing making sure it met the policy ends. we're trying to achieve and that became a weekly function for me to kind of go through that and detail and not just with them but look these days we recognize and the national defense strategy said this was that it was great power competition on a global scale. so when you think about a fight with rush or china, it just can't be right in the indo-pacific right? you have to think about well, i may have to engage them. america or in the middle east or maybe somewhere on the european continent or at least have to draw resources from those places to do so, so for me it was important to have all the other combatant commanders in the room particularly people like as well northern command because they had to defend the united states or transportation command, which is a functional command that
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would that would provide all the cargo aircraft and tankers etc. that would keep the fight going. so you got to have all this people in the room to understand the plan or at least what the combatant commander was requesting as a staffer on the hill decades ago. you actually got people focused on china and you started talking about worry about china you served on a china commission. i remember in the peak of the cold war my dad who was a 1938 graduate of the civil serve with patents army in europe as we were worrying about the cold war and i was serving on the staff he'd say son. don't forget about china i said, what the heck are you talking about dad? it's russia. well, his roommate was a chinese american and he learned a lot. he said china wants to get after us. she said china is it takes them a thousand years. they're going to take over the united states and frankly in the in the nds from jim mattis. you said china's the pacing threat and if you look at china, they're on the march. they're on the march militarily. they're on the march economically. they have more diplomatic posts now around the world in the united states and and the thing to me, that's most scary is
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they're on the march technologically and in many areas ahead of us technologically and frankly in some of them are military areas in some areas. we're still ahead and it's in a course. they're threatening taiwan. so talk a little bit about what more needs it's clear. we haven't that's all we need to do on china in in unlike russia. they are an economic threat. they're a political threat. they're a military threat. so talk a little bit about china. you've hit all the key points. this is why they are the greatest challenge. we face in the 21st century, and i've been studying them since at least 1995 when i was an army war planter working the indo-pacific or the pacific command at that time profile. i was responsible for that portfolio. and so yeah, look there they are the greatest threat we face because of all these things the political might they bring their long term planning. they've told us they've written about it right by 2035. they want to have a modern military and by 2049 they want to dominate at least the western. they're pretty modern military
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today. they are we can when we can talk about that particularly when it comes to the navy and so look they're on the march. they have diplomatic heft they're spreading money around the world trying to to kind of bind the country through their belt and road initiative you talk about the economy unlike the soviet union and i grew up in the cold war as as you did as well the china now possesses the second. just economy in the world at 16 trillion dollars the russians never had that and also as you say the the chinese have a lot of great technology and they're continue to grow that unfortunately a lot of times it's on our backs are stealing our intellectual property our our plans and you know, the fbi has talked about i think every 12 hours. they open up an espionage case against the chinese government. so we need to be very concerned. i don't think we're in a position yet to really fully deal with them again. i do give the trump administration. i think we all collectively did a good job for make a consensus that china was our strategic adversary and getting many of our allies both in europe and asia on board with that concept,
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and i think we need to keep pushing in that direction. well, there's bad partisan support on capitol hill, they recognize this and they want to do something about it. what more do we need to be doing with china now so that we don't get ourselves in a situation that we got into with, ukraine. i think we need to beef up other parts of the government. so we need to beef up the state department right to for our diplomatic efforts around the globe particularly in the indo-pacific. i mean just recently we learned that the solomon islands assigning some type of security agreement with the chinese in the pacific island countries. that's terrible, right? we need to overturn that but beef up state department beef up usaid to go into parts of latin america and africa and elsewhere where american diplomacy through aid and assistance can help grow it in terms of dod. we need to modernize our military. we need to make these big shifts in terms of how do you fight in the end of specific and that's look that's gonna require more defense spending and i know a lot of people don't want to hear that but we're making this transition from what i call the the reagan cold war military at least for the army that was built up to to this to a new
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type of military that can deal with china in the 21st century. that's why that you know, the navy us navy is trying to make this transition. it's hard without more money. so there's all those things and we need to bring all the allies allies and partners and board as well. we can't they just can't be focused on their own front yard, right they need to focus on what's happening with china. look the other thing too is china's managed to eat its way into all these un organizations where they're trying to seek control of united nations bodies and and drive whether it's intellectual property or the who the un itself and we need to just be very conscious of this and come up with a really a national game plan to deal with it. well, let me let me talk about spending more money because one of your efforts at reform was quite notable in one of the reasons you need reform is and as you know in my second book title, they ever shrinking fighting force. i point out how we're spending more in constant dollars taking inflation out then the peak of the reagan buildup, which was quite significant. you were part of that and yet we have 1 billion less active duty
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the army's 50% smaller the navy's 50% smaller. we have 50% less fighting units. we're not getting the bang the book for that. we should and i agree with you. we've got to increase we've got to cover inflation. we've got to cover the modernization. if we don't get more bang for the buck, we're not going to get the kind of capabilities you're talking about that. we need vis-a-v china and you started the army night court, which was an effort at reform secretary mattis had three parties, which was strengthened the lethality and the war fighting readiness of our military strengthen our alliances and increase our partnerships and reform the military. you added a fourth one that i'm going to talk about in a minute was take care of our troops and our families, but let's talk about reform right and so you did in the night court. you said look we're going to squeeze the budget we got to get money for modernization and then you brought it to the secretary of defense and one of the things you took on then i'll be quite honest. we never did it in the congress. i wish we had very few if any of your predecessors took it on and that was what i call the
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overhead in the department of defense if you look at what we call the fence wide spending people argue about these numbers dod will admit it's between 17 to 20 percent. but if you add in what's called the classified spending on the defense agencies, it's closer to percent so almost a third of the budget is spent on defense wide spending not on the tip of the spear and we started with one defense agency the national security agency. we now have 28 these agencies are large behemoths defense logistics agency a worldwide communications agency a worldwide grocery chain a worldwide dependent school system a defense missile agency and you started to take that on because you say look some of these things are big businesses yet. they're not run like a business in in their military support organizations and you try to bring reform to the defense agencies, but probably left before you could get you know, really what you wanted to get done but talk a little bit about how we need to reform. what we're doing in the pentagon it don't get me wrong and i'm
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making a little bit of a longer question because i want to say as you said in the beginning of your book you gave credit to the men and women active duty garden reserve defense civilians defense contractors fairly funded research development. they come to work in the pentagon every day to do the very best job they can for the war fighter and for the taxpayers like the congressional staff and yet former secretary of defense told me bill perry said arnold bad processes meet beat good people every day and in dod, we still have a lot of proliferation a bad processes, which you try to reform talk a little bit about your reform efforts particularly as it relates. yeah to these massive defense agents so much there to go after you know, i came in secretary of the amy secretary of the army late 2018 and within six months wrote a vision statement of where i wanted to take the army and general millie fully supported me on that cosigned this vision statement we put out but i knew making that transition right in terms of reorganizing the force a new talent person.
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system new equipment to deal with the china and russia that we saw ahead that i would need more money and as much as i was going to go back to congress and ask for that i felt at the end of the day because president trump was really good in terms of giving us extra money. i knew at the end of the day we had to do a lot of our own internal work kind of get rid of the get rid of the fat if we could and make some hard choices and so that's where nightcore began as i as we introduced our modern six modernization priorities for the army, which is everything from soldier lethality long-range precision fires. i knew it would take billions of dollars and when they the team first presented me the budget i didn't see it in there and i just had to say time out to the process. i'll call them back in and said i want all 500 plus programs ranked order one to 500 and by the way the 34 so programs that we're building the army modernization on had to come first and what that ended up doing is people came in through a series of meetings. i think the chain of command and i spent over 50 hours reviewing
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after program cutting and trimming and reducing and at the end of the day we freed up over 40 some billion dollars cut 186 programs because my view was i can only control what i control take care of myself. i'll do my own you, you know handy work within it with department of the army to to deal with that and we were able to find that much money to reinvest in the army and i was just down at army futures command not long ago and told me that that by next year by 23 they're going to deliver on 24 of those 31 programs, you know kind of an initial rollout the low rate initial production etc. so it's a great achievement and i attribute that to the entire team at the time that did it but to your next point though, you know you talk about when we're building this budget an aggressively for the army cutting into it and going hard and prioritizing and reprioritizing and making these choices at one point i get a bill from osd and they say you you have to chip in you know, two three billion dollars. to pay for this or that and it really got me angry, and i'm and i was complaining why and this
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and that and couldn't get a good answer and i had to pay my bill. so when i become secretary of defense, i now have the budget and i find out what's going on the so-called fourth estate that you call overhead is something that consumes. i don't know over a hundred and ten billion dollars a year and it's a couple dozen agencies and what they were doing was just 28 they were they they had all other programs and activities and in some ways they would work with a combatant commands and they would levy bills on the services and they weren't subject in my view to any supervision or oversight or checking to see if it was consistent with where the department was going so i can't down on that. and in fact one of the things that we did was we put a civilian in charge of the fourth estate to manage its administrative and budgetary stuff so that they couldn't grow personnel. they couldn't make these budget demands and really cut it back and i thought it was a kind of a big accomplishment. i we needed more work to do on that. but look, i think they be subject to all that and course you got to deal with all the other growth that happens out there, but that's really the hard work of the department and
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as much as i can say on one hand, we need to grow the defense budget not my i was a big big supporter of the three to five percent annual growth. we also still as dod civilians and senior military officers have a duty to the american people to be good stewards of every single dollar which means even when we're getting the additional cash. we still got to go back in there and and get rid of the you know, the the excess that the fat etc etc. and we have to do good audits and that's really the hard work of the department and frankly. look it's not going to get done unless the secretary of defense gets involved and that's why i put a lot of personal time toward that, you know, david norquist the deputy secretary defense and i and i think in a two month period in august and september found five six seven billion dollars that we could immediately cut and put back into war fighting and some people said that wasn't enough but for me, that was a good start for all the time we put into it well and look these are important organizations. don't get me but i mean, it's the is we need to get more bang for the buck out of them just like you got more bang for the buck out of the army and as
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secretary of the army you had the army by the stack and swivel. that's a term. we understand as military folks his secretary of defense. it's a little bit harder to get control of of some of these organizations one of the things that you know, we do have the world's finest military. we want to keep it that way and they're really three reasons we recruit and retain the best people and their families and want to talk about that in a minute. we give them constant realistic training, but we also from our industry give them the best technology so they're never in a fair fight you worked in industry how important is the defense industrial base in the technologies then and and secretary of defense you have you prioritize i think 10 or 11 top priorities from hypersonics to artificial intelligence to quantum 5g how important to our country into our economy is keep them a focus on these cutting edge technologies, particularly when china we know they're ahead of us in hypersonics. some people would argue. they're ahead of us and ai other people say well not so much quantum general height in the form of vice chairman says, it's
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still an open book and quantum, but it's very important talk a little bit about the importance of our industrial base and before i do side, i'd also add you know, what's what's important about the united states military and our personnel is how we empower non-commissioned officer, right? exactly. you know, we're seeing this play out on the battlefield in ukraine versus russia how noncommissioned officers are really the strength of our military. but yeah, look i served many years in defense industry gave me good insight into what makes them function into what incentivizes them and also in terms of how they operate so i was able to leverage that a good deal as as i came back to be secretary of the army and secretary of defense and i would meet weekly as sec army with industry to kind of find out how can we improve how can we do better? it helped it helped when i stood up army futures command in terms of how we craft that i know that industry needs predictability. and so one of the things we set out to do we being myself under secretary ryan mccarthy and then jim mcconville mark milly is the two army senior leaders was to put predict. ability into what the army wanted and not change it because if you can get predictability and if you can put money behind
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it industry will respond and they will innovate and i'm proud to say it's 2022 four years later. the army still hasn't changed its prioritization in terms of modernization and that's key in terms of signaling to both to industry, but also to the army where you're going now, i'll tell you since i since i left service i'm working more in venture capital. i'm on a firm called red cell doing a lot of interesting work. i wish i knew more about that part of the ecosystem because that's really where innovation happens and some of the some of the companies founders innovators that i take briefings from i hear from are just doing cutting-edge work and what i'm hoping i'm able to do now that i wish i had known then was how do you get those really small innovators and founders before dod senior leadership so that we can make those big bets just like venture capital does on cutting edge techn. jesus will allow us to leapfrog the chinese and if i could do it all over again, i would be
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meeting with those guys at least quarterly to find out to make those big bets because again the problem with acquisition and dod. it's so it's so bureaucratic and their risk averse, but if you have the secretary of defense personally involved and willing to kind of make those big bets willing to kind of to get some of them wrong, but but knowing that if you get some right, it'll really make a difference. that's the key. that's so important. i think the congress ought to give the dod people some incentives to take risk and we need to get the dod lawyers to let the senior leaders meet with some of these cutting edge industries. not not thinking it's giving them an advantage of someone else when i talk to the silicon valley and these cutting edge commercial firms and everybody they get so frustrated as you well know they tell you the same thing of dealing with the bureaucracy and the leaders at the top if you look now worked in the army heidi shoe who's now the head of technology in the department of defense, she's very aggressive in this area and they the dod cath follow david norquist as a chief operating officer. they want this technology in our
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government. they want it for our military, but to bureaucracy is really an encumbrance. so on so that you're spotless. that's why we put army futures command in austin texas, which was a republic innovation, but even today i sit on the board of small companies and they sit in this valley of death right 18 months and they just can't survive if you're a company of 100 200 people. how do you make it through even though they have cutting technology? you know, right? well you're at your acquisition secretary ellen lord did a terrific job. she's been followed by bill the plant who said in this confirmation hearing we've got to get back to hot production line. so i think there's an incentive by the leaders both in your tenure in the current tenure to do this. we just got to get around to bureaucracy one of your top priorities talk about this in the book. yeah important chapter this this book is not all about donald trump, correct? absolutely people want to portray it that way, but this is about my tenure and their whole chapters here that barely mention if at all the president and this of them right is how do you write? how do you innovate and how do you reform and look this is a
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critically important for the american people for history all your predecessors harold brown bill perry donald rumswell. bob gates, leon panetta. ash carter have written books and these are all important because as we said the department of defense is a learning organization. it's one of the few organizations in government. that's always driving to do better. and so people you know, this is a bible for not just the war colleges but for people in industry to look at the things we need to fix and i've that's gonna be my last question, but i just i wrote the book for three audiences one is the american people in history, but this next two were people in government and dod, so people could learn these lessons i refer many times all of my predecessors. i think nearly all of them have written books. right and i would go back and read read their books and understand try and understand you know, how they did things or lessons learned just like you're saying so you you were a military family so when you added to the fourth priority the military families, child care, you know when the volunteer force was put into effect in 1973 from the draft.
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that was so unpopular in vietnam president. nixon had asked the former secretary of defense gates. not bob gates right to do a commission and he said look we should go to a volunteer force. we got to fix three things though the cliff retirement system the upper out promotion system and pay should be based on skills and performance not timing grade very few of those things have changed, but we do have a volunteer force but in the 70s, it almost went under and we didn't pay enough attention to the family nowadays if you don't have child care if you don't have programs for spouses to get employment you're gonna lose the best in the brightest you had that as a real priority. tell us a little bit about why and what you did, you know, and when i entered active duty as an officer 1986 at four campbell, you know most it seemed to me that most folks weren't married and had kids but over time that changed and now what you have is, you know, folks are married. they're often married to military spouses and and of course in today's society most spouses work and so what i find
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it's this kind of old adage we say right you recruit the soldier, but you retain the family and i just i just saw too many places where we were talking to talk and not doing enough to deliver on that. and so i really went after you know, how do we fix the employment system for our spouse is how do we go after recognizing certificates right as you move from state to state because the spouses were having a hard time getting hired because they didn't have the proper credentials and we try to work either by ourselves. i worked a lot with my fellow service secretaries and with the hill to kind of break that down and then as i went after spousal after i went up as i went after childcare, i found that the biggest problem in our child care wasn't necessarily spaces. it was the fact that they were often only three quarters filled because our hiring system right wasn't up to the task. so we went after tackling that and then there are you know, a myriad of other things and i describe in the end is kind of chapter about just the the nature of the military and it's bureaucracy where where we were telling leaves it. you can't come into the px or the commissary unless you're
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properly dressed, right and as you know to look my wife and i i served 21 years. she was with me since i was a young lieutenant saw me go after war go off to war we pcs multiple times from to europe back to europe with the united states. we dealt with child care we dealtit and she was an incredible help to me and would pick up these ideas as she met with spouses as we would go on the road and one of the complaints was, you know, why can't i wear fitness gear into our px's in commissaries and just the bureaucratic resistance is something like as simple as that because my view was look the the sailor the airmen the soldier the marine may have signed up for the military, but the spouse didn't it's a family business, but let's not make it unnecessarily difficult on what is the strength of the us military at this point, which is the family's at support our service members. yeah, and i mean, it's the same in other parts of america, but you got very frustrated with that priority and and you know, i would i could see where acquisition system would frustrate you i can see where the trying to fix the fourth
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estate would frustrate you, but frankly, this is such a no-brainer about the families. what would made it so frustrating that i lived at my wife lived at you know it just that you're trying to what should be a service initiative to go out there and allow to make life easier for our families in this case allowing them that we're fitness gear into our commissaries and px's meant this stiff bureaucratic resistance. and i said, okay well if it's your responsibility then fix it and i just found an unwillingness to fix it. i don't think it was coming from the civilians as much as from the kind of ingrained culture the military at the end of the day. i said, look, i've had enough. i'm just gonna i'm just gonna have to do what a secretary of defense shouldn't have to do and to tell military families that yes, you're allowed to where fitness gear leisure gear if you will into the pxes and commissaries and stuff like that. it was a small thing, but i think an important thing for our families and i just want to signal that every day. i went in i kept our families in mind as i dealt with all these issues, we're getting towards the end of our program in civilian control of the
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military. we've talked about that. it was so fundamental to your moral compass that you adhere to the constitution maintain. what will you call civilian control of the military one of the areas that we've had is we've had some of a controversy jim mattis had to get a waiver from the congress to serve because he had not been retired long enough same with secretary austin me personally. i've never been in favor of the retired military. that's why we put in a 10-year provision now it's back to 10 years. you've been secretary the navy you've served in the military. i know you admire both of those individuals you and i both admire, but frankly, do you think we ought to have recently retired military people service secretary defense? well, let me begin the answer by saying this much my hometown boyhood hero is george marshall and george marshall was secretary defense in september. i think 1950s called back by truman to help after the failings of the military in korea, and he didn't think that made sense for a former, you know retired military officer to
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be a secretary of defense, but did it nonetheless and look to answer your question directly? no, i don't think so. i think that kind of moratorium of 10 years whatever it was made sense. it has nothing to do with with secretary mattis or secretary austin it has everything to do with kind of getting making sure that you have a distinct difference between the military culture and the civilian culture and they're very different skill sets in terms of what both bring to the job doesn't mean you can't be successful, but i think having that separation makes a big difference and and i would i would support, you know, reinstating that moratorium and maintaining it we have enough good people out there. they can that are civilians that can fulfill that role as secretary of defense to do that because i think civilian control of the military is critical. i have a whole chapter in there where i outline some of the problems i saw coming in as a civilian secretary that i didn't think the civilians were being used enough. i mean i had to forcibly push civilians into planning and review process as an example and there are other areas where i got pushed back from the brass,
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but nonetheless i had good civilian secretaries and good civilian leaders in osd that we're able to push through that and try and pull some of that control back and i as i talked about in the conclusion that chapter this is something that i think the congress needs to relook. well, it's very clear from my conversation today secretary esper. it's very clear from this truly remarkable important book. it's very clear from your entire history and your entire experience that you did bear true faith and allegiance to your oath to support and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic and i know i speak as a personal. i know my family. i know everybody that knows you i know the american public appreciates what you did your service that of your family and again, i think you have a lot of valuable lessons to convey to the congress to the american people continue to work to support a strong national defense. and so we greatly admire you and thank you and obviously we we thank cspan for giving us this
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opportunity to spend so much time allowing you to talk about things that are so important to the future of our country. thank you very much. well, thank you very much. i really appreciate that.
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so good evening buena noches, and thank you so much for joining us tonight. what a beautiful night huh on behalf of all of us at the locally based independently owned bookstore books and books in miami, florida. it's my pleasure to welcome you to an evening with donald cohen and mayor daniela levine cava to discuss this wonderful book. it's called the privatization of everything how the plunder of public goods transformed america and how we can fight back and it's published by the new press.


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