U.S. Can't Afford To Walk Away From Syria, Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane Says

Chairman of the Board of the Institute for the Study of War, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, testifies during a joint hearing in 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Chairman of the Board of the Institute for the Study of War, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, testifies during a joint hearing in 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Trump's recent military strike against Syria after the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons was necessary, but not sufficient, says retired four-star general Jack Keane.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson talks with Keane (@gen_jackkeane), former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army and chairman of the Institute for the Study of War, about what else in his view the U.S. should be doing in Syria, and Iran's role in the conflict there.

Interview Highlights

On supporting President Trump's decision to strike Syria this month, but arguing the strikes weren't sufficient

"I mean, just dealing with chemical weapons, I thought the first strike was insufficient. In other words, when [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons last April, we had a very proportioned, measured response. I think we should have taken down his air-delivery means, which was resident at six airfields, and we could have done that all in one night — take down his air-power infrastructure. ... And that was a deterrence strike. In other words, we were using that strike, measured and proportionate, so that he would not use chemical weapons again.

"A year later, because they had military value to Assad — and that's his pattern of behavior — he did it again. So obviously the first strike didn't work, and the [strike this month] was another measured, proportionate strike. I felt we absolutely should have done what we could to cripple his war machine, particularly all of his air-power infrastructure, on the second strike. So yeah, I think it's insufficient."

"Syria will become the anchor point for the Iranians' domination of the Middle East, and it's a major, major victory for them if we do that."

Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, on the potential consequences of the U.S. reducing its role in Syria, or pulling out of Syria completely

On U.S. strategy in Syria

Here & Now

05:50Apr 27, 2018

"The larger issue with Syria, the United States really doesn't have a strategy dealing with Syria beyond ISIS. ... Syria's about as complicated a foreign policy issue the United States has dealt with in decades, and you can be on any side of this argument, and be somewhat reasonable. But when I look at the problem, I think we have to know where we are right now. We squandered many opportunities to be in a much better position than we are now. Russia and the Iranians have successfully propped up the Assad regime. That's just a fact. And we have to recognize that."

On his view that Assad must go

"Oh yeah, absolutely. But we have to put a strategy in place, and it's a long-term strategy to achieve that end. What we could do is, we've driven ISIS out of eastern Syria. We still have some more work to do there, because there's 2,003 ISIS fighters still left there. And when I say eastern Syria, I mean east of the Euphrates River Valley, and what we should do is use that as a base of control, a control zone, clear ISIS out of there and tell the Russians and Iranians and the pro-Assad regime, 'Stay west of the Euphrates River Valley, don't come east of that, or you're gonna be subject to be interdicted.' "

On Trump signaling he may draw down the U.S. presence in Syria

"Yeah I know, and I'm disappointed by that, because I think if you just walk away from Syria, what you've done is you've just turned this over to the Iranians and to the Russians who are in a political and military alliance. Syria will become the anchor point for the Iranians' domination of the Middle East, and it's a major, major victory for them if we do that.

"We've got to recognize that since 1980, Iran has been unequivocally clear about what their strategic objectives are, is to spread the Islamic revolution throughout the region that is the Middle East, drive the United States out of the Middle East as an intermediate objective to accomplish that and ultimately destroy the state of Israel as they dominate the Middle East, and they are quite about that business: They dominate and control Lebanon. They are dominating most of the control in Syria. They have huge political influence inside of Iraq. They began the civil war in Yemen. They toppled the government there — which was friendly to the United States — with a single purpose in mind: to dominate and control Yemen.

"So they are about their task of domination of the Middle East, and I think the United States has gotta recognize that, we've got to form an alliance with our allies to counter that aggression. It doesn't mean that the United States has to provide the dominant amount of military force or the dominant amount of money. I don't think we should. I really think this is more up to the Arabs themselves. But I do think we have to provide some leadership to them. It's sort of like an Arab NATO, that has been so successful in dealing with the Soviet Union's aggression post-Cold War, World War II, and I think it's as much political and as much economic as it is military."

This segment aired on April 30, 2018.

Steven Pinker in Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and progress (2018) writes that for half a century the four horsemen of the modern apocalypse have been overpopulation, resource shortages, pollution, and nuclear war.  They have recently been joined by a cavalry of more exotic knights: nonobots that will engulf us, robots that will enslave us, artificial intelligence that will turn us into raw materials, and Bulgarian teenagers who will brew a genocidal virus or take down the Internet from their bedrooms.

Serious threats to the integrity of a country's infrastructure are likely to require the resources of a state.  Software hacking is not enough; the hacker needs detailed knowledge about the physical construction of the systems he hopes to sabotage.  When the Iranian nuclear centrifuges were compromised in 2010 by the stuxnet worm, it required a coordinated effort by two technologically sophisticated nations, the United States and Israel.  State-based cyber-sabotage escalates the malevolence from terrorism to a kind of warfare, where the constraints of international relations, such as norms, treaties, sanctions, retaliation, and military deterrence, inhabit aggressive attacks, as they do in conventional "kinetic" warfare.

Fears of runaway nuclear proliferation have also proven to be exaggerated.  Contrary to predictions in the 1960s that there would soon be twenty-five or thirty nuclear states, fifty years later there are nine.  During that half-century four countries have un-proliferated by relinquishing nuclear weapons (South Africa, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus), and another sixteen pursued them but thought the better of it, most recently Libya and Iran.  For the first time since 1946, no non-nuclear state is known to be developing nuclear weapons.  True, the thought of Kim Jon-un with nukes is alarming, but the world has survived half mad despots with nuclear weapons before, namely Stalin and Mao, who were deterred from using them, or, more likely, never felt the need.  Keeping a cool head about proliferation is not just good for one's mental health.  It can prevent nations from stumbling into disastrous preventive wars, such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the possible war between Iran and the United States or Israel that was much discussed around the end of the decade.

Tremendous speculations abbot terrorists stealing a nuclear weapon or building one in their garage and smuggling it into the country in a suitcase or shipping container have also be scrutinized by cooler heads.  At the risk of sounding complacent, Pinker says nuclear security would benefit by being conducted a little less emotionally and a little more calmly and rationally, than has tended to be the case.

Pinker declares that while the engineering know-how required to build a basic fission device like the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bomb is readily available, highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium are not at all easily accessible, and to assemble and maintain--for a long period, out of sight of the huge intelligence and law enforcement resources that are now being devoted to this threat worldwide--the team of criminal operatives, scientist and engineers necessary to acquire the components of, build and deliver such a weapon would be a formidably difficult undertaking.

Pinker does not believe nuclear weapons deserve credit for ending World War II or cementing the Long Peace that followed it--two arguments that repeatedly come up to suggest that nuclear weapons are good things rather than bad things.  Most historians today believe that Japan surrendered not because of the atomic bombings, whose devastation was no greater than that from the fire bombings of sixty other Japanese cities, but because of the entry into the Pacific war of the Soviet Union, which threatened harsher terms of surrender.

And contrary to the half-facetious suggestion that The Bomb be awarded the Nobel Peace prize, nuclear weapons turn out to be lousy deterrents (except in the extreme case of deterring existential threats, such as each other).  Nuclear weapons are indiscriminately destructive and contaminate wide areas with radioactive fallout, including the contested territory and, depending on the weather, the bomber’s own soldiers and citizens.  [Which is why Israel’s nuclear bomb does not make sense.]  Incinerating massive numbers of noncombatant’s world shred the principles of distinction and proportionality that govern the conduct of war and would constitute the worst war crimes in history.  That can make even politicians squeamish, so a taboo grew up around the use of nuclear weapons, effectively turning them into bluffs.  Nuclear states have been no more effective than non-nuclear states in getting their way in international standoffs, and in many conflicts, non-nuclear countries or factions have picked fights with nuclear ones.  (In 1982, for example, Argentina seized the Falkland Islands from the United Kingdom, confident that Margaret Thatcher would not turn Buenos Aires into a radioactive crater.)  It's not that deterrence itself is irrelevant:  World War II showed the conventional tanks, artillery, and bombers were already massively destructive, and no nation was eager for an encore.

Far from easing the world into a stable equilibrium (the so-called balance of terror), nuclear weapons can poise it on a knife's edge.  In a crisis, nuclear weapon states are like an armed homeowner confronting an armed burglar, each tempted to shoot first to avoid being shot.


In the ideology of Donald Trump, Iran, unlike the United States is not allowed to have allies in the Middle East, its territory and in Europe, Russia.  The US is privy to allies including Israel, the Sunni Arabs, Turkey, and the EU.  Iran is a Persian Shia state that has to rely on other Shia states, including Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah to protect it against its Sunni and Israel neighbors, which has vowed for its destruction.  Ever since Operation Ajax in 1953, and the installation of the Shaw, Iran knows better than to trust the United States and the West in general.  And understands why the US wants to whine about 1978, but never mentions 1953.  And the only army that brings fear into the hearts of the Israelis is "The Army of God": Hezbollah because it drove Israel out of Lebanon, and with the help of Russia recued what is left of the state of Syria.

Noam Chomsky in Perilous Power: The Middle East And U.S. Foreign Policy (2007) writes that Iran has to be punished because it broke free of U.S. control in 1979.   The U.S. picture of Iran---as portrayed in media commentary and so on--says nothing ever happened in Iran up until 1979.  The installation of the shah in 1953, that kind of thing, doesn't matter. 

There was a good study of the press coverage of atrocities in Iran.  From 1953 to 1979, when Iran was ruled by the pro-U.S. shah, all the torture, massacres, and everything else got essentially no coverage at all.  Starting in 1979, after the shah was overthrown in popular revolution, all of a sudden there was huge coverage of the atrocities in Iran.


Files Show Iran's Program To Build Nuclear Weapons, Netanyahu Says


Steve Inskeep talks to Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer about whether the U.S. should withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Prime Minister Netanyahu says Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

Israel Shows Evidence On Why Trump Should End Nuclear Deal With Iran


David Greene talks to former State Department Middle East policy adviser Aaron David Miller about Israel's latest push for the U.S. to end the Iran nuclear deal.

Although Perilous Power was written in 2007, nothing has changed with U.S. Israel relationship toward Iran.  Iran broke ranks with the United States in 1979, and this is a crime for which it has [still] to be punished.  And it goes way beyond rational state interests.  As with Cuba, it's the Mafia mentality: You can’t allow disobedience to exist; it's too dangerous because other people might get the idea that they can be disobedient as well.  So Iran's going to have to be punished for that act of disobedience.

Now the United States [allying with Israel] is try very hard to isolate Iran and to carry out subversion, which is maybe possible in that country.  It's a complex, ethically mixed society with a very repressive government.  Maybe the United States can stimulate some kind of internal uprising.  And of course they want to isolate it economically.

Ex-CIA Director On National Security, Post-Truth 'Assault On Intelligence'


Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA and NSA, speaks at Nobel Week Dialogue: the Future of Truth conference on Dec. 9, 2017, in Gothenburg, Sweden.  Julia Reinhart/Getty Images

President Trump has a heaping plate of foreign policy background to consume in May, which will see a possible summit with the leader of North Korea, a deadline to decide on restoring Iranian sanctions, and the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In the past, most presidents have leaned on the intelligence community for guidance and context — but Trump has made plain his differences with the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency.

In The Assault On Intelligence, former CIA Director Michael Hayden says the Trump administration has ushered in what he calls a "post-truth world," and he scolds the president for waging a war on U.S. spy agencies.

In its best form, Hayden writes, intelligence is the objective truth.

"I've always viewed the role of intelligence as creating the left- and the right-hand boundaries of logical policy discussion," Hayden tells NPR. "If you deny intelligence its role, you deny yourself these boundaries — and that, of course, I think leads to some really serious situations."

Interview Highlights

On Trump's relationship with the intelligence community

Let me begin with [Trump's] distrust of the community, which is a national tragedy.

We always have a challenge establishing a relationship with a new president. President Trump was always going to see the world quite differently than the way we did, but then the relationship-building got stunted by the Russian interference. The first time we had to seriously talk with this president, we were trying to convince him of something that other Americans were using to discredit his legitimacy as president. So we began this in a ditch.

Now, over to the way I think God made the president. Michael Gerson, President George W. Bush's best speechwriter, said that the president lives "in the eternal now." And the purpose of intelligence is to provide, "What's the history? What are the likely consequences?" And so we have a president here who is spontaneous — has almost a preternatural confidence in his own instincts. And to be fair to the president, those are the instincts that got him elected when a lot of experts said that wouldn't happen. ...

We have a lot of presidents who've argued about intelligence — and if that was the only case here, this would be just one other story. But here's a case of a president who's shown evidence that he bases his decisions not on objective reality.

A classic: He claimed that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. John Dickerson of CBS was pursuing him on this question, saying "Do you have evidence Mr. President? What's the evidence?" And the president's only response was, "a lot of people were saying — a lot of people agree with me." That is decision-making based upon something other than objective reality.

On the public's reaction to pushback from the intelligence community

I get that we occasionally look angry, although I try to just stay with the fact-based case. But I don't think we look fractured; I think we all share a very broad concern with what it is that the president is doing. ...

What we have here is a president who does not seem to be controlled by the traditional norms of the office. We have never seen a president speak like this, act like this, disparage people like this. And of course, that generates a response from people who have been career professionals, because we think what the president's doing is very harmful. The challenge we have is — how do we push back against that without breaking our own norms? And so, for intelligence, it might be leaking. For journalism, it might be an overfixation on the work of the president.

And so I have to be careful; people like me have to be careful [that] when we are pushing back — which we think is quite legitimate — we don't make the problem worse by undercutting our own legitimacy.

On the "post-truth" era

What we have — and this is the core issue — we, plural, the big We, are in a post-truth world, a world in which decisions are far more based upon emotion and preference than they are on objective reality, data and details. And that's an overturning of the Western way of thought since the Enlightenment. President Trump identified it, President Trump exploited it, and I think President Trump worsens it by the some of the things he does in office. But the trend is well beyond him and well beyond America.

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Comment by mary gravitt on May 2, 2018 at 11:26am

Will APPEASING TRUMP lead to the same outcome that appeasing Hitler did?  Perhaps.  But both causes are based on undiscovered truth.  If the US breaks its word on keeping the Iran Deal, will any nation be able to take our word as our bond.

Netanyahu is one of the least honest leaders in the world.  He has an Irredentist nature and the soul of a colonizer. 


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