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Transcript: Presentation of the George P. Shultz Award for Distinguished Service

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PRESENTATION OF THE GEORGE P. SHULTZ AWARD FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE

AWRD FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE

Speakers:

  • Clifford D. May, Founder & President, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  • Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army Chief of Staff
  • Catherine Herridge, Chief Intelligence Correspondent, Fox News Channel

MAY:  Thank you all.  I hope you all had a good lunch.  It is now my distinct honor to present this years, George P. Schultz Award for distinguished service to General Raymond T. Odierno.  This award is named for a very good friend, George Schultz, a man who exemplifies the best in American leadership and statesmanship.

During his tenure in government, Secretary Shultz confronted enormous challenges in what we now know to have been the final battles of the cold war.  The end of the that conflict was never guaranteed.  After holding three cabinet level position in the Nixon administration, Mr. Schultz was appointed Secretary State by President Reagan in 1982.

He served in that capacity for almost seven years, a term nearly unprecedented in the modern era.  He is one of the most respected statesmen of the 20th Century.  He is still active to this day.  As Secretary of State, he would routinely bring to his office new U.S. ambassadors.  And in that office he kept a large globe.

And he would spin the globe, he would say, show me the country you'll be representing.  And often the diplomat would look closely at the globe and abruptly halt its motion and he would indicate Botswana, or Bhutan, or Brunei, or whatever country he'd be calling home for the next years, and he'd point to it very proudly.

And Secretary Schultz would shake his head and say, no, no.  No.  You'll be representing the United States of America.  You should never forget that.  George Shultz has dedicated his life to defending freedom and democratic values.  He has provided FDD with invaluable advice over the years and guidance.

We are deeply grateful for the relationship we have been able to sustain with Secretary Schultz.  And so in 2012, we established the George P. Schultz Award for Distinguished Service to recognize those who follow his example and perpetuate his legacy.

Today it is our honor to present the 4th Annual George P. Schultz Award for Distinguished Service to you, General Odierno in recognition of your dedicated service, your leadership and commitment to defending U.S. national security, freedom and democracy. 

General Odierno served as the 38th Chief of Staff of the United States Army from September 7, 2011 to August 14, 2015, when he retired from active military service.  During more than 39 years of service, he commanded units at every echelon, from platoon to theater, with duty in Germany, Albania, Kuwait, Iraq and the United States.

General Odierno has a distinguished record of service and I won't list all his accomplishments today but I want to talk a little bit about his determination.  General Odierno spent more time in Iraq than any other U.S. Army general, more than four years, the last two as the top commander.

And in 2006, when he looked at the situation on the ground at the escalating violence and instability, at the fairly desperate situation, as he candidly called it, he began to push for a new approach.  Not without difficulty did he and a few others manage to convince both the military and policy makers in Washington that a new strategy was necessary, was the right answer.

A new way -- a new approach.  General Odierno persisted understanding the importance of the mission, not only for Iraqi security, not only for regional stability but for America's security and credibility.

Along with General David Petraeus, he built and implemented a surge together and against the odds and the predictions of many pundits and politicians, many journalists.  They took a war that was on the verge of defeat and they turned it around, not only by adding more troops but by completely revamping the way we were fighting the war and interacting with the Iraqi population.

The U.S. military waged a counter insurgency that decimated Al Qaeda and the Iranian backed militias, as well.  This was an enormous achievement which is what makes it so disappointing that just a few years later that progress has failed to be sustained, something I hope we'll hear more about.

American troops are now back in Iraq fighting the Islamic State, a splinter from Al Qaeda, which rose from the ash to become a formidable enemy, erasing borders and declaring what it calls a caliphate and the Islamic Republic of Iran, responsible for so many American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and Lebanon.

And other places has strengthened, not just as the dominate player in Baghdad, but as a rising hegemon across the region.  General Odierno has battled both Sunni and Shia Jihadi revolutionaries. 

And so we look forward to his advice to the next administration, the next president, and whether the American approach should change and can change, and if so what would constitute a coherent doctrine and a coherent strategy. 

In the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, General Odierno emphasized that the United States must work hard to repair it's relationships with Saudi Arabia, with Egypt and other Sunni allies in the region. 

We've got to lead, he said.  We at FDD share General Odierno's belief in the importance of American leadership.  There is simply no good alternative.  In recognition of that record that General Odierno has, FDD is honored to present the George P. Shultz Award for Distinguished Service to you, General Odierno.

(APPLAUSE)

ODIERNO:  Thank you very much.

(OFF-MIKE).

MAY:  I'm going to turn this over to Catherine Herridge, who will conduct, I'm sure a very illuminating and edifying conversation.

ODIERNO:  If I -- if I could just before we start, I had a chance to talk with Secretary Schultz about a year ago out at Stanford, and it's always wonderful to have a chance to go out there and talk with him.

Because, you know, he spends a lot of time training our young men and women out -- not only at Stanford, but a lot of our military fellows that are out there and he -- his service continues. 

And whenever you have a conversation with Secretary Schultz, you have to be on your toes because he is prepared to talk about any and every subject.  So, thank you.  It's a great honor.  Thank you.

MAY:  Thank you.  Thanks Catherine.  Good interview.

HERRIDGE:  Thank you Cliff.  Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.  I'm very grateful and honored to moderating the panel.  General Odierno, I'm inspired by your service as someone in a military family and also want to recognize the service of your wife and your kids, because without their support your work would not have been possible.

(APPLAUSE)

HERRIDGE:  Let's begin with the issue of readiness.  Is the U.S. Army in a position to effectively fight a major war?

ODIERNO:  Well, I would say, what people have to realize that over the last -- the whole time -- I tell everybody, I failed miserably as the chief of staff of the Army because as the four years as the chief, our budget was reduced by 25 percent.  And that's the same with all the services, just not the Army.  So we lost capability. 

Now some of it we needed cut.  I think there was some efficiencies that we needed to gain, but I think they went too deep.  So I think I'm concerned.  And -- and what I tell everyone is actually in today's world, it's a bigger problem because actually, I was -- I go back to the cold war.

It was easier because we knew who our enemy was, we knew where they were at, we knew what their capabilities were, we knew what we needed in order to fight them.  Today, frankly the way the world is, we have to be prepared to respond potentially on five different continents, simultaneously. 

And that capability that we need in order to do that, I'm not sure we have right now.  And I'm worried about it.  And so I really hope that as we get into the -- once we have the nominees from the both parties, we get into real debate about what we have to do about our national security.

And talk about what are the capabilities that we need across our military to include the army because I think it's an important one because as I've stated publicly before, the velocity of instability around the world is increasing and it might not be the most dangerous time, but it's certain is the most and complicated time that we face. 

So we have to have military that's prepared to respond along with obviously our ability to conduct political and economic development around the country.

HERRIDGE:  So what's the one change that you think could get us to that point of readiness?

ODIERNO:  I think we have to -- we have to add a bit more money back into the budget and I'm not looking at maybe a growing, necessarily the services, but we need the money in order to sustain our training, our equipment because we -- the American people expect us to have the best military in the world, which we do. 

But I worry that if we stop -- don't reinvest in them that there'll come a day when we're sending people into harm's way that aren't trained the way we expect them to be trained, and then that ultimately costs us in lives and we don't want to see that happen.

HERRIDGE:  I'd like to turn to Iraq.  In your estimation, are we winning in Iraq?

ODIERNO:  Well, I mean, I think -- first, if I could just -- it's become so much more complex than it once was.  It's no longer just about Iraq.  It's about Iraq.  It's about Syria.  It's about ISIS and how they're growing.  It's about Iran versus, you know, and Saudi Arabia, Shia, Sunni, Arab, Persians. 

So it's much more complex than it was, so I believe there's significant issues and I think it's going to take a lot of effort to solve all of those problems.  I have said publicly that I believe if we really wanted to, we can go in and defeat ISIS militarily.  That's not the issue.  Of course it would cost lives.  It'd cost a lot of money.  We can do that. 

But what -- the problem is what happens the day after?  I've been through this once before and I don't want to see us go through it again.  In 2010 and '11, we had Iraq to a point where it was -- it was peaceful.  It was growing economically. 

Politically it looked like it might be going in the right direction, but -- but what happened, is we -- we never had a sustainable plan that would enable the political system to continue to work after we left.  So until we solve that problem, we can defeat them militarily, but we'll go right back to this two or three years after that again. 

So it's got to be a -- we've got to come up with a solution that's military in nature, combined with political solutions.  It has to be done by a coalition of partners, European, Arab, U.S. that comes up with the right solution in order to manage and -- and govern these areas.

Because what we've learned over the last five or ten years is that where we have problems when you have ungoverned territories or you have failing governments or failed governments.  And that's what we've watched play out.  You had a failing government in Syria.  You have a failing government in Iraq. 

And so what you see is people when they -- when they get frustrated, they turn to violence.  And then you have groups like ISIS that are exploiting the problems that are occurring within that group.  If I could just take a minute on ISIS.  I -- what I worry about ISIS is they are growing fast. 

They are expanding outside of Iraq, Syria, we all know, expanding into North Africa.  They're trying to expand in other parts of the world, and it's the perception of this movement that is having an impact and effect. 

So it's important for us that we don't allow them to hold territory, because as long as they're able to hold territory, it gives them credible credence in order to continue to recruit.  So I believe in the next couple of years, we have to eliminate them in terms of holding territory.  You're never going to eliminate the movement. 

It will always be there.  But you certainly can limit it to an effect that will no longer be growing around the world.  And now we're seeing, as obviously attacks in Europe.  You know, we've had some rogue attacks here in the United States.  And -- and we have to -- we have to go after that movement.

HERRIDGE:  So on that point of taking back the real estate, how many boots on the ground would you need to have and what would that look like?

ODIERNO:  Well I think -- so, you know, it's all connected to each other.  So, you know, first off, in order in my opinion to have a credible solution, you've got to have -- you can't take one off the table.  So you've got to have a credible military capability.  You've got to have a credible political capability. 

And then we have to figure out how economically do we develop it.  So you've got to have all three of those.  So from a military standpoint, that I would tell you -- first I would say, we need to have a coalition of capability. 

It should not be U.S. only.  But probably has to be U.S. led.  I believe only the United States can bring the countries together that can do this.  And I believe it should be countries again.  It should be people that -- countries within the Middle East. 

It needs to be countries in Europe and it needs to be led by the United States that would put enough capability on the ground that would allow us to defeat ISIS.  I tell everyone, we --

HERRIDGE:  What kind of -- just to jump in --

ODIERNO:  Sure.

HERRIDGE:  What kind of number would you assign to that?  I mean how --

ODIERNO:  Well, I haven't study it intently to give you a number, but I -- I'm going to tell you it's -- it's -- it's a big number.  I mean it's --

HERRIDGE:  Twenty -- twenty thousand?

ODIERNO:  Bigger than that.

HERRIDGE:  Thirty?

ODIERNO:  Yeah, probably around 50,000.

HERRIDGE:  Okay, 50,000.

ODIERNO:  But that's with a coalition of capability.

HERRIDGE:  OK. 

ODIERNO:  That's with a coalition of capability.  And what people aren't -- what troops on the ground do is actually helps you with intelligence.  See what -- we have great technical means to collect intelligence.

But there's nothing like having people on the ground that can develop intelligence that is accurate, precise that allows us to really go after those who are the head of these organizations and can really take ISIS out.

HERRIDGE:  And just on that point, so when we withdrew from Iraq, did we effectively blind ourselves in terms of the intelligence?

ODIERNO:  Yeah, I mean I think -- so what we did, is, you know, we no longer -- we lost our, what we call human intelligence network on the ground.  I mean we used to have a pretty significant human intelligence network that we had and so as we pulled out our U.S. military, we lose that. 

So -- so we have to depend on Iraqis, which they collect intelligence, but they do it a bit differently than we do and they look for different things than we might look for.

HERRIDGE:  And then you were getting to your third point.  The military, you said, political and then the economic.

ODIERNO:  Yeah, and so -- and I would just say, so then what you have to do is you have to have a plan to govern after this is done.  And then you have to have a plan of economic development because ultimately, if you don't have that again, we'll fall right back into where we are today.

HERRIDGE:  So thinking about this sort of day after plan, is it a realistic goal to see a unified Iraq as the end result?

ODIERNO:  So I've talked about this before, and I'll make it clear, I would like to have a unified Iraq.  That would be what I would like to have.  And in 2010, I was very clear that's what I want -- I'm thinking -- today I think it's becoming harder and harder to have a unified Iraq. 

And the reason is, is I believe the influence of Iran inside of Iraq is so great, they will never allow the Sunnis to participate in a meaningful way in the government.  If that doesn't happen, you cannot have a unified Iraq.  So if we can come up with some plan that says, we're going to allow Sunni's to participate, fine. 

But I -- I -- we -- since we left, it hasn't happened.  You know, as soon as we left, Sunni leaders were arrested.  They were taking -- the military leaders were taken out of command.  So it's clear to me, the intentions were to limit Sunni influence within the government and the military. 

In order to have a unified Iraq, you have to have people participating equally, and it can't be the ones you hand pick to participate.  It's got to be those who are representing the different groups and the people of Iraq.

HERRIDGE:  But doesn't it seem less and less likely because Iran's hand has really been strengthened by the JCPOA.  So wouldn't it really be in our national interest to recognize that it has now effectively divided into three?

ODIERNO:  I think we should -- I think we should take a look at it and figure out, can we do it or not, and would that be a better solution.  I just think we should at least take a hard look at it because I don't see another solution besides that. 

HERRIDGE:  What could we do to further support the Kurds?

ODIERNO:  Well, I mean I think -- I mean, first off, I think -- first they fought heroically during the last year or so, and I think we just have to continue to make sure they are trained and equipped to continue to do that. 

I think they want to -- we have to make sure that they continue to get the economics that help them to sustain it over a long period of time because again, once it's over they've got to be able to sustain themselves and that gets back into oil.  Gets -- this gets back into their deal with the central government. 

Do they get 17 percent of all the oil revenues or do they just try to work on their own to gain revenue from the oil.  So -- so I think for us the main thing for the Kurds is to keep training them, helping them be equipped to fight.

And then helping them to come up with economic -- again, economic and political solutions in order for it to be sustained over a long period of time.  But you're not going to win this fight just with Kurds.  I mean, and it -- you know, the Kurds can -- are only going to do so much.  I mean they have their own interests that they have.

And so we have to make them capable but, you've got to have other -- you have to have other Iraqis, Sunni and Shia fighting against this threat.  And if you don't have that, it's going to be difficult.  When you're on a battle field, what you want to do is you want to create multiple dilemmas for your adversary. 

And so you want to pressure them from two or three different ways.  You want to pressure them -- so, you know, what I would do, you know, is -- you've got to go after -- what you're trying to do -- you've got to go after them from all three sides -- north, south, east, west -- four sides. 

You've got to go after their money.  And in my opinion, we should have an international coalition that's working together to go after their money and punish those who are funding ISIS inside of Iraq and Syria. 

I think -- and then -- and then I think we have to come up with a group of people trying to figure out what we do from a governance perspective afterwards.  And -- and that's how you going to defeat this threat.  Intense pressure militarily.  Intense pressure economically to take away their funding. 

And then solutions to come up with a way how we're going to govern after we're finished.

HERRIDGE:  There've been significant -- significant damage inflicted as a result of the air strikes but is it true that when you sustain limited strikes over a long period of time you create a smarter enemy.  They burrow further into the cities?

ODIERNO:  Well, I think what airstrikes have done, it's first -- it's limited their ability to acquire more land.  And in fact, it's allowed the Iraqi's and other groups to take back some land.  But in order to defeat them, you have to go in and root them out, and you're not going to root them out by bombing.  And everybody knows -- understands that. 

And so -- so it has some impact but it's not going to solve all the problems that you have.  So, so you have to have a strategy that enables ground capability with -- with integrated with air bombing and air capability in order to defeat them on the ground. 

The reason we were successful back in 2006, '07, '08, was because we were able to get back among the population and we were able to work with the population to defeat the threat.  And that's how you're going to defeat this threat.  And so, you can't do that from the air. 

And also, you know, again, as I go back to intelligence collection, it would enable us with people on the ground to better utilize our air capabilities in order to be even more -- more successful than we are now.

HERRIDGE:  You know, you spent more time in Iraq than any other general and with hindsight, was there a way to prevent the rise of ISIS and if so, what would it have looked like?

ODIERNO:  Well, again, I think that -- I would say we -- when we pulled everyone out in 2011, again, it was fairly quiet, peaceful, the economy was somewhat growing.  But I think what we miscalculated on is we didn't realize and I always -- I always said that, everybody might not like us, but we are the honest brokers on the ground. 

And with us there, we're able to help them to work through and solve their problems.  And I think when our military left, we also lost some political influence that we had.  Because having a military there gains you access to have more influence.  So I believe we lost some of that influence. 

And I -- I -- I didn't expect it to happen this quickly as it did.  But I was not surprised once I saw that --- it all goes back to when you have political leaders being arrested, you have military leaders being fired. 

That led to a -- to a population that became disenfranchised from the government.  And it allowed ISIS to come in and take advantage of that.  And that's what we saw play out.

HERRIDGE:  So if you did it all over again, would you have --

ODIERNO:  Well, I would -- you know, back then, I -- you know, I supported leaving peace, you know, leaving U.S. capability on the ground.  Of course, Iraqis had to approve that.  I would have -- I would have increased -- I would have put a lot more political effort economically and -- and -- and trying to counteract Iran's influence inside of Iraq.  And help them with economic development.  So I would have tried to do those things a bit better than we did.

HERRIDGE:  Was there significant intelligence predicting the rise of ISIS?

ODIERNO:  No, I think we thought -- so back -- you know, I try not to be a Monday morning quarterback on this, but I think back then, we felt that Al Qaeda has disintegrated.  It kind of gone away, so we felt like it would be very difficult and take a while for them to come back. 

But we also did not predict what would happen -- what was happening politically inside of Iraq, which enabled this to happen.  We had -- you know, we had pushed most of -- we either killed or pushed most of the foreign fighters out of Iraq.  They either went back to Syria where they came from.  And I think what happened was, you then had this movement in Syria. 

And so they were able to establish a stronghold in Syria and I believe that then gave them confidence when the Iraqi government was not -- not -- failing the Sunni population, that, that gave them an opportunity.  And so they -- they then came back into Iraq.  You know, I would say it was Syria. 

I would tell you, the whole time we were there, the Syrian government was complicit with Al Qaeda.  And -- and -- and I think it cost them over time where they allowed these individuals to operate within Syria and then when they started to have internal problems, they turned against the Syrian government.

HERRIDGE:  Complicit in what sense?

ODIERNO:  Well, they knew they were there.  They knew they were coming into Iraq.  They didn't do much to stop it.  And they were living inside of Syria.

HERRIDGE:  Baghdadi was on your radar at that time.  What can you tell us about him.

ODIERNO:  Well, I mean, what I remember, he was a -- he was a local Amir in Baghdad.  He was a bomb maker, running a bomb -- one of the bomb facilities in Baghdad.  We had captured him a couple times.  Released him.  He then fled to, I think Syria.  Then he shows -- and all of a sudden I see him on TV making a pronouncement that he's the head of ISIS. 

But I mean, that's what happens.  What you have is, you have these individuals who've grown up now, fighting the U.S. or whatever and insurgency and that becomes their life.  And -- and so they continue to grow and grow and grow and some of them become leaders of a movement, which is what he did. 

The frustrating thing for all our soldiers, sailors and marines out there is that most of these people that are operating now, we had in custody at one time, but the -- you know, we -- we had intel on them, knew what they were doing, but we could never prosecute them in a court of law. 

So you let them go and here they are, back again.  So that -- I mean that's -- it's frustrating.  It's a frustrating thing for us as we deal with this problem.

HERRIDGE:  How important is Baghdadi to the operation, and if he were removed, how deep is that edge?

ODIERNO:  Well, you know, it's like a -- you know, we've been through this before.  He's important.  If we removed him, somebody else will step up.  Now, what you don't know, is how effective that individual would be.  So that's why you have to -- you have to suppress the movement as a whole. 

And you have to -- you have to defeat it in such a way where it no longer carries the influence it had.  Again, remember, ten years ago, we were talking about Al Qaeda and Iraq.  Nobody talks about Al Qaeda and Iraq anymore.  We defeated that movement.  But it regenerated itself now and so you have to defeat that movement. 

And when you defeat the movement, it becomes difficult to come back.  And if you don't develop a sustainable outcome, it will be renamed and come back as something else.

HERRIDGE:  How do we rebuild our relationship with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, other nations, in light of the deal with Iran.  And I say this as a segue given your comments about Iran's involvement in Iraq.

ODIERNO:  Yeah.  Well, I mean -- I will say this, and I will say -- I'll just make a comment that my -- I'm for anything that reduces countries getting their hands on nuclear weapons.  Especially a country like Iran.  You know, I really don't want them to have nuclear capability. 

So they're separate from each other but they're not separate from each other, if you understand what I'm saying, you know.  So -- so I think -- I think the fact that we're -- we're trying to limit them from having nuclear weapons is okay. 

You just have to understanding that they are creating instability in many other ways through their influence, whether it be in Lebanon, whether it be in Syria, whether it be in Iraq, whether it be in Bahrain, whether it be in Yemen -- pick your country.  And you have to understand that. 

And we have to -- we have to -- so we -- we -- we have to go after them on both fronts.  We have to make sure they don't have a nuclear weapon.  And we have to make sure that they continue to not create instability in the rest of the Middle East. 

So I think what we have -- you know, so I think with our -- you know, our long term partners there, it's important that they see we're serious about making sure they don't have a nuclear weapon.  But also serious about making sure that we -- we help to -- to stem the tide of their growing influence in these other countries. 

So I think -- I think it's important for us to sit down with them.  I think it's important for the next president to sit down with them, and talk about how we are going to work together to solve this problem.  And -- and to make sure that we create stability throughout the Middle East working together. 

I think now there -- you know, there's some that question our loyalties.  I think that's somewhat unfounded but -- but the -- but their perception is maybe our loyalties have switched.  And I think it's important for us to reestablish the fact that we want to create stability.

And we think that stability comes with appropriate interaction between both sides and we have to support them as we move forward.  So I think it's going to take a lot of diplomatic effort for them to believe in us again, and to make sure that we can work together on several fronts. 

You know, it's hard because the United States stands for democracies and you know, we try to promote democracy, and that's a hard thing.  It takes a long time to develop democracies.  It's not going to happen overnight.  And I think we have to have some patience when coming to develop democracies. 

We can't automatically expect them to have a democracy like ours.  It takes a long time.  It's taken us a long time.  And I think sometimes we have to be careful about how -- how -- when we deal with some of these people, these countries when we talk about this. 

Again, ideally, we -- sure, we think democracy's a great way of life and we want to promote that, but I think sometimes that gets in the way of the things because it takes 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years to develop democracies, and so I worry that, that causes some problems, as well.

HERRIDGE:  And it can be a very painful process.

ODIERNO:  And it can be a painful process.

HERRIDGE:  Amazingly our time has really just slipped very quickly.

ODIERNO:  Okay.

HERRIDGE:  So before we close out, I'd like to get your thoughts on Russia.

ODIERNO:  Yes, so I -- you know, I think it's been very interesting to watch this.  I think it's clear that President Putin wants to get Russia back on the international stage as an international leader, and he's used his military to do that.  Obviously, economically they all kinds of problems.

But I think he's using his military to make sure everybody understands that they are continuing to play a role, whether it be in the Middle East with Syria, whether it be in Eastern Europe, in -- in the Ukraine.  And oh by the way, Georgia before that. 

And now, you know, he has been talking about deploying some anti-ballistic missiles against Japan.  So he's clearly trying to reestablish Russia and make sure everybody understands it's a world power.  Putin believes that the cold war ended in the wrong way, and it needs to be corrected. 

And I think he is trying to do that.  He's trying to create a buffer around Russia and Eastern Europe.  I think he wants to challenge -- you know, he would like to see that the influence of NATO be much less than it is today.  I think he wants to ensure that people know that he's going to play a role in the Middle East. 

I think what he's done in Syria now, in some ways has elevated his status in operating within the Middle East.  So I think we have to be careful.  I believe that, you know, Russia's surprised us frankly with their abilities, when they first went into the Ukraine and how they were able to synchronize capabilities. 

Russia's always been able to develop technology -- military technologies, whether it be air, land and sea, probably better than any other country.  And so they're probably as close as we have to a near peer competitor in terms of military capability, not economic but military capability. 

And so I think we have to pay attention to that.  And I think we have to make sure that we are carefully watching what he's trying to accomplish and I think it's important that we work with our NATO allies in order to ensure that we protect, not only the southern flank of NATO, as well as the western flank in NATO -- or eastern flank in NATO, excuse me.

HERRIDGE:  Can they be an effective ally for us in the Middle East?

ODIERNO:  I think it's worth looking into.  I don't know.  They have probably some different objectives than we do.  You know, what's interesting is, you know, when you talk to these different groups, the lightening rod is always the United States in the Middle East.  It's not Russia.  And I think they like that. 

And so they want to continue the U.S. be the lightning rod for problems and then they're able to come in and have some influence that helps them in developing policies in the Middle East.  It's clear that, you know, Syria's important to them.  It's a port.  But it's also important to them with a relationship with Iran that they have. 

And -- and it's important for them to have a continued relation with whatever the government looks like as we move forward.  And so that's -- they see that in their -- in their national interest.  So I think they're going to continue to play a role in the Middle East.  I think that we should try to work with them.  Right now, I think it's pretty difficult. 

I think it would be difficult to work with them.  I -- I thought we might have lost an opportunity when we had the attacks in Paris.  We had the Russian jet liner shot down.  I thought there was an opportunity there to build maybe some coalition capability that really could have been moved forward.  But I thought we lost that opportunity.

HERRIDGE:  Just your final thoughts.  What would your advice be to the next administration in terms of setting priorities and goals?

ODIERNO:  Well first, I would -- I would ask the new administration that we have to -- we have to strengthen our relationships in Europe.  We have to strengthen our relationships in the Middle East.  We have to continue to build on the relationships we have grown in the Asia Pacific region. 

And I think that we have to -- I worry -- what I worry about is -- I worry that we have isolationist tendencies, and I worry that we're going to try to be isolationists and pull ourselves back into the United States.  I think that's incredibly dangerous.  So the next president, I believe has to strengthen our relationships, and frankly they have to believe us. 

And they have to believe in what we say.  And we have to believe that we are there and we are going to -- we are going to work with others to solve these problems.  We're not going to say one thing and do another. 

We're going to -- we're going to stay and do the things that we have agreed to do, whether it be supporting our alliances and -- and developing and -- and making sure people understand that we are going to lead. 

They want -- we have -- everywhere I -- I -- in the last year, everywhere I went, they all want the United States to lead.  They believe we're the only ones who can do that.  And I think we have to understand how important that is, and it if -- and it will -- and overtime it will affect our economics and everything else.  So I think it's important that we -- we understand that.

HERRIDGE:  I'd like to thank General Odierno for -- that was really one of the most enlightening conversations I've had and so informative, too, in quite some time.  And I'm sure the rest of you join me in thanking him today.

ODIERNO:  Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

HERRIDGE:  If you could all just remain seated --

END