November 22nd, 2015
11:44 AM ET

Hagel: "I think it's pretty clear that ISIS" not Assad "represents the real threat to our country, to the world"

SOTU

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, former secretary of defense Chuck Hagel, joined anchor, Jake Tapper to discuss the Obama administration’s strategy against ISIS.

For more information, see http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/. Also, text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.

MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”

Contacts: Lauren Pratapas — Lauren.Pratapas@turner.com; 202.465.6666; Zachary Lilly – Zachary.Lilly@turner.com

 

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

 

Hagel on U.S. strategy against ISIS: “You're constantly adapting it and shifting it.  But my point has been that we need to more clearly define the political strategy along that should the lead the military strategy.  Putting boots on the ground or special operations forces or the strikes - we started those strikes more than a year ago, and they are part of the strategy.  They have to be part of the strategy. Building up the military capacity with those who are willing to help in that area, part of the strategy, but it has to - that has to be just part of the strategy.  And that must come from a larger overview of, what is the larger objective here?”

 

Hagel on the threats posed by ISIS and Assad: “We're up against an ideology.  We're up against a reality of dynamics, a set of dynamics we have never seen before, sophistication of social media, the military prowess, the tactical, strategic prowess that ISIS possesses, the funding.  So, we should more clearly define, what is our political strategy?  What are our priorities?  Who is the enemy here?  Is Assad the enemy or is ISIS the enemy… But I think it's pretty clear that ISIS represents the real threat to our country, to the world.”

 

Hagel on the accuracy of intelligence reports: “I think there's always, though - and isn't new - a conflict between our military on the ground vs. different intelligence groups.  And, by the way, we have to remember there's more than just one intelligence group out there.  We have got 16 independent intelligence agencies.  And most of them reside in the Pentagon and the DOD… Now, that doesn't mean something couldn't happen below the secretary of defense's office.  You can't monitor everything.  There is conflict always.  I know that.  I asked a lot of questions.  I know Chairman Dempsey always asked a lot of questions. But this particular issue, I'm not aware of it, nor did that come up to me when I was secretary of defense.”

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

 

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR:  French President Francois Hollande will visit the White House Tuesday to meet with President Obama in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Speaking from Turkey this week, President Obama sounded a bit irritated by critics of his current ISIS strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan.

If they think that somehow their advisers are better than the chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them.  And we can have that debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER:  One of those advisers and somebody who had been on the ground was former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who last year wrote a secret memo to the national security adviser laying out his concerns about the White House's strategy in Syria.  Hagel announced his resignation the following month.

Secretary Hagel joins me right now.

Thanks for doing this.

CHUCK HAGEL, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER:  I know that you have been reluctant to criticize the president.  And you haven't done a lot of interviews about this.

But, as much as you can tell me, what was in that memo in which you expressed your concerns about how the administration was handling Syria?

HAGEL:  Jake, thank you.  Nice to see you again.

Let me begin this way.  First, I think everyone understands what we are up against in the world today, ISIS and all the different elements of terrorism and dynamics and historic differences and challenges and threats, is complicated.  Let's start there and understand that.

TAPPER:  Of course.

HAGEL:  There are no easy, simple solutions, regardless of some who appear to have very glib - and I think that was the president's point - glib, quick solutions.  There are none.

Second, I always felt that we needed to more clearly define our political strategy, along with our military strategy, because it's my opinion - it certainly was the opinion of the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marty Dempsey - he can speak for himself - but it was our opinion that there is no military solution to this.

We're up against an ideology.  We're up against a reality of dynamics, a set of dynamics we have never seen before, sophistication of social media, the military prowess, the tactical, strategic prowess that ISIS possesses, the funding.  So, we should more clearly define, what is our political strategy?  What are our priorities?  Who is the enemy here?  Is Assad the enemy or is ISIS the enemy?  I don't...

TAPPER:  Do you think - do you think that we should not have Assad as our designated enemy right now; we should focus on ISIS?

HAGEL:  Well, Assad is a very bad guy.  There are bad guys all over the world.

But I think it's pretty clear that ISIS represents the real threat to our country, to the world.  I said so 15 months ago in...

TAPPER:  In that memo.

HAGEL:  ... in a press conference.

TAPPER:  Oh, in the press conference.

HAGEL:  Yes, actually in a press conference, when I was asked about ISIS, and I said, this is a force we have never seen before, because they do represent all the dynamics that we have never confronted before, non-state actor with tremendous abilities and power and reach.

Assad has to be dealt with.  But you can't confuse your allies and adversaries by saying, well, Assad must go, and we can't deal with him because he's lost legitimacy to rule and what he's done to his own people, and we will deal with him later, but we want you on the ground, those opposition groups that we're funding and we're training and we're preparing, just to go after ISIS, because they don't see it quite that way.

The Turks don't see it quite that way.  And the Kurds don't.

TAPPER:  Right.  They want Assad to go.

HAGEL:  They have a lot of different problems and pressures that are subterranean.  Religious differences are...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER:  What was your concern when you wrote that memo to the White House?

HAGEL:  My concern was - and, by the way, I wasn't blaming everybody.

TAPPER:  Right.

(CROSSTALK)

HAGEL:  ... was part of the National Security Council - is that we had not clearly defined our political strategy.

First, we need to help build a stability, a platform of stability, before we're going to be able to resolve anything.  And we can keep killing people.  We can keep playing a proxy war game and destroying the Middle East and seeing the results of that, refugees and other very clear consequences of that kind of an effort.

But the Russians have got to be part of this.  I think the Iranians have to be part of it.  All...

TAPPER:  So, we need to ally ourselves with Russia and Iran?

HAGEL:  Well, it isn't - it isn't alliance, Jake.  It's, let's seize on the common interest.  What is the common threat to all of those countries?  What is our common interest here?

TAPPER:  ISIS.

HAGEL:  You - ISIS.  And you build around that.  You build out then into the next series of steps of Assad and so on.

I don't think you are going to find a resolution to Assad until you - until you figure out how you're going to deal with ISIS and you bring the different groups, elements, countries, leaders together on some unification.  We are going to have differences with Iran for years and years, with Russia for years.

But you can't let those differences dictate - or you can't become captive to the differences.  Let's center on the core threat, the common threat.  Build out from there.  If you can build some platform of stability, that gets you to a point where you can start to maybe unravel some of this.  All the countries of the Middle East are going to have to be part of this.

We can't do it.  The military can't do it.  The U.S. can't do it.  The Russians can't do it.  Western Europeans can't do it.  But what is happening here is that it is completely out of control, and there's no prospect for bringing any kind of stability, I think, on the path we're on now.  And that was what I was talking about in the memo.

TAPPER:  Did it fall on deaf ears?

HAGEL:  Well, we had conversations about it.

TAPPER:  They disagreed?

HAGEL:  I wouldn't put it that way.  As I said, it's difficult.

It's one of these issues where there are differences of opinion.  That was my opinion.  And I...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER:  Do you think that the current strategy to fight ISIS is working?

HAGEL:  Well, I think strategy, in itself, is an element of this, but strategy, just like we did during World War II or any war, you're constantly adapting strategy.  You're constantly adjusting to what is going on, on the other side.

Now, remember, again, this is an element of force we have never quite seen before.  Then the other part of this is, Jake, you're dealing with uncontrollables that we cannot control.  We certainly learned that from Iraq.

These are dynamics completely outside our ability to change.  So, when you say strategy, yes, we need a strategy.  Yes, we need a clear policy, but it...

TAPPER:  You say we need a strategy.  We don't have a strategy or a clear policy right now?

HAGEL:  Well, no, we have a strategy.

But - but your - but here is the point.  Again, I go back.  You're constantly adapting it and shifting it.  But my point has been that we need to more clearly define the political strategy along that should the lead the military strategy.  Putting boots on the ground or special operations forces or the strikes - we started those strikes more than a year ago, and they are part of the strategy.  They have to be part of the strategy.

Building up the military capacity with those who are willing to help in that area, part of the strategy, but it has to - that has to be just part of the strategy.  And that must come from a larger overview of, what is the larger objective here?

TAPPER:  Right.

I want to read something from Michael Vickers, who was the undersecretary for intelligence while you were secretary of defense.

He wrote an op-ed in Politico saying the Obama strategy for defeating ISIS is not fast for forceful enough - quote - "By any measure, our strategy in Iraq and Syria is not succeeding, or is not succeeding fast enough.  We are playing a long game, when a more rapid and disruptive strategy is required."

Is he right?

HAGEL:  I think he is right.  And I have immense respect for Mike Vickers.  I worked with him when I was in the Senate, when I was co-chairman of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board.

We do need to accelerate this.  But I think, at the same time, President Obama has been wise in what are - asking this question:  What are we getting into?  And every time you make a commitment to accelerate...

TAPPER:  Right.

HAGEL:  ... then there are a series of questions that have to come with it.

I think our foreign policy over the last many, many years has never, ever really developed a series of, then what happens, then what happens, then what happens?  You take down Saddam Hussein, well, who governs?

TAPPER:  Right.

HAGEL:  How are they chosen to govern?  Who makes that decision?  Those are tough, tough follow-on issues.

TAPPER:  Right, the second and third residual issues.

HAGEL:  Yes.  And we don't - we don't do that very well.  So, I think Mike's points are generally - generally right.

TAPPER:  I want to ask you about "The New York Times" investigating right now that there's an expanding inspector general investigation into whether the intelligence reports from Iraq and the Pentagon specifically were cooked, were finessed to make it look as though the air campaign was doing better than it was and that ISIS was weaker than it is.

Some of this would have happened while you were at the Pentagon.  Do you know anything about it?  What can you tell us?

HAGEL:  No, I don't know anything about it, Jake.

I think there's always, though - and isn't new - a conflict between our military on the ground vs. different intelligence groups.  And, by the way, we have to remember there's more than just one intelligence group out there.  We have got 16 independent intelligence agencies.  And most of them reside in the Pentagon and the DOD.

But there are various attitudes, perceptions about this.

TAPPER:  We have seen this movie before, though, policy-makers finessing the intelligence to make it something that will please the boss.

HAGEL:  Yes, sure.  Sure.

TAPPER:  Do you think that happens with the Obama administration?

HAGEL:  I didn't see it.

And I was alert to it.  I was aware of it.  As you know my history in the Senate, Jake, I have been pretty critical on a lot of these things.

TAPPER:  Right.

HAGEL:  So, I was very careful about this.

Now, that doesn't mean something couldn't happen below the secretary of defense's office.  You can't monitor everything.  There is conflict always.  I know that.  I asked a lot of questions.  I know Chairman Dempsey always asked a lot of questions.

But this particular issue, I'm not aware of it, nor did that come up to me when I was secretary of defense.

TAPPER:  Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, thanks so much for joining us.  We really appreciate it.

Don't be a stranger.  Come back more, please.

HAGEL:  Thanks, Jake

###END INTERVIEW###


Topics: ISIS • Jake Tapper • State of the Union
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