Live

Watch CBSN Live

Transcript: Senator Michael Bennet talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

Listen to this episode on Stitcher

In this episode of the "Intelligence Matters" podcast, host Michael Morell speaks with Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator from Colorado and a current Democratic presidential candidate. Morell and Bennet discuss the state of American politics and the ideologies and objectives that would define a Bennet administration. Bennet, who was recently added to the Senate Intelligence Committee, discusses the state of U.S. election security and his priorities for confronting Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Bennet also discusses his views of alliances and plans for bolstering global stability. 

Download, rate and subscribe here:  iTunesSpotify and Stitcher.

Highlights

  • On Russia: [Putin has] "been a more successful looter of his country than Donald Trump has been. […] I think Putin and Xi both would like to see Donald Trump reelected because they have been able to enhance their roles in the world as a result of Donald Trump being elected."
  • On Iran: [The Supreme Leader] "has been strengthened by the Trump administration as have the hardliners in Iran. Our walking away from the Iran deal was like jumping out of a lifeboat just because we didn't like it when there was no other lifeboat in sight."
  • On North Korea: "I think [Kim Jong Un has] played Donald Trump for a patsy. Trump has accepted on face value Kim's statement that-- he didn't even really make a statement that he would denuclearize. But the idea that they would denuclearize which they have said in the past. But they've never actually done."
  • On 2020 election security: "I believe we were much better protected in '18 than we were in '16 because of the work of our intelligence agencies. And they are continuing to work. They are on the mission whether the president agrees with what they said or not. They are on the mission. […]. The threat is evolving. It's changing. And it's not confined to Russia anymore. Other countries are trying to assault our democracy as well. And think about this, Mike, just for the listeners who might be saying, "I don't really care about this." Imagine living a world where you can't be sure that the result at the voting booth is the actual result that happened. When that happens our democracy could be at an end. And it could happen to us and to western Europe at the same time. This is the nature of the threat that we're under."
  • On America's role in the world: "[T]he incoherence that we are projecting is creating a danger for the world. For most of the last 70 years we obviously have not been perfect. Iraq, Vietnam. But for most of the last 70 years we have been a force for stability in the world. We've been a force to sort of try to tamp down the storm. Now, in a way, we are the storm. And other people are taking serious advantage of that. Putin, China, North Korea, Iran. They have all benefited from having Donald Trump as our president."
  • On China: "[W]hether we like it or not, we are in a contest with China now for the future of the world. And they are acting like that. And we are not. We're not even showing up. We got a guy in the White House who doesn't have any idea what he's doing in foreign policy. They know exactly what they're doing -- which does not mean they won't make mistakes."


INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator Bennet, welcome to the show. It is great to have you.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

It's wonderful to be here. Thank you.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I should tell our listeners that we have made the offer to many of the candidates running for president to come on this show to discuss foreign policy and national security. And Senator Bennet, you're the first to say yes. So thank you very much.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

Well, I'm grateful for the opportunity. I'm sure the others will be here.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator, I do want to talk about foreign policy and national security. But I'd like to start somewhere else. And that's with our own politics which looks to

many people, including me, like it's broken. And the reason I want to talk about it is because I believe that doing what we need to do in the world to keep our country safe is not going to happen unless we fix our own house, unless we get our own house in order.

So perhaps the most important question that I'm going to ask you in the next 40 minutes or so is what is ailing American politics? And what would you do if elected to fix it? And I should mention before you answer that you just wrote a book about this very issue which I found very interesting. It's titled A Land of Flickering Lights; Restoring America in the Age of Broken Politics.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

Thank you very much for reading it. Our politics is broken. And I think it's important to understand that Donald Trump is as symptom of those broken politics rather than the essential cause of those broken politics. Why is it broken, you ask?

One reason has nothing to do with politics. It's economics. Fifty years of an American economy where all of the growth has gone to the top 10% of the American people and 90% of the American people basically haven't seen a pay increase. So if you ask me to summarize for you my last ten years of town halls, it's very simple. It's people coming saying, "We're working really hard. But we can't afford some combination of housing, health care, higher education, early childhood education. In other words, we can't afford a middle-class life. We can't save anything for our kids."

And when people are under that kind of stress and feeling that sort of compression it makes it difficult for them to think about other things. If I think about the families I used to work for in the Denver Public Schools when I was the school superintendent who are mostly kids of color and mostly kids living in poverty, what their families would say is,

"We're killing ourselves."

And they are. They're working two and three jobs. "We're killing ourselves and no matter what we do we can't get our kids out of poverty." And the sense among the American people was that Washington wasn't paying any attention to that. Whether we elected Democrats or Republicans, nothing ever changed.

And so there was a sense among some people, "Let's elect this reality TV star. Things can't possibly get any worse." Of course we know they have gotten worse. And which brings me to my second observation which is that at the same time we're coming to the end of that, hopefully, the end of that 50 years of a lack of economic mobility.

Our institutions were crumbling under the pressure of the collapse of print journalism. The Supreme Court's terrible decision in Citizens United which gave billionaires the key to the kingdom when it came  

to running our democracy. Excessive gerrymandering that helped fuel the rise of the freedom caucus and the Tea Party. The billionaires helped fuel that rise too which grew out of a reactionary politics that occurred after the election of President Barack Obama.

And all of that taken together has sort of conspired to create a situation where Washington D.C. is broken. There's a better way of saying it, that our politics. Because I think at the local level our politics still works. Here it doesn't work. So if you'll just indulge me for one second, the other day in Des Moines a woman asked me, "Can democracy," and her question was, "Can western democracy address climate change?"

And I said to her, "You have just asked the most existential question anybody has asked me because our institutions are in rubble today. And that suits Mitch McConnell's purposes and Donald Trump's purposes because all they want to do is put right-wing judges on the

courts and occasionally cut taxes for wealthy people."

"If you want to solve climate change you need to imagine a politics where you're not just putting something in for two years and the other side rips it out and you put it in for two years and the other side rips it out." You can't solve climate two years at a time. In the end, we actually need something called an American climate policy like we used to have something called American foreign policy. But when you look at our politics smashed into smithereens, it's very hard to imagine how you do that. And it's one of the reasons I'm running for president because I believe the only way to do that is to create a constituency for change out in America that says, "We will come together to support durable solutions to the problems that we face."

And as we're doing that, we're going to reform our democracy to get the money out of it and put more people into it.  

We are under deep-stress and your intuition that we can't solve the issues that we confront internationally with the broken political system I think is correct.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Senator, let's shift to foreign policy and national security which is what this show's all about.

And maybe the place to start is with your own interest in the world. You did not have a lot of jobs that were directly related to foreign policy in your career. But your father was a diplomat. And you do serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee. So I'd love to ask you two questions. What did you learn from your father about the world and America's role in the world? And what have you learned from serving on the Intelligence Committee about that?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

So I was, as a result of my father's service, I was born in New Delhi, India, first of all. And from him I learned that public service is noble, which I think is a very important thing for us to

understand at this moment when it's being denigrated by the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party.

And second, I learned from him that the world is interconnected and that America has a particularly unique role to play in our expression of pluralistic values and democratic values, small D democratic values. I should say it would be an incomplete answer if I didn't say this, I also, my mother's side of the family had a very different set of circumstances than my dad's.

She and her parents were Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust, who immigrated here when she was about 11. She was the only one in the family that could speak English. She enrolled herself in school. And I've never met anybody with stronger accents than my grandparents had. And I've never met greater patriots than they were.

So the combination is the reason that I'm in public service to begin  

with. And what I've learned by being in the Intelligence Committee I would say two things. 1) how dangerous the world is that we live in. 2) the incredible capacity we have to confront that danger. And 3) how committed the men and women are of our intelligence agencies to keeping this country safe even at a moment when they're under attack by the president of the United States. They are showing up to go to work every day to act in the national security interests of our country.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So we've seen a lot of erosion of capacity in the State Department, for example. Have we seen that in the intelligence community or not?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

I don't think to the same degree. But I do think, my impression is, that it's harder to hire people than it used to be. And it's harder to find talent. On the State Department, I met with one of the best known, toughest ambassadors who we've ever had, a guy who served in Iraq and Afghanistan within the

last year.

And at the end of our meeting he said, "I'm going to the State Department." I said, "Why are you going to the State Department?" And he said, "I'm going there because every single senior foreign service officer has two jobs now. One job is doing their job. And the other job is doing whatever they can do to keep junior foreign service officers from quitting."

And that's a terrible legacy of this Trump era and of Mike Pompeo's secretary of state tenure. And now that we've got this clear manipulation of the Ukraine situation for partisan political purposes, that's only going to further cast a pall, I think.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I have to tell you, there's a coffee shop halfway between my house and the CIA and I've had dozens and dozens and dozens of coffees with current intelligence officers who want to know, okay, how do you make  

the transition to the private sector? And my answer to them is, "Don't go anywhere. Your country needs you now more than ever."

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

And it's true. And they need to hear that from everybody.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So how did you end up on the Intelligence Committee?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

I wanted to be on it because I'd been in the Senate for ten years. And I thought it was important I was not on a committee that gave me international exposure. And I wanted particularly to be on that committee because I thought it'd be fascinating to learn what our intelligence capabilities look like. And it has been fascinating.

The other thing I like about the committee is it's a lot less partisan than a lot of the other committees because it's behind closed doors, it's not in front of the television cameras. And I think people in general do their work properly there.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So how's it possible that the Senate Intelligence Committee has been able to carry out its responsibilities in a bipartisan or nonpartisan way and the House Intelligence Committee has really struggled with that?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

Well, we don't have Congressman Nunes at our committee which may be a reason why. And I just think there's just been more of a tradition in the Senate of trying to carry out these responsibilities in a bipartisan way. We don't do it perfectly. But it's one of the reasons why I like to serve on it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So senator, with that as background, let me ask you what a Bennet administration's foreign policy would look like. What would its priorities be, what would our posture in the world but it's? What would be its ideological underpinnings? How do you think about that?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

Ideological underpinnings, to start there, is that democracy is a virtuous way of organizing human beings. And that the best thing we can do for people like my mom and my grandparents, is be the best democracy we can be to show the world that pluralism is a normatively beneficial way for human beings to organize themselves.

It's particularly important with the rise of China for us to embrace those democratic values. That's not the same thing as saying we should be exporting democracy around the world. But I do know for my parents' example what an important beacon of light this country is when we are, we're not perfect, but trying to live up to our founding principles. So that's sort of the overarching thing. Underneath that I would say making sure that we burnish alliances all over the world. So the first visit I would make if I were elected president would be to Europe to say, "We are here to defend western democracy. That's why I'm here."

MICHAEL MORELL:

We're back.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

We're back. We're with you. We don't view you as some sort of liability. But together we have to push back on Russia, on China. Where I think Trump actually was right to call the question on China. He just did it in an utterly counterproductive way.

We share equities with almost every other country in the world with respect to China. It's a colossus. And it's going to grow. Think about this, its economy has quadrupled since 2001. It has tripled since 2004. It's doubled since we went into the Great Recession. And they're going to continue to grow. We want those markets open to us. And we can build a forceful coalition of trading partners to say, "China, we want to sell into you and we want you to do a better job of following the rules of the road."

It's not going to be easy to do that but it does provide us a very important organizing principle and a reason to be working with other nations which I think will lead to a more peaceful world. In our hemisphere we have seen what happens when you don't have real leadership. On this immediate refugee crisis at our border we could resolve that if we had a president who led all the countries from Canada to Argentina in saying, "Let's figure out how to resettle these people. And then let's figure out what to do with the underlying causes of the misery in the Northern Triangle countries that are resulting in people fleeing for their lives." And then in the Middle East where I would start is to try to rebuild the alliances to a successful negotiation of the Iran agreement to see whether there's a piece of business that can be done there.

MICHAEL MORELL:

In thinking about your foreign policy, what your foreign policy would  

be, is there a particular president, is there a particular secretary of state that you, national security advisor, that you admire for how they handled when they were in charge of the--

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

It's interesting. I haven't. I've never thought about it that way. I will think about it that way. It's hard not to think of Franklin Roosevelt as somebody who acquitted themselves very well in that job.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator, one more question before we get to some specific issues. And I want to ask about the salience of foreign policy and national security on the campaign trail. It doesn't seem to be high on the priority list of the voters. Certainly not the media. Is that perception on my part, right? And if so, is that concerning to you? And how do you talk to folks about it? How do you get folks to think about its importance? How do you talk about all that?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

So I'd say three quick things. 1) your perception is right although in every single meeting that I have somebody asks, "What are you going to do to restore America's alliances?" And that's I think good news that people are worried about that and thinking about that and understanding that it comes at a cost for our country to turn our back on our allies. So I think that's point one.

How do you get people to care or interested in about it? Last weekend Donald Trump spent the whole weekend tweeting out things that if anybody else in America tweeted out, they'd be meeting with the HR department on Monday morning. And the HR department would be saying, "If you keep doing that, you're gone." And if the answer to that from the person was, "Oh don't worry about it. I'm a stable genius with unmatched wisdom," that would be it. You'd be finished.

But because this guy is our president on that weekend as he was

obsessing with cable television and tweets, China was signing trade agreements with enough economies that if you add it all up together it represents half the GDP of the world. Iran was doubling the number of centrifuges they were using to enrich uranium at the same time he was doing that.

So it's important for people to hear that because when they hear that it makes them angry and aggravated about it. Or another example I like to use is the example of China. I just mentioned how much their economy has grown in the last ten, 15 years. Another way of thinking about that is in three years in the last decade they poured more cement than we did in the 20th century. While we spent seven months horsing around with issues about $6 billion for Trump's wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for, China is building a vast telecommunications network that stretches from Latin America to Africa, connecting to the surveillance state of China.

And also massively investing in their One Belt One Road initiative. This comes at huge cost to our position in the world, and I would say to humanity's position in the world, because if you're living in a world in Africa where if you get elected to office, you go to the party for your election and then you go back to your office and there's a plane ticket waiting for you to take you to Beijing, and we're absent, that's a problem for us. So those are some of the ways I talk about it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So one of the things that strikes me in listening to what you just said, senator, is that a number of your opponents on the campaign trail seem to side with the idea that the U.S. should withdraw from the world which is deeply concerning to me. And where do those pressures come from? Do they come from the same place that our broken politics come from?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

They do. They do actually. They do because what have we done with our  

broken politics? And there's an answer. Since 2001, we have essentially borrowed $5 trillion from the Chinese to give tax cuts to rich people. And we borrowed another $5.6 trillion from the Chinese to fight these wars in the Middle East. So that's $11 trillion or $12 trillion or $13 trillion that from the vantage point of the people, they're struggling in the American economy. We might has well have lit on fire.

And I'm not sure people know that exactly or precisely but they have a sense of it. And that coupled with the terrible disaster of the Iraq war has combined I think to create a caution about what it is we're doing in the world. And to me that's completely understandable.

The question then is what do we do about it? So Trump looks at the Iraq war and he says to himself, "Well, the Iraq war was emblematic." He's not saying. He would say, "That's emblematic of American foreign

policy for the last 70 years."

Instead of understanding that the Iraq war was a departure from, certainly our most successful, foreign policy over the last 70 years. But unfortunately the lesson he's learned from that leads him to a place where it's just we're going to get out. So you look at something like Northern Syria. I am completely convinced. This is after five years of fighting side by side with the Kurds to put ISIS in a box -- we lost six guys. Six guys over five years. That's a tragedy. Kurds lost 11,000 people. And that looks to me like a huge success. 

To pick that as the one thing that we're going to retreat from because Trump can't stand up to Erdogan -- I don't think there's a president in American history that would have made the decision that Trump did. And it's a reflection of how weak he is and how poorly he understands the lessons that were learned.

So the American people deserve to have a president who learns the right lessons from our mistakes as well as our successes. I spent some time this week on the way back in the airplane on the way back from the West Coast reading the army college report on Iraq. I don't know if you've seen that yet. But it's two or three volumes. Hundreds and hundreds of pages that basically concludes that the only winner of the Iraq war was Iran. And the part that I was reading was about all the miscalculations that were made. These are things the American people deserve to understand because in their name Washington made terrible, terrible judgments.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So senator, I want to run through some specific issues. And the way I'd like to do this, if it's okay with you, is I want to toss out the name of a foreign leader and get your kind of gut reaction. And the reason that I want to do it this way is because as

president these people would be your counterparts. Right? You'd be dealing with them. You'd be thinking about how to deal with them. So I think it's an interesting way to come at the issues. So let's start with Russian president Putin.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

Tyrant.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Talk about him.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

So he's basically sitting on top of a mountain of kleptocracy. And I think one of the reasons why Donald Trump has such a hard time with him is that he's more successful. He's been a more successful looter of his country than Donald Trump has been.

Obviously he's acting in his interests and his interests are utterly conflated with the interests of the Russian state. And Europe needs us to stand by them as their ally pushing back against Putin. They can't do it on their own. And he still hasn't been

sanctioned for the attack on our elections in 2016 which continues to this day because we have a president who stood next to Putin in Helsinki and explicit took Putin's word over the word of the nation's intelligence agencies. It's reprehensible.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator, you wrote a book several months ago now about Russia's disinformation efforts in 2016 and beyond. It's called Dividing America: How Russia Hacked our Democracy. Why did you feel the need to write that?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

Great question. Thank you for that. I felt the need to write it because I think the American people didn't really understand what the nature of that attack looked like. And I wanted them to be able to see it, be able to hold it in their hands.

To me the most discouraging thing about that attack was we actually didn't discover it for a year. And when you look at the Russian propaganda it's the most vile,

racist stuff you could imagine in part because they were seeking to divide us, they saw our pluralism, diversity as a weakness, not a strength.

But I think it says a lot that it was completely unrecognizable to us from our own political discourse. In other words, what does it say about us right now when we can't distinguish between our political discourse with Russian propaganda that's meant to hurt our country and wound our country? So that's why I published it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And looking ahead to 2020, how aggressive do you expect the Russians to be?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

I think they will be very aggressive. They've basically been invited in by the American president.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And how would you assess our preparations as a government for defending against them?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

That's the good news. I think that without going into any detail about it, I believe we were much better protected in '18 than we were in '16 because of the work of our intelligence agencies. And they are continuing to work. They are on the mission whether the president agrees with what they said or not. They are on the mission.

The threat is evolving. It's changing. And it's not confined to Russia anymore. Other countries are trying to assault our democracy as well. And think about this, Mike, just for the listeners who might be saying, "I don't really care about this." Imagine living a world where you can't be sure that the result at the voting booth is the actual result that happened. When that happens our democracy could be at an end. And it could happen to us and to western Europe at the same time. This is the nature of the threat that we're under.

And that's why the fact that McConnell has been so unwilling, Mitch

McConnell, to pass election protection legislation that would help us make more resilient our hardware and software at the local level so we can protect the ballot box is really problematic.

MICHAEL MORELL:

In fact, there's bipartisan bills.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

They're all bipartisan as far as I know.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And why the reluctance?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

That's a great question. You would think the people in Kentucky would want to have their elections protected. I think he's just trying to protect Donald Trump who doesn't want to ever admit that the Russians interfered in his election for whatever reason. But certainly the most benign explanation for that is that he doesn't want the American people to think that he got an unfair advantage because Putin helped him win.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So our next leader, Xi Jinping, how do you think about him?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

I think about him as somebody who's playing a very long game. And I also think that Donald Trump has misplayed his hand on the trade deal in a way that Xi -- it could be said that our next election may rest in his hands because he is now in a position to make a decision about whether he grants Donald Trump a victory on trade that gives him something to go back to our farmers and ranchers with, who have been so abused by Donald Trump's trading policies, or not. I think Putin and Xi both would like to see Donald Trump reelected because they have been able to enhance their roles in the world as a result of Donald Trump being elected.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And to paint us as a failing democracy.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

And to paint us as a failing democracy. And four more years of that is probably really good from their point of view. And whether we like it or not we are in a contest  

with China now for the future of the world. And they are acting like that. And we are not. We're not even showing up. We got a guy in the White House who doesn't have any idea what he's doing in foreign policy. They know exactly what they're doing which does not mean they won't make mistakes. But we shouldn't count on that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So you said earlier that you do give the president some credit for calling the Chinese out on sometimes the anti-competitive practices that they pursue. But that the president hasn't gone about taking them on on that in the right way. What would you do?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

What I would do is mobilize the rest of the world whose interests I think are completely aligned with us. Asia. The countries in Asia have no desire to be dominated in a unipolar world by either China or us. They'd much rather be in a bipolar world and we give them that opportunity.

Africa. China is everywhere in Africa. But they're entering into these debt deals with countries as they are in other parts of Asia and other places, that have turned out to be quite damaging where China ends up owning the port. We are in the position to come in and sweep in after that.

And there is a desire -- I was in eight African countries in the year before I decided to run for president. There's a strong desire for us to show up there. And in our own hemisphere, I think. So I actually believe that when we think about the contest with China, we don't need to think about them as our enemy. There's not a reason to do that.

But I do think it provide a very clarifying way for us to think about the world and how we advance our interest of the world, democracy's interest in the world and the free-market system. It's useful. And we should be thinking about that in a coherent way. And there  

is no way that 330 million people can outcompete the Chinese or even compete with the Chinese without allies around the world. It's the only way we can do it. And I think we should look at that as a positive because it can lead to peace.

MICHAEL MORELL:

As you know, we did have a set of allies who came together and were prepared to say to China, "You can have more influence in the world. You can play more in the world if you follow the rules." But we threw it away. It was the Transpacific Partnership. Would you go back to something like that?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

We've got to do something. I think that that failed in part because there was no political predicate in our national politics to support that agreement. People didn't see it as a national security agreement. They didn't see it as something that was important for our geopolitical standing in the world.

And we have had a lot of negative effects of trade as well that we

have not as a country responded to. And I believe that we've got to sort of simultaneously respond to that dislocation and at the same time say, "We're not closing ourselves off from the rest of the world." And not only that, that we've got an important geopolitical role to play in Asia to push back on Chinese dominance there.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So two more people real quick. Supreme leader of Iran.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

He has been strengthened by the Trump administration as have the hard-liners in Iran. Our walking away from the Iran deal was like jumping out of a lifeboat just because we didn't like it when there was no other lifeboat in sight.

And I think the Iran deal represented a rare attempt of us trying to manage a situation in the Middle East rather than go to war with it. When Trump ripped up the deal our intelligence community assessed that Iran was more than a year out from breaking out to nuclear  

weapon was a big improvement from being two to three months away, which is where they were when we signed the deal.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And were heading towards two to three weeks at the pace they were--

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

That's right. Exactly. And why does that matter for the listeners? It matters because if you have two to three weeks it's very hard to mobilize the rest of the world to push back. You may end up in a place where Iran is forcing you to make a decision whether to unilaterally attack or not.

And when you've got a year you can do the planning that's required to actually have an intelligent and strategic reaction. I think the supreme leader and the hard-liners in Iran have been extremely successful in creating a regional hegemony since we invaded the Iraq war. That report by the war college that I mentioned earlier concludes that the only winner of the Iraq war was Iran. I share that view. And I think their malevolence in the

region and the danger they pose to our national security and to Israel is real. And it's significant for us to push back on it.

Having said that, they have successfully moved into Yemen. They've successfully moved into Southern Iraq. And actually even parts of Northern Iraq. Have incredible influence in Syria that they didn't used to have. Still have the influence in Lebanon that they've always had. And that's very concerning to me.

And unfortunately part of what Trump has done is I think he's strengthened the hands of the hard-liners because the hard-liners didn't want anything to do with the Iran deal to begin with. And they said that we would break the deal. And in fact, we have broken the deal. And what have the Iranians done recently? They showed the whole world that they could hit the Saudi oil infrastructure with a degree of precision that nobody knew they had.

And that's causing everybody to think about how we react to them. And it's another reason why Donald Trump has to be a one-term president.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So what would you do vis a vis the Iranians?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

I think the first thing to would be to try to reestablish the alliance that made the Iran deal possible. It was an alliance of the P5+1. It was cortical to have China and India's part of that. And I wouldn't necessarily say we have to sign exactly the same deal. But it would be good for us to try to flex those muscles again and build that alliance. These guys are very, very dangerous customers in Iran.

MICHAEL MORELL:

One more name, senator. Kim Jong-un.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

Obviously it's very hard to tell what his personal capabilities are. But I think he's played Donald Trump for a patsy. Trump has accepted on face value Kim's statement  

that-- he didn't even really make a statement that he would denuclearize. But the idea that they would denuclearize which they have said in the past. But they've never actually done. And what has happened since they had their, was it Hanoi where they had their meeting?

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes. Yes.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

Where basically Trump said, "You can sleep well at night," on his way back from there. That's what he tweeted out. Basically what's happened is, whether he knew it or not, he's created a cover for Kim to continue to pursue his nuclear program and his missile program which he has done.

There has been no halt in doing what he's done. And that's damaging to us. So once again, it would be foolish for people to think that these other countries are not pursuing their national security imperatives from their vantage point, from their point of

view. They may have notions that are completely contrary to ours. Whether you're talking about Russia, Iran, North Korea. It would be fair to say they are completely contrary to ours.

But they are not incoherent. And the incoherence that we are projecting is creating a danger for the world. For most of the last 70 years we obviously have not been perfect. Iraq, Vietnam. But for most of the last 70 years we have been a force for stability in the world. We've been a force to sort of try to tamp down the storm. Now, in a way, we are the storm. And other people are taking serious advantage of that. Putin, China, North Korea, Iran. They have all benefited from having Donald Trump as our president.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator, you've been fantastic with your time. I want to ask you one more question. I'm wondering if you've given thought, and I'm sure you have, to a couple of the really tough jobs of being president. As

commander in chief, ordering young women and young men into harm's way and then having to call or write to parents or spouses or children who have lost a son or daughter, husband or wife or parent, how do you think about that?

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

I've thought a lot about that. I've thought a lot about that because even in the job that I have today once or twice a week I write a letter to somebody who's lost their loved one in service of the United States. And I believe that ultimate sacrifice we need to make sure is worth people making.

And if it's in service to our democracy and service to the idea that we have inherited something very precious in the history of human kind from our parents and grandparents, from the people that founded this country, that is our obligation to pass that off to the next generation. And that as long as we're doing that, the service people that die defending this country and our interest will not have died  

in vain. And that's why I think it's so important that we have a new president at the end of the next election.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator, thank you very much.

SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:

Thank you for having me, Mike. I appreciate it. Thank you.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

View CBS News In