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Transcript: David Petraeus talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

INTERVIEW WITH GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, welcome to the show. It is great to have you.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

It is great to be back with you, Michael.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So, David, I read everything you write. And a year ago, I read something particularly interesting, and I think it's relevant to bring it up because we're coming to spring again. And you wrote a piece about why people shouldn't do sit-ups. And that struck me because, since I met you, I had been doing an awful lot of sit-ups. So, what's the story behind no sit-ups?

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Well, (LAUGH) I read everything you write, too, Michael. And in this case, look, it took me, I don't know, three or four decades to realize that sit-ups, particularly what might be termed buddy-held sit-ups, which is what we used to do in the military, in the Army-- and we did it competitively, so you would do as many of these as you could in two minutes as possible.

Someone holds your feet down. Your hands were behind your head; therefore, yanking on your neck and also doing damage to your lower back. And again, as I said, it took me some decades, and the Army, same number of decades, to realize that this is probably not the best possible exercise to develop abdominal strength, and that there are others that are better, that do not cause damage to your neck or your lower back.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. Well, I've stopped doing 'em now.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

So, (LAUGH) you gotta get the big ideas right--

MICHAEL MORELL:

I know.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

--and it concludes on how do you build your abs.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So, given your background and your experience, we could take this in a thousand different directions. But I thought it would be most interesting to our listeners, and certainly a bit different than what we normally do on the show, if we focused on something that you call big ideas, and you just raised them. And I know that you see the concept as important, if not critical, to leadership. So, maybe the place to start is, what is the concept of big ideas--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Big ideas, essentially, are the big, overarching, strategic concepts that guide an organization. So, if you are, for example, commanding the surge in Iraq, you've got to get the big ideas right. And I have often noted that in the surge what mattered most was actually not the additional 25,000 forces; it wasn't the surge of troops.

It was the surge of ideas. And most of the big ideas were 180° different from what we'd been doing prior to the surge. We had been consolidating on big bases and handing off control to the Iraqis. And we realized that that was not working. We had to go back into the neighborhoods to secure the people, and we actually had to take back control, in many cases, from the Iraqi security forces.

We had to promote reconciliation; a huge idea was the recognition that you couldn't kill or capture your way out of an industrial-strength insurgency. You needed to reconcile with as many of the rank and file as you could while even more aggressively pursuing the irreconcilables, the leaders of the different Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent groups, and then also the Shia militia organizations.

So, a strategic leader, I think, has four huge tasks: First, to get the big ideas right; second, to communicate them effectively through the breadth and depth of the organization; third, to oversee the implementation of the big ideas; and then fourth, in a formal way -- because that's the best way to ensure that it is done, because otherwise, you can overlook it -- to determine how to refine the big ideas; which to jettison, which new ones to adopt, how to modify the others, and do it again and again and again.

And by the way, this is absolutely applicable in the civilian world, in the business world. If you look at, for example, what Reed Hastings has done as the strategic leader of Netflix, you recognize that he's reinvented Netflix four times. There have been four sets of big ideas. First was to get movies in the hands of viewers without brick-and-mortar like Blockbuster. And that essentially started Blockbuster eventually going out of business. There's one left, I think, in Big Bend, Oregon, or somewhere.

Second big idea was to allow viewers to download movies if internet speeds were fast enough. The third big idea was to actually produce content; that was $100 million on House of Cards and all the rest. And the fourth was to do blockbuster movies; basically to challenge the Hollywood production studios.

Again, that's an oversimplification. There were other big ideas about going global and et cetera. But you can see that concept. And again, in Iraq, I can show you what the big ideas were before, and then what the big ideas were after. And again, it was the change in big ideas that was even more important than the additional forces that we got. And by the way, others all saw this. This wasn't something-- we came to this together. But that is, again, the most important task of a strategic leadership. Or, the most important task of a strategic leader is indeed to get the big ideas right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So, David, two questions: Where do they come from? How do you develop them when you take over an organization? And how many should you have? Is there potential to have too many? How do you think about all that?

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Well, the second question first. I think generally, give or take a few, five is about the right number. Any more than that and they're just diluted. By the way, those five or so, give or take, become topics that you raise every time you talk to the organization, every communication that you have.

As a battalion commander, we had five as an infantry battalion commander. And I think that many of the members of that battalion -- to this day -- would say, 'Oh, Petraeus was crazy about these big five.' And they can recite them still because they heard them at every single unit gathering and--

MICHAEL MORELL:

That means you were successful in communicating them?

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Well, (LAUGH) and you have to. Again, repetition is important. But also, developing the programmatics for these five. Again, it's not enough to just say that we are going to promote physical fitness or discipline or small unit drills and live fires. You then have to have programmatics that go with them.

Generally, the process of developing the big ideas, especially if you have the time to do it-- and I offer that caveat because, in the case of the surge, we didn't have the time once I actually arrived in theatre. We did that process prior to when we developed the counter-insurgency field manual and sat down with those who had been in Iraq for one or two tours already.

Generally, this process is one that is inclusive. It is iterative. It is transparent. And you'll remember when we did this in the C.I.A. that we sent out an email to everybody in the entire workforce and solicited contributions to the big ideas. And in that case, what we asked for was input from all the C.I.A. officers. What are the enduring big ideas that should -- or enduring missions that we should -- obviously, therefore, continue? And what are the emerging missions that we should identify and to which we should devote more resources? And that was a very iterative, very inclusive-- as I recall, we got nearly 1,000--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, right.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

--emails the first weekend.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

It wasn't even during the workweek.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, right.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

And so, people do get excited about being part of this. And you do want it to be as inclusive and transparent, and then inevitably, it ends up being iterative because you don't-- my experience, at least, is that you can't find a tree under which you sit and get hit on the head by Newton's apple, fully formed.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

You tend to get the kernel of a big idea. You have to shape it and that comes through dialogue and discussion and all the back and forth that this process entails. But you do want it inclusive and iterative because you want people to feel that they are a part of it. You don't want them feeling excluded from it--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Otherwise, they're not going to implement it.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Exactly right. Or they won't do it wholeheartedly or they'll feel that they weren't part of it; so therefore, they won't feel ownership for it. That's not to say that every idea that comes to you is going to be a great potential big idea. It does mean that you should certainly consider what people do provide in terms of input. By the way, there is a test at the end of all this. And that is if people actually do question the big ideas sufficiently, you might actually wonder if you've really got the big ideas right or not--

MICHAEL MORELL:

So, David, let's make this a little bit harder. Let's move from the concept of big ideas and some of the examples you provided to what you think should be the big ideas today that should frame American foreign policy. And I know that's a tough question.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

I've actually been thinking a great deal about this. And like you, I am a nonresident, senior fellow at the Belfer Center in Harvard. And like you, therefore, I do a project or two a year. And one of those projects really has to do with what should be the big ideas for American foreign policy.

And I think that the biggest of these is that we need to achieve greater coherence and greater comprehensiveness in American foreign policy. Let me explain. The US-China relationship, most important in the world. And by the way, let me just state up front, I would like to see this relationship be one that is mutually beneficial, that is not seen by either country as a zero sum affair; that we can prosper together.

But clearly, the United States does need to have a foreign policy that is coherent and assigns the appropriate priority to this relationship, knowing that we're not just the biggest geostrategic rivals of each other, or competitors, we're also among our biggest trading partners. So, this is very different from the days of the Cold War and the face-off between the U.S.-led West and the Soviet Union. There was not that kind of trading relationship, to put it mildly.

Now, if a particular country is the priority, or a particular relationship is a priority, you then need to subsume others. They need to be supporting efforts, as in the military, where you have a main effort and then everything else supports that. So, in this case, you would ask, if you were going to have a comprehensive approach, and that's the other element that I think we need in American foreign policy--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Coherence and comprehension --

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Coherence and comprehensiveness. Then you would have to ask, How would you structure your trade relationships. And of course, you would then inevitably ask whether we shouldn't return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which of course, when we pulled out, went ahead and they did it minus us. You would ask, when it comes to alliances and partners, how hard should you beat up your NATO partners for some of their failure to meet 2% of G.D.P.?

Now, I think that is right to insist on that, to encourage that. But again, you want these allies with you. You want all of your partners with you. What should the relationship be with the G7? How hard, again, should you push them? And I think if you recognize the centrality of the U.S./China relationship, if you recognize the need to do this in trade relationship terms, in alliance relationships, and a variety of other ways, that you would recognize that there are areas in which we could improve the coherence of what it is that we are doing.

And we could also make it more comprehensive. I say that, noting there are numerous elements of this already certainly present. There are activities. The shift in resources gradually to Asia, the so-called rebalance that was started under the Obama administration, is very much continued under this administration. And in fact, in many cases, even where there are tweets that seem to be the contrary, if you follow the troops, follow the money and follow the policy, you'll find out that there are elements of what could be packaged very much into a very coherent and also comprehensive approach. But that would be the biggest of the big ideas about American foreign policy.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, in the context of big ideas, maybe in the context of coherence and comprehensiveness. North Korea. How do you think about the problem? How do you think about the approach the president has taken? What would you be advising him to do at this point?

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Well, the problem is significant. Clearly, the threat posed by a North Korea could have a nuclear weapon and a missile to deliver it, that could hold our cities at threat, is a very significant concern, rightly. You have seen a president who I think, to be fair to him, said so how did that conventional approach work in the past. What did we get?

And I note this, observing that you have been publicly identified now as having been part of that, in fact, during the time that I was privileged to be the director of the C.I.A. and you were the deputy director. But that did not actually get us that far. And so, I think he said, let me try to be unconventional. Let's try for the big bang here. Let's, because of personal magnetism and all the rest of this, persuade Kim Jong-un, Chairman Kim, to agree to give up all of his nuclear weapons and delivery means -- at the end of which, we would then relax sanctions.

And perhaps not surprisingly, in fact, as the Director of National Intelligence predicted in their assessment of what Chairman Kim was likely to do, this did not prove persuasive. So, I think it is now worth stepping back and starting an iterative approach to where-- and it may be that the times are much more propitious now certainly than they were, again, when you were engaged in this, because Chairman Kim at that time was intent on consolidating his power; eliminated --killed -- his uncle in a particularly brutal manner, had his half-brother killed, and so forth. That's long since been--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And his program wasn't advanced far enough for him to actually come to the table and with something to negotiate--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Yes. No, fair enough. Exactly right. But it certainly has been, because of course, the acceleration in the last two years of the missile testing and the nuclear testing-- until it was stopped, to be fair, as a result of the previous summit that was conducted by the president.

And now, you've had the subsequent summit, but that didn't get something in terms of a real deliverable. But I do think you have a very good point person on this, Steve Biegun. Mike Pompeo has been engaged on this. That now, perhaps, you sit down and start back with the issues that you and I were grappling with, which is let's get an inventory of what they have in the nuclear missile program. Let's get boots on the ground.

MICHAEL MORELL:

To verify that--

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Get the experts back in to see it for themselves, to verify it. And then let's figure out, in a progressive manner, steps that they could take. Because again, they apparently were willing to get rid of the Yongbyon site, which is the biggest and the most complex of the sites -- but by no means the only one -- enrichment facility and other activities, in return for which, again, there could be some reciprocal relaxation of some of the sanctions that Chairman Kim wants to get rid of.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, I want to link these two for a second -- China and North Korea. Because I was intrigued by your coherence and comprehensive big ideas with regard to China. And in that context, one would think that North Korea would be put in that context; that there's an opportunity--

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Very much so, sure.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--right, here to work with China to get North Korea right.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Very much so. China is the key to North Korea. In fact, the rhetoric that was employed by President Trump, then National Security Advisor McMaster and others, did get China's attention. And I think that was why they did this. It wasn't just to get North Korea's attention. It was to ensure that President Xi and the Chinese leaders realized that if they didn't actually implement the sanctions and put pressure on North Korea, keeping in mind that over 90% of the trade to and from North Korea goes through China-- it's accurate to say that China essentially keeps the lights on in Pyongyang, has an umbilical cord through which all of this trade flows back and forth.

And again, that rhetoric did get their attention, however, perhaps, a bit excessive some of it may have been. But that worked. And that, I think, arguably is what contributed to Kim Jong-un going to the table in the first place, as well as the prospect of a photo op with the president of the world's reigning superpower.

So again, China does have to be a part of this process, and yet another area in which the relationship between the U.S. and China is so very important, as you look at the overall, development of the world, with these two countries, really being the ones -- above all others -- that will drive global economics in the years that lie ahead.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So, India. Is India a part of this, too--

DAVID PETRAEUS:

India is part, and of course, I think a very wise move made by this administration, where Secretary Mattis at the time changed the name of the U.S. Pacific Command to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. That is more than just symbolic. Really, you now look at the Asia, south Asia, southeast Asia and east Asia as extending all the way from South Korea, Japan, Philippines, other island chains in there, southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, two more allies, and then ultimately all the way to India.

And the relationship with India, much more prominent, much more important. And in a perfect world, India being the next big source of growth for the world, the country that is growing faster than all others at this point in time, and likely to continue that because of the relatively lower level of development compared to a country that's already propelled upwards so impressively, China--

MICHAEL MORELL:

So, it's always been a tough place to do business, right.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

It is--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Tough place to get things done--

DAVID PETRAEUS:

And there are residual acts. And there are residual policies and so forth that date back to when India was not aligned, or a leader of the non-aligned movement. The BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all of that, those relationships are still there but increasingly, the importance of the relationship between the U.S. and India coming to the fore.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And how important that is if they're going to be part of this China puzzle that you're talking about--

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Absolutely. Again, there is a real reason to call this the Indo-Pacific, not just the Pacific Command.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. And then maybe a little outside of the China piece, maybe not, Russia. Would love to get your thoughts on Vladimir Putin, his mindset, how he thinks about the world, why he does what he does, and is there a way for us to moderate that behavior. Is there a big idea there?

DAVID PETRAEUS:

I think there is. And I think it starts with understanding Vladimir Putin's objectives. What is it that he seeks to achieve as the leader of Russia? And I think quite simply, it's useful to recall that in the previous century, he noted that the worst day of the 20th century was that which saw the dissolution of the Soviet Union. And he really means that.

And much of what he has done is sought to put Russia back onto the map, to give it a prominent place once again in the world; perhaps to restore certain elements of the Soviet Union or the Russian empire. And he sought to do this in a variety of ways. There's security relationships. None of these is significant as NATO or what used to lead the Warsaw Pact, but they are there.

There is an economic entity, the Eurasia Union, the E.E.U. It's a pale carbon copy of the E.U. but again another attempt to cobble together the near abroad that used to be dominated by the Russian empire, then the Soviet Union. At the end of the day, Putin has shown a willingness to use his forces.

They are not what they used to be, certainly, in the Soviet days. But they are significant and they have pioneered hybrid warfare; this warfare that is carried out in cyberspace as well as on the ground and in the air and at sea. It's used with forces that are somewhat ambiguous in what it is they actually are; the little green men with no unit patches and so forth that clearly were Special Forces from Russia in the occupation of Crimea, and then supporting separatists in southeast Ukraine, in the Donbass.

He has used Russian air power and Special Forces in Syria, basically to really tip the scales in that conflict, at a time when Bashar al-Assad, the ruthless dictator of Syria, was most teetering. All of a sudden, Russia came in and has enabled Bashar al-Assad essentially to take control of much of the country that was in a state of civil war.

So again, has played an increasingly significant role and a role that has been very unhelpful. Interfering in our own democratic election, the presidential election, attempting to put a finger on the scale of that, and may in fact have done just that; certainly inflamed differences that already existed by the exploitation of social media and using bots and all the other sophisticated means that they had in cyberspace.

So, Russia, not a helpful, not a contributing force to world politics from our vantage point, certainly. Clearly, a revisionist power, one that is not satisfied with the status quo. And so, what do we need to do? Again, the big idea would be to be firm. And I don't think we have been sufficiently firm on a couple of different occasions, with respect to Russia.

This is not to be provocative. We're not looking to start a fight or to incite a fight. But you know, why did it take two or three years for us to deliver to the Ukrainian forces shoulder-launched, anti-tank, guided missiles, which were approved by the Congress, authorized, and for which money was appropriated? And then there was a stall as to whether we would give-- these are not an offensive--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

--weapon system. You're not gonna run to Moscow with this heavy anti-tank weapon on your shoulder. But you will, in the defense, make Russian tanks pay a very heavy price if they continue further west in Ukraine, and for example, try to get a ground line of communications to Mariupol, the big port city, or all the way to Crimea.

So again, I think, now to be fair, there have been sanctions. There have been other actions taken. And many of these quite courageously led by Germany, the country in Europe that did the vast amount of trading with Russia. But again, I think you have to start by understanding what he has sought for his country as its authoritarian leader.

I think you have to acknowledge that Russia is more than just what some have pejoratively described as a gas station with guns, or a gas station with nukes. And it is a player. It's a player we should seek to engage. We should always have dialogue. And when it comes back to China and the biggest relationship in the world, we should very much have strategic dialogue with them.

It's imperative that they understand truly what are our vital national interests, in our interpretation. And we should understand what theirs are, and then try to figure out how to come to agreement in areas where there are differences. The same is true when it comes to Russia.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, one more question about national security. And then I want to come back to home, the United States. But radical Islam, jihadist Islam, extremist Islam, whatever you want to call it, what's the big idea around that?

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Well, I think there are five big lessons or big ideas we should've learned from this, and I'll try to go through these quickly, from the wars against Islamic extremists since 9/11, in particular. The first is that ungoverned spaces in the Muslim world will be exploited by Islamist extremists. The second is you actually have to do something about it.

You cannot do what we sometimes saw done by different administrations, where you study the problem until it goes away. It's not going away. Las Vegas rules do not obtain in these locations. What happens there doesn't stay there. They tend to be violent extremism, instability and a tsunami of refugees, not just into neighboring countries, but all the way into our allies in western Europe where the result has been a dramatic increase in domestic populism, identity politics and right-wing nationalism. The third big idea is the U.S. generally has to lead because, as you know, our capabilities are so vastly greater than all of our allies put together, times five or six when it comes to, for example, the drone galaxy that we can put up, this constellation almost of Predators and Reapers and so on.

That's not to say we don't want allies. We do. And we especially want Muslim countries as allies. This is, after all, a fight for the heart of the Muslim world, even more than it is a clash between different civilizations. So we do very much want coalitions. And the Obama and now Trump administrations' efforts to build the anti-I.S.I.S. coalition has been very, very important in this regard.

The fourth big idea is that you cannot counter terrorists, these Islamist extremists, with just counterterrorist force operations. You just can't drone strike or Delta Force raid your way out of this problem. You do have to employ those capabilities, but you have to do much, much more. You have to have a comprehensive approach.

But the ideal is that we are not doing all the different elements of the comprehensive approach, as we had to. There was no choice, say, in the case of the surge in Iraq where Ambassador Crocker and I oversaw a comprehensive civil/military counter-insurgency campaign. Rather, what we want is for the host nation forces to be doing the fighting on the front lines, to be doing the political reconciliation, to doing the restoration of basic services, the reconstruction, the reestablishment of schools and health clinics and local economies and all the rest of that.

And what we want to do is train and equip, advise and assist and enable. And enabling is especially done with, again, use of our unmanned aerial vehicles, with precision strike assets that we can employ to support host nation forces, and also the industrial strength fusion of intelligence that you understand so well, and is crucial to the overall conduct of these campaigns.

And then the fifth lesson is that this is a generational struggle at the least. And therefore, you have to have a sustained commitment. I understand fully why presidents want to end wars rather than to start them, why they want to get out of wars and do nation-building at home. All of that is absolutely understandable. In fact, I think no one understands it better than the individual who is privileged to command the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, knows the cost that is entailed.

But we do have to stay with this. Having said that, we need approaches that can be sustained for a generation. In other words, they're sustainable in terms of the expenditure of blood and treasure. And I believe that is possible. I think we have figured out how to do that. We have achieved that in Iraq. We have done that in Syria. Doesn't mean that we can go home. We need a sustained presence, a sustained commitment.

But we have figured out how to dramatically reduce the cost at least to the U.S. and the allies while noting that indeed host nations have borne a very, very heavy burden in this regard. But it is, after all, their countries for which they are fighting. Actually, we've taken fewer casualties in the past year than we lost in terms of training accidents. So, we have made enormous progress in this regard, although we have to continue to do that. But I think those are the five big lessons that we should've learned from this period of very long warfare. And they should inform the policy as we go forward.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And just to keep the theme going, as kind of the big ideas, there needs to be focus on them, there needs to be somebody in charge of them, they need to be resourced, and those people need to be held accountable.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Exactly right--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And that's how you make sure those things happen--

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Exactly right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, I wanna switch gears from foreign policy to our own country. And we just have a few minutes here.

As you know, we live in the most politically divisive time perhaps since Vietnam. We have big challenges here at home, and it's hard to think that we can get things right in the rest of the world without getting things right here first. So, I'm wondering if you have any thoughts, and I know this is taking you out of your career comfort zone at least. What do you see as the big ideas for the country, for the nation, for the United States as a whole?

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Well, interestingly, this is yet another subject that I've been digging into as part of the fellowship up at Harvard. And one of the studies ongoing with some brilliant research assistants is the state of democracy in America. And in one word, I describe it as disrupted. It is suffering from the various challenges that you noted. The center has been hollowed out.

Gerrymandering and a variety of other developments have meant that the base of parties almost determines the person who's eventually elected, because many of these districts have become bright red or bright blue because of gerrymandering and other developments. There's got to be a willingness to compromise.

This fight to the death for an issue which often results in nothing being done cannot be the way of business, going forward. Compromise cannot be a dirty word. Again, the center needs to be reestablished. And this involves a lot of different issues. Money and politics is certainly one of them. But the inability to deal with what might be termed headwinds that are legislative, policy and regulatory headwinds, and turn them into tailwinds in Congress and in the Executive branch-- so, it's in Washington.

Because many state and local governments are actually working as intended by the founders of the country. But coming to grips with issues such as fixing the education system so it doesn't leave 40% of Americans behind, serious investment in infrastructure to improve productivity of our workforce, coming to grips with the debt to G.D.P. ratio; that is a big deal. It's growing very rapidly right now.

Coming to grips with immigration. Can we not do comprehensive immigration reform? Certainly, secure our borders better, but also provide a legal pathway for unskilled workers, for agriculture, hospitality and other industries, and enable more H-1B visas to be brought here as well; the smart people who are so critical in Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley and Silicon Beach.

All of this needs to be addressed. In fact, I taught a course that was related to this for three and a half years at the Honors College of the City University of New York. It was titled the North America Decades, which was my answer to what comes after the American century, North America Decades, before the Chinese or Asian century.

But the number of decades would be determined by how well Congress in particular did in turning these legislative, regulatory and policy headwinds into tailwinds. And I've mentioned a number of topics where that needs to be done. And there are others as well.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, one more question. When you ran C.I.A., you came into my office one afternoon and we were chatting. And you said something to the effect that you loved the job, that it was an amazing job to be the director of C.I.A. Why did you feel that way?

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Well, it was the workforce and the mission, as you well know. There's just not a more patriotic, brilliant group of people in America, I don't think. And I've been privileged to work with some of the most spectacular of those in uniform. Indeed, all that volunteered in the wake of 9/11 are truly extraordinary when you think about what they were doing when they raised their right hand and took the oath of enlistment, recognizing that they were likely going to end up going to war in our country's uniform. But the C.I.A., people do that and they don't even expect that they're ever going to get a retirement parade or a medal that can be publicly--

MICHAEL MORELL:

No bands.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

--on display. There's no bands--

MICHAEL MORELL:

No bands.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

--and there's no big public events. There's none of that and they're just so intent on serving their country. Look, as you well know, folks in the C.I.A. can't even go home and tell their neighbors what they do, much less what they actually did that day.

You know, there's a variety of different sort of loose covers; i.e. that they're in the State Department or what have you. But if you think about the joys of life, certainly, I'm sure you found, post-government -- as I have -- I love talking about what it is I'm engaged in. And of course, while in the C.I.A., folks can't even do that, by and large.

So, it truly is an extraordinary group of Americans, and it was an extraordinary mission with tremendous scope, frankly, for independent activity, certainly all governed by findings and laws and everything else. And it was just marvelous, as you well know.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. David, you had a personal stumble, which I know you took responsibility for, you apologized for. You moved on. Lot of people wondering whether they'll see you back in public service at some point.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

Well, it's kind of you to ask. Look, I did. I made a mistake and acknowledged it, apologized for it, paid for it. And I've been incredibly fortunate, actually, to be able to build a post-government portfolio of activities that has been incredibly intellectually stimulating, keeps a roof over our head very nicely, and all the rest of that, and still does enable a certain degree of engagement with those in government who continue kindly to seek thoughts and advice from time to time.

But at the end of the day, again, serving one's country -- as you, again, know very, very well for having done it for some three or more decades -- is truly an extraordinary privilege. And I had that for some 38-and-a-half years. And I think that when those in government ask you to assist that you have to, at the very least, consider it very, very seriously--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, there is no greater privilege, I think--

DAVID PETRAEUS:

I agree with you.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--than public service.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

I agree. The sense of a mission that is larger than self, there's no place that you feel that more intensely than when you are in government.

MICHAEL MORELL:

David, thank you very much for being with us.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

It is great to be back with you again, wingman.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay. That was my nickname.

DAVID PETRAEUS:

It was (LAUGH) indeed--

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