From The Archives: A 2008 Conversation With Barbara Walters
A conversation from the archives with Barbara Walters about her 2008 memoir "Audition," a story of family challenges, celebrity gossip and blazing a trail in TV news.
Leon Panetta has held high-level posts under three presidents: Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He spent more than a dozen years in Congress, and served as defense secretary, CIA director and White House chief of staff. He has witnessed the inner workings of the U.S. government, as well as the wider world from a height few reach. In a new memoir, Panetta does not hold back in his critique of many familiar names who have been in the national spotlight. He criticizes Obama for what he considers to be leadership failures, and he addresses challenges the nation faces at home and abroad.
From Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace by Leon Panetta with Jim Newton. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Leon Panetta, 2014.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. To say that Leon Panetta's new memoir has created a stir is an understatement. The former defense secretary and CIA director has been accused of throwing President Obama under the bus. He criticizes his former boss for not leaving troops in Iraq after 2011 and for not intervening more quickly in Syria. He takes other national figures to task and reviews his own performance in various roles over decades in government. His new book is titled, "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace." Leon Panetta joins me in the studio. If you'd like to watch the program, you can go to drshow.org as we video stream live.
MS. DIANE REHMYou can also join us by calling 800-433-8850, send us an email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. It's good to see you again.
MR. LEON PANETTAIt's great to see you Diane. Thank you for having me.
REHMWell, it's my pleasure. I said in the intro that you've created quite a stir. You knew you were going to do that when you wrote this book. But clearly there were things you felt you had to say.
PANETTAYeah, you know, I wanted to tell my story because in many ways it's the American story. I'm the son of immigrants. And, you know, my parents came here with very little money and few skills. But they really believed that the reason they came here was to give their children a better life. And I had that opportunity and obviously had a chance to work in a number of positions, which tells you that opportunity is real in this country for those that seek it. And I wanted to describe all the various fights that I engaged in throughout my career, my public-service career.
PANETTAAnd hopefully, I wanted people to draw lessons from that, that in order for us to do what's right today, that we are going to have to fight to make sure that we keep this country strong.
REHMHow hard would you say you fought to get troops into Syria as that battle began to wage?
PANETTAWell, you know, when you saw the chaos in Syria and the president rightly said that Assad ought to come down and step down. I thought it was important for us, once having taken that position, that we would try to do everything necessary to try to help the opposition in that civil war. I mean, this has been a humanitarian disaster. You know, thousands and thousands of lives have been lost.
PANETTAAnd I thought, in order for us to try to develop an opposition that was moderate and that could provide the leadership necessary for not only confronting Assad, but in providing for some kind of rational transition to a better government, that we had to make an investment. And that it was important for us to help arm and train those elements that we thought could provide that kind of opposition to Assad.
REHMSo when the president used that phrase, the red line -- drawing a red line, how did you react to that?
PANETTAWell, I was secretary of defense at the time that he drew that red line, in which he said that Assad must not use their chemical weapons. We knew they had chemical weapons. We knew they had the potential for using those weapons. We knew how dangerous it would be if he did that. And so the president was right to draw that line and say that Assad should not use those chemical weapons. And that if he did, we would take action. I think that was the right step to take.
PANETTAAnd then when Assad used those chemical weapons and killed, you know, innocent men, women and children as a result of doing that -- and that was confirmed -- I thought it was important for the United States and for the president to take action to show that, when we say that a red line should not be crossed, we mean it.
PANETTAI think, when the president then kind of pulled back, you know, the sense was that he and Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel and others all indicated that we were going to take action. And then at the last minute there kind of was a change. He decided to send it to the Congress. I thought that that was a mistake and that it sent the wrong signal to the world that, when we say something and our credibility is on the line, that we were not going to stand by our word. I think that's -- it's important, as commander-in-chief, when you lay that kind of line down, that you stand by it.
REHMWhy do you think he did not?
PANETTAWell, it's a good question. And I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I guess he, you know, in part, the Brits had kind of backed away from supporting action there. That may have sent him a signal that perhaps our allies wouldn't be with us. I think, you know, there was some concern about, if we took these attacks, just exactly, you know, where would it lead and what would be the implications. And I think he was thinking about those implications as well.
PANETTAAnd I honestly don't know why they ultimately decided to send the issue to the Congress. Because, in the end, it was very clear that a line had been crossed. It was very clear that they had used chemical weapons. And the whole world was watching to see whether or not the United States would take action. And I think that was a -- that was a bad message.
REHMAnd so now the United States has taken some action by virtue of these air attacks. How sufficient do you think they are?
PANETTAWell, I think it was important for the president to take the stand that he did in confronting ISIS. I think ISIS is as fanatical, as dangerous, as evil as al-Qaida ever was. And they represent the same kind of threat, ultimately, to this country. So I'm glad that the president took the stand or taking on ISIS. We have now done this with a strategy that implements several approaches. One, is we have obviously placed some troops on the ground to try to develop the Iraqi military and make them a much more effective security force there, so we have individuals that are there training and embedding with them. That's important.
PANETTAWe are arming and training the rebels as well. We've made the decision to do that. That's going to take some time. We are conducting airstrikes, which I think are very important to try to stop the momentum that ISIS, you know, has developed. And I think they have been effective at doing that. And we've developed a coalition, a strong coalition. As a matter of fact, the president and our defense chief is meeting with other defense chiefs from these countries to try to better coordinate the effort there. And I think that's important. Other countries have to join with us if we are going to confront the threat of ISIS, which not only threatens our country, but threatens others as well.
PANETTAThe president has promised again and again, there will be no U.S. boots on the ground. Do you think ISIS can be contained without U.S. boots on the ground?
PANETTAWell, I think General Dempsey probably said it best of all, which is that, you know, we're going to need boots on the ground, but they don't have to be United States boots on the ground. And in Iraq, for example, I think we can rely on the Iraqi security forces once we've, you know, better trained them and developed the kind of strategies that have to be developed in order to get them back into the fight. And so I think they can certainly help provide the targets we need for our airstrikes and can do the job.
PANETTAIn Syria, it's much tougher because, obviously, we don't have that force that's been developed there. And so we're going to have to do that. We're going to have to develop and train and try to arm a group there that can represent an opposition force. That's going to take time. And I hope that we are successful in developing those kinds of opposition forces. Because it is going to be critical to our ability to go after ISIS's command and control headquarters, which are pretty much located in Syria.
REHMI must say, I'm curious about your reaction to those columnists, those writers, those commentators -- I even used the quote myself -- who feel you have, with this book and with portions thereof -- thrown President Obama under the bus. How do you feel about that?
PANETTAWell, you know, I wish they would take the time to read the book. You know, as I said in the book, I was honored to serve this president. I respect the president. He was very supportive of the operations that I was involved in, both CIA and the secretary of defense. He certainly strongly supported the operation against Bin Laden. So he did provide strong leadership. And I -- we've had differences. But overall, I really do respect this president as one who can provide strong leadership for this country.
PANETTAMy concern is what's going to happen in this country at the present time, when we are facing political gridlock and the dysfunction in Washington, when we're facing these threats abroad, when we're facing major issues here at home as a result of, you know, a lot of political confrontation. And I'm not saying dealing with this Congress is easy. It's tough. But presidents have had to deal with tough Congresses. And I think it's important for neither the president or the leadership to give up -- to give up on a budget deal, to give up on immigration reform, to give up on the issues that confront us in energy, et cetera. I think it is important for this president to get into the fight and make sure that we provide a strong America.
REHMLeon Panetta, former secretary of defense and CIA director. His new book, titled, "Worthy Fights." Short break, right back.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Leon Panetta is my guest. He's got a brand new memoir. It's titled "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace." Just before the break you were talking about the failure of congress. What about the failure of the president to show the leadership necessary in this time of crisis?
PANETTADiane, I've seen Washington at its best and Washington at its worst. And in the book I describe, you know, a Washington in which Republicans and Democrats and Democratic and Republican presidents work together on issues and confront its challenges facing this country. It wasn't easy. Obviously there were politics involved at the time. But both sides really believed that ultimately it was important to work together.
PANETTAAnd I believe that that's the case today. I mean, in 50 years I've never seen Washington as divided, as partisan, as dysfunctional as it is today. And I know the president is frustrated by having to deal with congress and some of their objections and barriers that they've put up to try and get things done . But he can't just stand back. He's got to get involved in the fight. He's got to be able to engage the leadership of the congress, both parties, in order to continue the effort to try to find solutions to the problems facing this country.
PANETTAIf we have another two-and-a-half years of stalemate, and that may be likely regardless of what happens in the next election, another two-and-a-half years of stalemate where we don't deal with the issues confronting this country, where we don't deal with all of the threats that are out there in the world, I think it could weaken this country for the future. And that's something I don't want because my parents believed in the American Dream for our children and I want us to make sure that that dream is real for everyone.
REHMYou certainly know, as well as I, that on the day after President Obama was elected, those on the Republican side stated that it was their number one goal to ensure he would not be re-elected and to do everything in their power to block him. With -- I mean, I cannot, in all my years, remember an opposition party coming out so strongly and drastically against a brand new president. And yet you say in the past people have worked together. Republicans from the start said, we're not going to work with him.
PANETTAWell, I've -- I am one that knows that governing is not easy. It just is not easy. It's a challenge.
REHMBut what could he have done in the face of that kind of blanket opposition? What could he have done?
PANETTAWell look, you know, President Clinton faced an opposition on his budget plan and we had to turn to Democrats to ultimately get some things done and we did. And this president did the same on dealing with the economy and dealing with health care. But he got things done. He was able to get things done.
REHMHe did get a fair amount done, as a matter of fact in those few years.
PANETTAYeah -- no, that's right. That's right. And what I'm saying is you can't give up on that fight. You've got to continue. Even Bill Clinton, when the congress went Republican after the first two years, he could've just, you know, kind of given up and said, I can't deal with the Republican congress.
REHMDo you think Mr. Obama has given up?
PANETTAI get the sense that there isn't a willingness to engage and to continue the fight to do what's necessary. I mean, look, we're dealing, for example, with immigration reform.
PANETTAImmigration reform passed the Senate. There are Republicans who believe that immigration reform ought to take place. I think that that's an area where we can engage. We ought to try to seek out those who are willing to support that, combined with the Democrats. I think there's a chance we could pass immigration reform. But it's going to take work. You know, everything I've seen in my experience is that if you want something you have to go after it.
PANETTAI mean, Abraham Lincoln, when he was going after the 13th Amendment, decided he would even buy boats if necessary in order to pass the 13th Amendment. Well, that's the kind of fight you have to engage in if you want to get things done.
REHMSo if you were standing next to the president right now, what step would you ask him to take in order to get immigration reform done?
PANETTAI think to get immigration reform he has got to delegate people from his administration to sit down with key leaders in the congress, both Republican and Democrat, and engage in a negotiations to come forward with an immigration reform bill that can be brought to both the House -- and the Senate's already passed one. I think the House is close to being able to pass one. But I think you've got to initiate that kind of negotiation in order to be able to get it done.
PANETTAAnd people in that room have to be given support. They have to establish trust. I've been in a lot of sessions. I've been in every budget summit when I was in the congress. Republicans and Democrats in a room, leadership basically told us, get in that room, put everything on the table and don't come out of there until you cut a deal.
REHMWhat do you think is holding him back? Has he become so discouraged and so angry at a congress that will not work with him that he has given up?
PANETTAI think he is discouraged. I think he's frustrated. I think he's angry. I'm not saying it's not legitimate because, you know, when you're dealing with members that basically want to shut the government down, a number of them do, don't care about government really working, that is frustrating. And it's angering.
PANETTABut you're the President of the United States and the country depends on you as president not to suddenly sit back and kind of assume that because of that opposition, we're not going to be able to get immigration. We're not going to be able to fund the infrastructure. We're not going to be able to get trade done. We're not going to get a budget deal. No president, no president can sit back and allow this country to simply be in gridlock for another two years.
REHMYour book has come out just prior to midterm elections. Some say that may hurt Democrats even further. Indeed very few Democrats want President Obama with them on the stump. How do you respond to that?
PANETTAYou know what, I think that the issue that I raise in my book is the issue about whether we're going to govern this country. And very frankly, I don't mind the issue of governing being an issue in every campaign that's taking place in this country. And people in this country should vote for that candidate who wants to govern this country, not to tear it down, not to fight whether or not our government can work, but whether or not they can really work at governing this country. That ought to be the fundamental issue in every campaign.
REHMAnd do you think President Obama has not been able to govern this country?
PANETTAI think the president knows how to get things done. He's gotten things done for this country. I've seen him do it but you have to stay constantly in the ring and you have to keep fighting. That's what it takes. And this country -- I mean, our whole history is a country, is a country of the American people having the grit and the courage and the dedication and commitment to be willing to sacrifice to get things done. That's what my father did, that's what millions of others have done in order to succeed. And that's the example frankly that both the president and the congress need to follow.
REHMHere's an email from Madelyn who says, "It's easy to say we should put together a coalition of moderate opposition elements to fight Assad. I'd like Mr. Panetta to identify those opposition fighters whom we can trust as partners."
PANETTAWell, it's a good question and that's exactly what we have to do. I mean, the opposition in Syria, we've known from the very beginning, is literally made up of hundreds of different elements some of whom are extremists, some of whom are Jihadists, some of whom are al-Qaida, some of whom are ISIS. And some are dedicated to trying to change what's happening in Syria. The problem from the beginning is that we never really work to identify those elements and then support them to develop the kind of leadership that was necessary in order for an opposition group to be able effectively to confront Assad.
PANETTAAnd that's why I thought, you know, when the recommendation was made a couple years ago that we should arm and train those elements, I thought that made sense. Now the president has made the decision to do that. You know, I think it's still important to try to see if we can develop that kind of opposition force because that represents the hope of the future that not only can we confront ISIS with that kind of force, but we can ultimately confront Assad as well.
REHMDo you think the other Arab countries will fight alongside?
PANETTAI think it's important with this coalition that we've built in confronting ISIS to get them to work with us in the effort to identify those elements of the opposition that can be supported. And as a matter of fact, Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow us to train some of these elements in their country. Jordan has always been supportive of doing that kind of thing. I think Turkey could be supportive as well. These countries recognize that we are not going to be able to confront the chaos in Syria without some kind of effective opposition force.
REHMYou said if we don't confront the Islamic State we could be in for a 30-year war.
PANETTAI think this is part of what I call kind of a long continuum in the war on terrorism that goes back to 9/11. On 9/11 when al-Qaida attacked this country and killed 3,000 people we went to war. Went to war against al-Qaida, went to war against terrorism. And, you know, we have had some success in undermining their leadership and preventing them from conducting another 9/11 attack. But terrorism has metastasized. We see it with ISIS. We see it in Boko Haram in Nigeria. We see it with al-Shaba'ab in Somalia.
PANETTAThere are different elements of terrorism that exist out there. And what we need to do is to develop a comprehensive strategy, not just focused on ISIS. Obviously ISIS is the target right now. But if we are to be successful in this war on terrorism we are not only going to have to confront ISIS, we are going to have to confront other elements of terrorism as well in order to ultimately win this war.
REHMLeon Panetta. His new book is titled "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you believe that the U.S. will be sending men and women to fight on the ground in Syria?
PANETTAI pray that that is not necessary, that we can develop those opposition forces to do it. I do have to tell you that kind of my view of the commander in chief's role is that you have to be willing to listen to your military leaders as we confront this war. We are going to have -- you know, we're dealing with an ISIS that is well trained, well armed. They have -- and they're well funded. They have a leadership that is able to really develop the kind of battlefield strategy that is working pretty effectively. They're moving against this town Haqqani (sic) and trying to put pressure there. At the same time they're moving in Anbar Province and moving against Anbar.
PANETTAWe are going to have to be flexible. We're going to have to adapt to these kinds of strategies. And I guess what I would say is I want the president to listen to our military leaders and make decisions that allow us the opportunity to be able to confront ISIS and ultimately win this war.
REHMAnd considering the fact that the American people have no desire to go back into war, would you still feel that the president should listen to the generals as opposed to the people?
PANETTAI think, you know, the responsibility of the president as commander and chief is obviously to work with the military leaders. He's the one who ultimately makes the final decisions as to what takes place. And that's right in our system of government. But I also think the responsibility of the president is to educate the American people about what we're confronting. And I think he has to make clear to the American people that we are in a war against terrorism, against ISIS and that it may be a very prolonged war. And it's going to take patients. It's going to take determination but ultimately it's the right war because our responsibility is to protect our country.
REHMI want to ask you about Benghazi because in your memoir you say you want to set the record straight. In your words briefly, what happened?
PANETTABenghazi was tragic. You know, we lost the life of an ambassador and others who were involved there. So it really is -- it's a tragedy. It -- you know, a lot of committees, there was a commission, all of them looked at what happened in Benghazi. And I think most have come to the same conclusion as to what happened. We -- on that day, 9/11, we were looking at threats in other parts of the world that might take place as a result of, you know, terrorists trying to take advantage of that day. But we did not have intelligence that indicated that Benghazi would be one of those places. I certainly did not see any intelligence on that.
PANETTAAnd when we got word that an attack was taking place in Benghazi, we told -- General Dempsey and I met with the president and told him that that attack was taking place. And the president directed us to do everything we could to try to help those that might be in need of help there. And so I went back to the Pentagon and issued orders that deployed our forces to be ready to go in if we had to provide help. The problem is that the time it takes to be able to move our forces into place, it took -- you know, the attack was over by the time we were able to do it.
PANETTAI don't think anybody intentionally made a decision not to help these people. We did everything possible to try to help them and it just didn't work. And it's unfortunate but I hope we take every step to make sure it doesn't happen again.
REHMShort break, right back.
REHMAnd if you just joined us, former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta is with me. He has served in Congress. He's held many high ranking positions under three presidents. And now he's written his memoir. It's titled, "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace." Before I open the phones, I want to ask you one follow up question on Benghazi. Many Republicans and many right wing politicians have said that the president or the administration lied about what happened in Benghazi. Is there any evidence that there were lies on the table?
PANETTANo. I certainly have not seen any evidence. In my experience, did not experience anybody who lied about what took place. What, one of the things that happened, that created the controversy, were the talking points that CIA had developed, that indicated that it was a demonstration that got out of hand. I don't -- I'm not quite sure why they came to that conclusion. It certainly wasn't my sense at the time. But, you know, they looked at the intelligence and that's where they came.
PANETTAI think those talking points were wrong. I think they probably should have -- the talking points should have said we are investigating this matter and we have not determined exactly what happened. That should have been the talking points.
REHMAnd let's stop right there.
REHMUntil they knew more.
REHMDo you think that, you know, Republicans are still pursuing this and making it a big deal in the election?
PANETTAYeah, I know. I know. I've seen that, and I assume they'll continue to try to beat that shoe up.
REHMRight through 2016.
PANETTABut I think the American people need to know that whether it was the commission that looked at it or whether it was the committees in Congress, both Republican committees on the House side or Senate committees, or Democratic committees on the Senate side, that all of them have come to the same conclusion. That, there, that it was unfortunate. That it happened, but that, you know, there is nobody who bears the fault for what took place. But, everyone needs to learn the lessons about what we need to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.
REHMHere is a tweet. Leon Panetta, what was your biggest regret as CIA chief or Secretary of Defense?
PANETTAMy biggest regret was the attack that took place at Host, that took seven CIA lives. We were trying to pursue a lead that we thought might take us to Bin Laden, ultimately. And we were using an agent that the Jordanians thought was credible. And so, we were in the process of trying to set up a meeting with him, to try to see whether he was credible. We set up that meeting. He came into a compound. He had a suicide vest, and he set it off. And it killed seven of our agents, plus wounded a number of others. And I just always have felt, perhaps, we could have done better in not having that happen.
REHMThat goes back to the trust factor, doesn't it, in putting boots on the ground with forces that you may not control?
PANETTANo, that's exactly right. When -- I mean, look, there are risks involved in war. And when you put people on the ground to engage in a risky operation, you have to be very careful that you take all the steps necessary to try to protect lives. But when those lives were lost, it was a blow to me and to the CIA.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Mark in Oklahoma City. Good morning. You're on the air.
REHMHi there. You're on the air.
MARKMy recollection of President Obama drawing the red line, saying that Assad would cross the red line if he used chemical weapons, and what happened after that is different than Secretary Panetta's, who I hate to say -- it seems like Secretary Panetta's recollection is closer to the president's worst enemies. My recollection is that the President said that if Assad used chemical weapons, it would be a red line. He would take military action. The president then proceeded to give a speech to the nation in which he said that he was going to take military action.
MARKAnd he didn't quote, turn it over to Congress and Congress undermined him so much as it was that there was a huge backlash when the President said that he was going to take military action against Syria, from the American public. That didn't want to get initiated in another war in the Middle East. And from Congress that didn't want to initiate another war in the Middle East. But Vladimir Putin, for one, knew that the President was not bluffing. The President knew he was not bluffing.
MARKVladimir Putin, at the last minute, convinced Assad that he was not bluffing, and therefore Assad proceeded to agree to eliminate most, if not all, of his worst chemical weapons without the President having to take military action and bomb anything. I'm calling to see, in the revisionist history of this experience, that Obama is the one to capitulate and not Putin and Assad.
PANETTAWell, you know, obviously, we all can have our views as to how we thought this played out. But my view was that the President, having drawn that line, when we received evidence that, in fact, they were conducting chemical attacks against their own people, and verified it, that it was important for us to take action at that point. And yes, you know, you speak to the American people, you're concerned about a backlash. You're concerned about, you know, how people will react to it, but as Commander In Chief, your first concern ought to be to make sure that when we say we're going to do something, we do it.
REHMAnd to Indianapolis. Steve, you're on the air.
STEVEYes Diane, thank you for taking my call.
STEVECan I please speak to comments that you already made? But I have a problem with people like Mr. Panetta who, I have to say, I've long admired. Not really understanding the fact, or worse, not wanting to understand the fact that this President has faced an entirely different and unique set of circumstances and oppositions than any other President before him. When these right wing Congressmen go home, at their town meetings, they use some of the most vitriolic, hateful and disrespectful language that I have ever heard spoken of about any President, including Bill Clinton.
STEVEOkay, so that's one thing that I disagree with Mr. Panetta about. The other thing is that every foreign policy success, and I have a great admiration for Hillary Clinton, but every foreign policy success is attributed to her and every foreign policy failure is attributed to Barack Obama by (unintelligible) like Mr. Panetta.
PANETTAWell, you know, look, let me respond to a couple things. Number one, I know how tough this Congress is, and I know how bad some of these members are that want to tear down the government, shut the government down. To, you know, pass crazy things like sequester that hurt the American people. And yet, when I was both Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense, I was able to, you know, to kind of reach out and get pretty much bipartisan support for some of the things that I needed to do.
PANETTAAnd I think there are members there, Republican members, that really are interested in trying to govern. Sure, there's the Tea Party members, and yes there are some that would raise opposition. But you've gotta reach out to those that do want to govern. Establish trust and be able to get it done. Bill Clinton, when he faced a Republican Congress that was opposing him at every step of the way, went through a shutdown. But then came around and started working with them and passed healthcare legislation and passed welfare reform.
PANETTAPassed budget deals that were very important for the country. You can still get it done, but you have to reach out and you have to make it happen. On the foreign policy successes, those belong to the President. Secretary Clinton and I worked for the President, but in the end, it was the President that made the decisions that gave us what foreign policy successes we achieved.
REHMWould you like to see Hillary Clinton run for President?
PANETTAWell, you know, I'm very friendly with her and I've, you know, worked with her in many capacities, and I think she is someone who is dedicated to this country. She's going to have to make the decision whether she runs. I think it would be good for the country to have someone like her running for President of the United States.
REHMIf she runs, would you be a supporter?
REHMIs she your candidate?
PANETTAWell, you know, she's the closest thing to what I think would represent a strong, Democratic candidate in 2016.
REHMHow do you think she might have handled Syria differently? I know she wanted to put troops in there early on. How do you think, if that had been the case, we'd see a different outcome today?
PANETTAYou know, Diane, you never know how...
PANETTA...others might have to make those same decisions. And I don't like to guess at whether, you know, it would have been different or not. I do know that she's committed to protecting this country. I think the President is committed to protecting this country. There are going to be differences in judgment as to what are the best steps. But I think it's really important in the world of today where we face so many different threats. I mean, it isn't just ISIS. It's Iran, it's Russia, it's China. It's cyber-attacks. It's North Korea.
PANETTAIn that kind of world, it is very important for the United States to provide strong world leadership. As the President himself said, when crisis happens, people don't call Russia or China. They call the United States.
REHMIf the US, under President George W. Bush, had not gone into Iraq, would we be facing the same challenges we are today?
PANETTAWell, again, hard to predict what kind of history would have resulted had we not gone in to Iraq.
REHMWas that a mistake?
PANETTAOh, I think it was, based on, you know, the intelligence failure that obviously everybody thought he had chemical, or nuclear weapons. And that wasn't the case. And I also thought it wasn't directed at Al Qaeda. That the effort in Afghanistan was clearly directed at our enemy. So, I do think that, you know, it was a mistake. And at the same time, once it happened, obviously, we had an obligation to try to do everything we could to make sure that Iraq could secure and govern itself.
PANETTAIf we had not gone in, I suspect that, at some point, we probably would have still had to confront Saddam Hussein.
REHMWhat role do you think Secretary -- sorry, Vice President Cheney played?
PANETTAYou know, not having been there, you don't know all the ins and outs, but it's pretty clear from what he says that, you know, I think he was a strong, a strong advocate for going to war against Saddam Hussein.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Matt in St. Augustine, Florida. Hi, you're on the air.
MATTDiane. I just wanted to say with Saudi Arabia being one of the biggest armies in the world, wouldn't they be the choice, military, to be in Syria? Whereas Iraq can basically, you know, be taught again to defend themselves, for better or for worse. I think that the most attention should be brought to Syria whenever it comes to reliable allied forces in the area. And I know that you had spoken about that earlier, and I just wanted to get some clarification as to who would be spearheading the operation against ISIS, if not America?
PANETTAI think, I think you're right to point out, you know, the military strength that we have in Saudi Arabia. They're well equipped. They've got a very strong Air Force and I think they could be, certainly, very helpful as part of a coalition force. I think the UAE could be a strong member of the coalition force.
PANETTAAnd Turkey. And others could certainly help provide not only the equipment and arms that are needed, but indeed some boots on the ground to try to assist us in this effort. We're seeing this play out with Turkey and this town of Kobani. Clearly, it would help if Turkey ultimately could deploy some forces there to try to protect that town and try to prevent the kind of humanitarian crisis that we're facing.
REHMWhat's next for you?
PANETTAFor me, I'm enjoying being back home in Carmel Valley. My home. And my wife and I run an Institute for Public Policy. And our goal is to try and inspire young people to get involved in public life.
REHMHow do you do that?
PANETTAWe have a series of programs to try to get them interested in public issues. We have an internship program back here in Washington, where we pay for everything and have them come back and serve both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress. We have a leadership program. We do a lecture series that tries to provide education on the issues to students. We have a master's program on public policy. So, there's a number of things that we're doing to try to get them inspired to get involved in public service. I was inspired. I want to make sure young people know that they can make a difference.
REHMFinally, if Republicans take the Senate, are we in for two and a half more years of gridlock?
PANETTAIf things don't change, I'm afraid we are in for another two and a half years of stalemate. But at the same time, if that happens, I think it could also provide an opportunity. I don't think the Senate, considering that in two years, the number of Democratic seats are going to be, you know, in play here and Republican seats are going to be in play. And they think it might very well may flip again if we lose it this time around. I don't think the Senate is going to be able to go to the American people if they oppose every effort by the President to try to get something done.
PANETTASo it could be an opportunity, much as Bill Clinton worked with a Republican Congress to try to develop, hopefully, some compromises that can get some things done for this country.
REHMLeon Panetta. His new memoir is titled, "Worthy Fights." How great to see you.
PANETTANice to see you, Diane. Thank you.
REHMThank you. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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