tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg October 30, 2021 9:00am-9:31am EDT
david: this is my kitchen table and also my filing system. over much of the past three decades, i have been an investor. the highest calling of mankind, have often thought was private equity, and then i started interviewing. i watch your interviews. i know how to do some interviews. i have learned in doing my interviews how leaders make it to the top. >> i asked him how much he wanted. he said 250. i said, fine. i didn't negotiate with him. and i did no due diligence. david: i have something i would
like to sell you. and how they stay there. you don't feel inadequate now that you are only the second wealthiest man in the world, right? [laughter] the most senior person in the u.s. military is always the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. the 20th person to hold that title is general mark milley. he was appointed by president trump and continues to serve under president biden. i had a chance recently to sit down with him at the national archives and ask him about a range of civilian and military issues the chairman faces. this is where our constitution, the original copy of the constitution is stored. it is right over there. what does the constitution mean to you as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff? gen. milley: for us, and i would argue for all of us in uniform, we swear an oath, and that is to the constitution. we are sworn to protect and support and defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. we don't take an oath to an individual, a king, queen, tribe, or anything like that. we take the oath to the idea of america. that idea is in documents like the constitution, and that is a solemn oath. i and those that came before me
and those that came after me, we swear that oath that we are willing to sacrifice everything to protect and defend that document, that is america. david: so the joint chiefs of staff, to me, is one of the great titles in washington. you are the most important military person. but what does that really mean to be chairman of the joint chiefs of staff? what is your real job? gen. milley: by law, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is an advisor to the president, the secretary of defense, the national security council, and what used to be colby homeland security council. it is strictly an advisory role. you are not in chain of command. the chain of command is the president to the sec. defense, the commanders, and/or the secretaries of the military departments. the job is strictly advisory. but at the same time, you are in the chain of communication. so routine communications
between the president and secretary of defense in the commanders typically goes through the chairman of the joint chiefs. so you are very much involved, but you have no decision authority. you don't make decisions. you advise the president and others on their decisions that they will make. david: to be realistic about it, when the president of the united states wants to do something militarily, he relies on the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. you are his advisor. when he toshi what he wants to do, i assume you tell other military officials. while you are not technically in the chain of command, it doesn't seem like other people around you? is that right? gen. milley: no, they typically don't. but i am one of the advisors. the chairman's job is to be the chairman of the body, a group called the joint chiefs of staff, consisting of the chiefs of each of the services -- army, navy, air force, marines, space force, and the national guard as well.
and so the joint chiefs as a body, what i do is i represent their views, including dissenting opinions, but every one of them by law is considered an independent advisor to the president. anyone of them can invoke their right to go and talk to the president about a certain topic. in addition to that, the combatant commanders, the field commanders, if you will, they also provide their best military advice or what some would consider military advice to the president and they should and can and do all the time. so i am one of several advisors. in the law, i am the principal military advisor, but not the only military advisor. david: a couple of years ago you went to see the president of the united states, president trump, and it was reported that you were probably going to become the supreme allied commander in europe, a very important position, and you emerged from that meeting as the projected chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. were you surprised that you got that position rather than the one people thought you were going to get? gen. milley: i knew when i went over there that i was interviewing to be chairman of
the joint chiefs and any other position that the president deemed necessary. the first question president trump said to me, the first, he said was, "you are here to interview to be chairman of the joint chiefs of staff." it was myself, the white house chief of staff kelly, and the president. we had an hour-long conversation. at the end he said thank you very much, and made the offer to have me be his chairman. all of us serve at the pleasure of the president. so whenever you are asked for any duty position, as a soldier, you execute the will of the president. david: so when you become the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, does your wife call you mr. chairman? your children treat you with greater respect, how does that work? gen. milley: no, in fact, i am very lucky to have met my wife, and we were married in 1985. she has been with me through thick and thin the entire time. she is an incredible woman, nurse, still practices as a nurse. she keeps me grounded, and both my son and daughter keep me grounded. david: so you have had a lot of publicity for some things you
had to deal with in your time as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. we will go through a couple of them. one of them are the events in lafayette square. you have publicly addressed that. essentially, you did not expect to be seen as any political role, because that is not your job. is that right? gen. milley: absolutely. i found out quickly as i look ed forward and saw the press being set up, i realized it was a political event and i got out of the way. and i regret that then. and i made comments about it. you know, some people think, you know, that that is an ok thing, to be walking to the president. i don't. walking with the president is fine, but if it is a strictly political event, and that was,
the uniform should not be there. we have a long tradition going way back of an apolitical military, and we in uniform must make every effort to remain apolitical, not be involved in the actual domestic politics of the united states. in that was a moment where i realized what was happening and i broke away. it is important that i broke away and it is important that i apologized publicly for it so that those in uniform know that the standard is an apolitical military. david: so let's talk about the events of january 6. i assume you may have thought about that a bit. gen. milley: sure. david: in hindsight, do you think some it could have done a better job of protecting the capitol, or whoever it was, could have done a better job? gen. milley: i will let the january 6 commission and the other various investigations do the postmortems on it. it is obvious the capitol was breached. it was a very significant event, one of the most significant events in recent history. i will let the historians and the commission and investigators sort through that. david: ok. you also had afghanistan. we have withdrawn from afghanistan after 20 years. the exit from afghanistan is one where we lost 13 u.s. military in the process.
in the hindsight, could the exit have been executed better? gen. milley: there is a few things that could have been done better. one is the intelligence piece. you know, and army that was on paper, 350,000, maybe on paper 250,000, maybe, not 100% sure of the number, i suppose, but an army and police force of that size and government that literally collapses in 11 days, that was a surprise. so that's something that we need to figure out how and why that happened. it almost sounds like a malcolm gladwell tipping point study. it is something we need to sort out. and why is it that we didn't see that. i think that's really important. another one i think is the timing of our response. so, we had collapsed most of our military and most of the nato allies by the middle of july and the bases associated with them had been transitioned over to
the afghan military. all that went relatively smoothly without many hiccups. and that was going on really for quite a while, probably the better part of a year, that was going pretty well. so the noncombatant evacuation is the piece you're talking about. that is an operation where we had troops, some were prepositioned in the middle east in the event of that contingency, some of which came from continental united states. and we deployed them very, very rapidly, took control of an airfield, the kabul international airfield, in a hostile environment. and we did that eight and a half time zones away. we set up 27 intermediate staging bases around the world. and in a very short period of time, less than three weeks, we were evacuating 124,000 people. first two days, the first 48 hours of that was very dramatic. people were hanging off airplanes, massing on the airfield, some of them were in
the wheel wells. it was very tragic. and then at the tail end, we we had an incident where a suicide bomber went up to a patrol or a perimeter manned by marines and killed 13 of our, 11 marines and a soldier and a navy corpsman. and that was a tactical event that happened, that has strategic consequence. ♪ david: so let's talk about your own background. it wasn't preordained that you would become chairman of the joint chiefs of staff when you were growing up, i assume. gen. milley: sure. david: so, your family had been in the military. your father was an iwo jima and your mother was in the military as well. is that right?
gen. milley: my dad and my mother -- they were both in the navy. my dad was a navy corpsman. and then when he finished the corpsman training he went into the -- he was assigned to the 4th marine division. he was a navy corpsman, fourth marine division. he did the assault landings at -- he saw a lot of combat. grew up some of a massachusetts, graduated from high school and then from high school, went right into the navy to be a corpsman. my mother graduated from st. mary's high school in winchester, massachusetts and she went into the navy, also in the medical corps and served out of the hospital in seattle taking care of the wounded coming back from the pacific. very proud of their service.
both of them passed on, but that generation was very special. david: when i read about your background, i saw boston and a very fancy high school, belmont high school. in princeton, i figured he must be a boston brahmin a wealthy boston family. is that right? gen. milley: not at all. neither one of my parents went to college. we grew up in a working-class neighborhood and my dad never made much money at all. my mother worked steadily the entire time, which is very rare in those days. and they emphasized sports and education. and i was very fortunate to go to a catholic grammar school, which emphasized education, had some decent grades, and had an opportunity to go to the school called belmont hill, which had a great hockey program and i played for a great coach. i got recruited by them and played for that high school. i had a real great opportunity. david: so you went to princeton and graduated in 1980 from princeton. and were you a star in the
hockey world, or did you think you would go to the nhl? gen. milley: i thought, starting out, i could go to the nhl. i quickly learned that the competitiveness of college hockey was probably not in my future, but i was ok. i was a state player. i was decent, but not a star. david: did you lose a lot of your teeth playing hockey in princeton? gen. milley: not at princeton, but i have lost four teeth . david: playing hockey? gen. milley: playing hockey. i broke my jaw, probably got more than 100 stitches in my face, lost four teeth. so i have a face for radio, dave. david: when you were at princeton, did a lot of people say, i want to be in the military, or were most were going into private equity, a hedge fund? were you an outlier being in the military at princeton? gen. milley: for sure. i grew up in a neighborhood that emphasized patriotism and the idea that this country was an amazing country that you have opportunities that are not available elsewhere.
so early on, i decided i did not wanted to serve. i wanted to be in the nhl, but i wanted to serve my country as well. so when i went to school, there was an opportunity to join rotc. and i did that. so i played hockey, joined rotc, and tried to study once in a while. in the rotc program, i was attracted to it. i never thought i would make a career in the military. thought i would do my four years and i had a scholarship. do my four years, and then get out and move on, as you say. david: so you go into the military and after four years, you discharge or obligation, your rotc obligation, then you can go into whatever you want to do, but you decide to make it a career, is that right? gen. milley: well, i decided to take it in small chunks. i really enjoyed the military. i was in the infantry and in the special forces, and i wanted to stay through company command, then captain level, and see how that worked out. once i was captain, i stayed
through major. i was taking it in small chunks. i never had a long-range plan, whatsoever, for my personal career in the military. got married along the way, had children, but i never had to look back and regret because i love the military and the people that i have served with. david: when playing hockey, you can lose your teeth but in combat, you can lose your life. gen. milley: sure. david: so when were you first in combat and you thought "i could lose my life?" gen. milley: well, first combat for me was panama in 1989. you can lose your life a lot of ways in the military. military is a very dangerous occupation, even when you are not in combat. so whether it is in training or in combat, our soldiers and our sailors, airmen and marines, are sacrificing a lot, day in, day out, 24/7 to keep this country safe. so losing your life is something that everyone in uniform has to come to grips with. it is not just combat.
but for me, the first time in combat was in panama in 1989. david: did you think you would get shot and killed there? were you worried? what did your parents say? gen. milley: my father was very upset. my mother, very religious, she accepted things. the lord will be with you, sort of attitude. my dad had seen a lot of combat in world war ii was not keen on his son being in combat. david: did your parents live to see you rise up to be a general or some senior officer? gen. milley: no, my mother passed away in the 1990's, so i would have been a major at the time. my father did. my father lived to see may be a general. my father was always proud of my service. he talked to me about his experiences many, many times. but look, he was a kid. he was 18, 19, 20 when the war ended. hit the beach, best friends killed, just saw some intense battles, and he and i talked about his experiences and my experience frequently later in
his life. but he was always very proud. he loved the country and those in uniform. david: what you think the greatest military risk the united states faces? gen. milley: there is no question in my mind that the biggest geostrategic challenge to the united states will be china. ♪ david: as a military leader you are strain on what you can say. do think corporate leaders or other official should be commenting on public issues like climate change or racial discrimination or should people do their jobs? gen milley: americans are smart people and are involved publicly in a wide variety of issues and we have freedom of speech in the
document for reason. americans should express their opinion on any wide variety of topics they should so choose. david: do you have anybody wearing say you can't say that or can say that? gen. milley: we are unique. the 1%, we give up some of our rights so 99% can have all of our rights. i don't have complete freedom of speech. even in retirement. i think it is good that any american expresses their opinion on a wide variety of topics. i think that is a demonstration of a healthy democracy. david: do you see a sense of a military doing things differently after george floyd's murder. our military and arguably any in the world is a reflection of the society we come from. so what issues and controversies are out there in the general society, they will be reflected in the military as well. one of our tasks as officers or
noncommissioned officers is to maintain good order and discipline and also understand what is going on. it is important for our leaders to keep up with things that are important in the public realm and that we are able to help explain and help those understand what is going on around them because our soldiers are a reflection of our society. david: so as we look at the military situation the united states faces today, what do you think the greatest military risk the united states faces, is it from russia, china, other places? gen. milley: i think it is china, and i have said that publicly many times. i think as we look to the future, and i think we are living in a historical epic, actually, where we are seeing the rise of the country that is unlike something we have seen probably ever before.
and it is one of the great historical pivot points we have witnessed, which is the rise of china. and from the reforms of 1979 and deng xiaoping up till today, which is, i guess that is what 42 years or so, four decades, they have had an incredible economic run. and with that they've developed a military that's really significant. as we go forward over the next 10, 20, 25 years, there's no question in my mind that the biggest geostrategic challenge to the united states is going to be china. of that, i have no doubt at all. russia is important. not unimportant at all. russia has very significant military capabilities. north korea and iran are still there. terrorists are going to be around for quite a while. but i think china is clearly the most significant geostrategic threat we face. david: as we talk today, there have recently been some reports that the chinese have hypersonic missile. gen. milley: yeah. david: that can theoretically go into space and then come down with a nuclear bomb, escaping our ability to knock it down.
is that something i should be worried about, or all americans should be worried about? gen. milley: well, what you saw, and i don't want to get too much into the classification of what we saw, but what we saw was a very significant event of a test of a hypersonic weapon system. and it is very concerning. i think i saw in some of the newspapers, they used the term "sputnik moment." i don't know if it's quite a sputnik moment, but i think it's very close to that. it is a very significant technological event that occurred, or a test that occurred, by the chinese, and it has all of our attention. but that's just one weapon system. the chinese military capabilities are much greater than that. they're expanding rapidly in space, in cyber, and in the traditional domains of land, sea, and air. they have gone from a peasant-based infantry army that
was very, very large in 1979, to a very capable military that covers all the domains and has global ambitions. so, china is very significant on our horizon. david: can i presume that the united states has thought of doing a hypersonic missile as well, and that we are not caught completely flat-footed in our ability to produce something like that ourselves? gen. milley: we are clearly experimenting and testing and developing technologies to include hypersonics, artificial intelligence, robotics, and a whole wide range. if you take a step back, what we are in, historywise, we are in one of the most significant changes in what i call "the character of war." but today with the introduction of precision munitions, the ability to see all over the world, artificial intelligence, robotics, hypersonic's, all of these things together, this is an enormous change in the character of war and we will have to adjust our military going forward. david: in asia, should i be worried about north korea or not?
gen. milley: we are always paying attention to north korea. that is a country that is extraordinarily well armed. they have 70% of their military arrayed near the demilitarized zone. seoul is only 27 miles from the demilitarized zone. and with the regime of north korea is a brutal, tough regime, very aggressive and led by an individual that is very difficult to figure out. they are always doing provocations over the course of time, whether it is missiles or other things. so north korea is something that we always are watching very closely. our intent in north korea or china or russia, we want to maintain a military capability, and a diplomatic level of effort to deter war. we don't want any conflict. we want to deter war. but if deterrence fails, we are determined to fulfill our treaty obligations with south korea. so far since 1953, deterrence has worked, and we are hopeful that will continue to work.
david: we have heard of cyberattacks from north korea, russia, in the united states. we don't know if they come from the military. the assumption is some of it might. can you make america feel good that we have cyber capabilities just as good as the ones attacking us, i assume nobody has better cyber capabilities than we do. is that fair? gen. milley: i would say that we are the world's number one capability in cyberspace, but i would also tell you that china and russia are very, very good, as well as many other countries. in terms of defense, what we, when the internet and the cyber world first developed, people weren't thinking of it as a domain of war, they were not thinking about it in terms of setting up architectures that were robust for defense. those days are gone now. years ago, we started working on that, and we have a long ways to go. but we need to make our critical infrastructure, our financial systems, for example, our electrical systems, and many other pieces of our national economy, much more resilient to
cyberattack, because our adversaries are very aggressive in cyberspace. david: so, you have a four-year term. you are about halfway through it. when you ultimately reach the end of your four-year term, which is all you can have, you will retire from the military, right? gen. milley: correct. david: so do you know what you will do afterwards? something important like private equity or anything like that? gen. milley: i have no idea. i have not given it a lot of thought. i have a full-time, 24/7 job, busy as a be on a summer day, so i have not given it announce of thought. david: if someone wants a leader, is it better to have a general or an admiral? gen. milley: [laughs] i think as the chairman of the joint chiefs, i will opt out of that one, david. that is like asking me to say what do you love more, your son or your daughter? i think leaders come in all kinds of forms, and they don't even have to wear a uniform. i think you get great leaders in all walks of life, and that
served this country in many different ways, whether they are nurses or doctors or cops or firemen. whether they are, like yourself, a financier and philanthropist, there are leaders that come in all shapes and sizes and stripes throughout the country, and many of those are in uniform and i am very proud of the generals and admirals that are currently serving. ♪
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