Former CIA Director, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta On Trump And America's Future

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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C., in 2013. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C., in 2013. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President-elect Donald Trump's nominees for secretary of defense and CIA director are undergoing their confirmation hearings Thursday on Capitol Hill. They come at a time of turmoil and transition for U.S. intelligence agencies and the military.

Leon Panetta has held both of those jobs, and joins Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson to weigh in on the current state of the CIA, his concerns for the future of American policy abroad and what U.S. relations could look like with China and the Middle East in the coming years.

Panetta, the former defense secretary and CIA director, is currently chairman of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy.

Interview Highlights

On Trump and American foreign policy

"It's my hope that he will be smart enough as a president of the United States to listen to the people that understand these issues. He does have a very good person in Jim Mattis as secretary of defense, I like John Kelly, who's another individual that worked with me at the Department of Defense as well. And the secretary of state, at least in the hearings [Wednesday], seems to be somebody who will also take a responsible approach to his duties. If the president of the United States is willing to listen to those individuals around him who, I think, understand the importance — not only of relations abroad, but how the United States must provide strong leadership, particularly when it comes to issues like nuclear proliferation — then I think we'll be in a better place. But if he tries to just shotgun these issues, that's when it becomes dangerous."

On Trump and Russia

"I was pleased that he acknowledged Russia's role in hacking, and trying to interfere with our election process, that was the conclusion of 17 intelligence agencies, so I'm glad he finally came to that conclusion. I think it's important to understand, I think his nominee for secretary of state made the point yesterday that Russia is an adversary, we have very different values, and Russia's going to try to continue to destabilize the United States. It may be that they were trying to help Donald Trump in this last election, but they would not hesitate to try to do everything possible to destabilize this country, even if it meant going after him when he is president. So I think he's gotta be smart enough to understand that Russia is an adversary, that we do not share the same values, and that the only way to deal with the Russians, the only way to deal with Putin, is through strength and through drawing some very clear lines about what the United States stands for and what we are going to continue to fight for as a democracy."

"I think he's gonna go through a stiff learning curve to understand that, sometimes, you can't just tweet your way to a foreign policy for the United States."

Leon Panetta, on President-elect Donald Trump

On Trump's relationship with the intelligence community

"I think that this bickering that’s gone on for weeks between the president-elect and the intelligence community is just not… it’s not good for the country, and it’s not good for our national security. The president's first job, as president of the united states, is to protect this country. And a president can't protect this country without good intelligence about what our adversaries are up to. There should be a relationship of trust between the president and his intelligence agencies — that's essential to the ability of the president to do the job.

"So these kinds of comments that the president makes, the kind of bickering that's been going on, I think is very dangerous, because number one, it sends a message to our adversaries, to our enemies, that somehow they might be able to take advantage of us because we are so in conflict in terms of the president and the intelligence community. Secondly, it really does impact on the credibility of the intelligence that is provided to the president, the questions raised about that in the public certainly don't help the United States. And lastly, it impacts on the morale of those that serve in the intelligence community. These are people who are really dedicated, put their lives on the line, and I think what's going on now undermines their morale and their ability to do their job. All of that is dangerous in terms of the future."

On Trump's approach to China

"We're dealing with a president who's kinda one in a kind. I've been in public life for 50 years, and every president that I've worked with, nine presidents, all had a great deal of experience — both in the political world as well as foreign policy experience — and kind of understood the world that we're in. We're dealing with someone that doesn't have any of that experience. He is somebody who comes out of the business world, he has certain attitudes that he has with regards to how you try to get things done. I think he's gonna go through a stiff learning curve to understand that, sometimes, you can't just tweet your way to a foreign policy for the United States, you're gonna to have to deal with the intricacies of foreign policy, which means take the time to understand, what are the issues in dealing with China? What are the areas where we can agree with them, and what are the areas that we have to disagree with them on?

"But it is important for the president not simply to try to tweet his views out there, which I think can really undermine the ability of the United States to deal with those countries like China, like Russia and others that we have to confront. I think it would be far better for the president of the United States... take the time, understand these issues, talk to the people that understand the policies related to these countries, and then make your decisions as to what you do or do not do."

This article was originally published on January 12, 2017.

This segment aired on January 12, 2017.



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