Petraeus says Detroit’s revival has lessons for U.S.

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit has rebounded from bankruptcy “like a Phoenix rising from the ashes,” and the United States should emulate the city’s multifaceted template for success, former CIA director and U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus said Thursday.

Petraeus spoke on a wide range of subjects, including Syria, gun control, terrorism, globalism and threats from countries like China and Russia during a two hour speech and question-and-answer session at Wayne State University’s Community Arts Auditorium.

The speech was titled: “National Security: How safe are we at home and around the world?” It was part of the university’s Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society’s 10th anniversary lecture series, “What in the World is Going On?”

“Detroit is a city that hit rock bottom that is bringing you back,” Petraeus said. “The question is: how to do that for the entire country?

“One of the truisms of life is, you have to have a comprehensive approach to address everything,” he said. “In Detroit, where do you start when you have a city that’s crumbling at its core? Do you start with policing? Urban renewal? Economic revival? Education? It takes all of the above.”

Petraeus said the biggest threats facing the U.S. are “countries that aren’t satisfied with the status quo and want a change ... such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea; Islamic extremists; cyber threats; and increasing domestic populism.”

Petraeus, a partner with the global investment firm KKR, also said he supports building a border wall. “One of the questions asked by President-elect Trump when I was being considered for Secretary of State was: Should we have a wall? I said, ‘of course we should have a wall … as part of our overarching program to secure our borders.’

“We really need to come to grips with the legal pathway of unskilled workers who are hugely important, particularly to the agriculture and hospitality industries; we need to come to grips with those who are already here but not legally, particularly the DACA children,” he said.

When asked what he thought is the biggest problem facing the country, Petraeus cited North Korea’s nuclear threat, and hostility from Russia and China.

“But the one that works in the background for me is the threat ... against the industrial control systems that operate our electrical grid. There’s a lot of analysis of this that shows our vulnerabilities,” he said.

Petraeus said he agreed with Trump’s decision to send the National Guard to secure the border in California, saying the military for years has been involved in border security. “We already do it, so this is just an augmentation,” he said.

The career soldier said he was pleased to see the latest federal budget, which included the largest military spending in U.S. history.

“(Three years ago) massive cuts had negative effects on the readiness of our armed forces,” he said. “I think we should have spent more on defense; I’m glad we have spent more. Having said that, I’m not at all a fan, as a former economics professor, that with the tax cuts that we’re adding $1.5 trillion in additional deficit spending.”

Regarding the trouble in Syria, Petraeus said: “(Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad’s) forces have to be punished for what they did in using yet again lethal weapons against his own people,” he said. “I applauded when President Trump did take that action last year (by launching a missile strike), and I winced a bit when the red line by the previous administration turned out not to be a red line.

“At this point, I think the objective we have in Syria, in addition to finishing the defeat of the Islamic State and making sure we keep them down ... is, you have to ... help restore basic services, and establish local governance. If that isn’t done, you’re going to be right back fighting again, and will give people reason to perhaps welcome the Islamic State back.

He added: “I don’t know if this Humpty Dumpty can be put back together.”

Petraeus said “there’s no question Russia tried to put their finger on the scale and influence our election,” and wondered why Trump “took so long” to denounce Russian president Vladimir Putin, but added he was pleased with Trump’s recent tough actions toward Russia.

“Clearly, the administration has gotten tougher and tougher and tougher with Russia,” he said.

Petraeus said people should “support globalism,” but added government officials should be honest to people about the effects of multinational trade deals.

“Generally when you pass trade deals, the executive and legislative branches tend to focus on how the overall population is going to benefit from this, that you will pay less for blue jeans or cars because they’ll be made cheaper overseas,” he said. “But they forget this could have an effect on the blue jean factory in North Carolina.

“You have to be honest, and when people are no longer making shoes in New England, (the government) has to help them move into another industry, rather than playing on people’s fears.”

Petraeus said was concerned about Trump’s use of Twitter. “I’ve said on a number of occasions that message discipline has not been one of the hallmarks of this administration,” he said.

When asked about gun control, Petraeus said: “I am a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, but I’m also one of those who doesn’t think that necessarily means we should allow anyone to buy a weapon that has one purpose alone: To kill a large number of human beings ... an assault weapon.

“There’s a common sense approach that includes addressing those issues while still addressing one’s right to have a weapon, assuming there’s been a background check.”

Petraeus said he supports legislation to curb extremist ideas from being spread on social media. “If you look at terrorist threats in the United States, generally these are ... people who are feeling alienated, they go online and are able to find (videos that prompt them to commit violence).”

Petraeus was appointed by President George W. Bush to head multinational forces in Iraq, and later was commander in chief of U.S. Central Command and commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

After retiring from the military, Petraeus in 2011 was appointed by President Barack Obama as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a partner with the global investment firm KKR.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN