USC Price School of Public Policy

General Petraeus, Congressman Schiff focus on security, foreign policy at USC talk

November 2, 2016

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USC Unruh Institute Director Dan Schnur, center, moderated a talk on national security and foreign policy featuring retired General David Petraeus, right, and Congressman Adam Schiff. (Photo by Tom Queally) More photos available on Flickr »

By Matthew Kredell

The next President of the United States won’t have much time to settle into office before being confronted with a myriad of national security challenges. Retired General David Petraeus and Congressman Adam Schiff discussed the foreign policy challenges and opportunities awaiting the nation’s future leader during an Oct. 26 event organized by the USC Price School of Public Policy and USC Dornsife Unruh Institute of Politics.

Moderated by USC Unruh Institute Director Dan Schnur, the conversation touched on issues in Iraq, Syria, Russia, North Korea, Ukraine, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan and Libya.

“Probably the two most immediate challenges facing the president are the continuing and imminent threat we face from ISIS and al Qaeda – the terrorist threat – and how we need to intensify our efforts to combat that in all three dimensions – political, military and ideological – in terms of the very successful and ugly propaganda that has encouraged people here in the United States to radicalize and turn against their fellow countrymen,” said Schiff (D-Burbank), the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Pivotal issues

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Retired General David Petraeus, Judge Widney Professor at USC (Photo by Tom Queally)

Petraeus, a Judge Widney Professor at USC with a joint appointment at the Price School, said he thought the challenges the U.S. faced in most of these countries were generational in nature. Among the biggest foreign policy issues facing the next president, Petraeus listed the involvement of world superpowers in Syria and North Korea. Russia’s support of the Syrian government is a way to push back against the U.S. to enhance Russia’s reputation and military stature.

“[Putin] wants to have Russia stride the world stage, to deliver a Russia to his people that is once again a world player. At the end of the day, we are going to have to be firmer than we have been without being provocative,” Petraeus said.

The speakers suggested that the key in both countries is for the U.S. to demonstrate leverage without ratcheting up aggression. Schiff, who called Syria “the most compelling human rights issue on the planet right now,” noted that economic pressure is one of the most successful levers against Russia, and poses one of the least risks of escalation.

In North Korea, the U.S. needs to deal with the country’s advancing nuclear and ballistic missile programs. However, Chinese aid to North Korea makes that task difficult, because it prevents the effectiveness of economic sanctions from other countries, according to Petraeus.

He suggested that U.S. military presence or missile defense in the region “would be undesirable from a Chinese perspective and helpful in creating the kind of leverage China should recognize is going to continue if they don’t cut off some of the support they provide North Korea.”

Rebuilding relationships

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U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff (Photo by Tom Queally)

More broadly, Schiff encouraged the new president to set about strengthening relationships around the world.

“Every new president has the opportunity for a new start,” Schiff said. “A lot of our relationships with key allies have been frayed, and a lot of concerns have been raised over the direction of our country just by the character of this election campaign.”

Schnur complimented the speakers for keeping politics out of the foreign policy discussion.

“These are critically important and extraordinarily complicated policy matters to discuss even under the best of circumstances,” Schnur said. “As we sit less than two weeks before the presidential election in which it seems every matter of policy – domestic and foreign – becomes grist for the partisan mill and a litmus test for which candidate and which party you’re going to support, it’s worth giving both of our guests a lot of credit to the degree and determination with which they are addressing these issues absent the overlay of partisan politics.”