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Peter Robinson: A fellow at the Hoover Institution, Joseph Felter served as an officer in the United States Army Special Forces, where he saw combat in Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan. During the Trump administration, Dr. Felter served as Deputy Secretary of Defense for South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. He earned his undergraduate degree at West Point and his Doctorate in Political Science here at Stanford. Joe, welcome.

Joseph Felter: Thanks, Peter. Great to be here.

Peter Robinson: Joe, two questions, two quotations, rather. Quotation one, Admiral Philip Davidson, Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, testifying before the Senate last month. Quote, "Taiwan is clearly one of China's ambitions, and I think the threat is manifest during this decade, in fact, in the next six years," close quote. Quotation two, General Mark Milley. Is it Milley or Milley, Milley?

Joseph Felter: Milley, Milley.

Peter Robinson: Milley, General Mark Milley. Thank you. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying on Capitol Hill in June, when asked about the danger from China to Taiwan, quote, "I think the probability is low in the immediate, near-term future," close quote. The threat is manifest. The threat is low. Joe, who's right, and why do two men sitting right on top of the United States command structure take different views?

Joseph Felter: Oh, it's a great question, Peter, and you know, General Milley is still our serving Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and I'm, with my military background, maybe reluctant to question those decisions, but I actually gonna lean towards Admiral Davidson, recently stepped down as our Commander of Indo-Pacific Command. I think the threat is manifest, that you cannot overstate the importance of retaking or for reunifying Taiwan, is to China and the CCP and Xi Jinping himself. So many would argue, and I would agree that China hasn't invaded Taiwan because it doesn't think it can do so successfully, but you know, decades of military modernization, you know, increasing defense budgets, they're improving their power production capability, and they're getting to the point where they think they might be able to get away with it, and some would argue that they may even see this as a fading opportunity, which raises the risk even more, but that is a huge flashpoint. We gotta make sure that China doesn't calculate that it can retake Taiwan at acceptable cost, and there's a lotta ways we can do that. I personally think the best way to do that is to build Taiwan's own capacity as we certainly need to maintain our commitment to it. If you're familiar with our 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, where we are committed to Taiwan's defense. Need to keep doing that, but the best way for Taiwan is just to make sure that they build their own capabilities, use their defensive advantages to keep China's confidence that they can't do it successfully.

Peter Robinson: All right, we'll come back to Taiwan. By the way, that's very graceful, and I can see I'm dealing with a man who believes that you may retire, but you may never take off your uniform. All right, that means you're going to say, you're going to be guarded in what you- All right, we'll deal with this, Joe. Fine, I get it. China, from an article that you coauthored in "Foreign Affairs," quote, "China is the only challenger that could undermine the American way of life." Undermining the American way of life. If China succeeds, how does life change? What will it feel like and look like? In other words, what's at stake here?

Joseph Felter: Yeah, well, you know, maybe you should ask the folks in Hong Kong, you know, their experience with getting a little bit closer to China. Clearly, China has a very different vision for the future. I think encouraging the vision that the United States has is one that's shared and embraced by other countries around the world, certainly in the region. You know, a free and open region, rules-based order. China sees things very differently. They definitely have a deliberate plan to become a regional global power, and they're using, you know, all their instance of their national power and a whole-government approach to achieve that vision. Xi Jinping is basically the emperor for life now, and he is, you know, personally committed to this national rejuvenation. His vision for China, there's a speech he just gave, I think, last Thursday, just talked about this vision for, you know, the new China and how it's gonna, you know, be in the lead. It's gonna have a world-class military. I mean, they're in it to win it, and they're doing all they can to basically pursue their vision, which is entirely at odds with the vision, not just the United States. This is the vision of everyone who wants this rules-based order that the United States, you know, invested so much blood and treasure to establish after World War II to continue.

Peter Robinson: Joe, I wanna stay with the point a little bit of how life would be different for us. So the parallel would be Britain. In the 19th century, it runs the world, and by the mid-20th century, it cedes that position to us, and what happens for British people? Well, as they give up the imperial possessions, the colonies, they all have to go to work in the city of London. They don't get to go run India. That changes, but living standards continue to rise. They continue to run their own country. They go to university. Life continues to be good, and in fact, on material measures, improves in Britain even after they lose primacy in the world. We lose to the Chinese, so what? What's, if you were explaining to- You have three young men. You have three boys, two of whom are in college right now. How do you tell them life will be different in 20 years if we fail in standing up to China?

Joseph Felter: Yeah, you know, again, not to overstate the example of Hong Kong, but this notion of, you know, two systems. I just, maybe that's a bit extreme, but things are gonna change drastically, you know. The British analogy, I don't think, is gonna hold here. I mean, China's, you know, look how they treat their own people. Look at the Uyghurs. Look at the internal repression. You know, how can we expect, any country be expecting China to treat them better than their own people? And that's certainly a stark reminder of what the future'll look like. Just look inside China. Look at the, you know, look what's happening right now: atrocities, you know, genocide, some would argue, but certainly the internal repression. You know, yeah, I would tell my three boys, and you know, one of them's gonna be serving and may be on the tip of the spear in this competition, and hopefully it won't turn into a conflict, but very different future that China sees for itself. It wants to be a dominant power, and it won't be the benevolent dictator that we might hope. I think they've proven it time and time again. Again, look at Hong Kong. Look at the Uyghurs. Look at the repression of its own people. That's the Ghost of Christmas Future that we gotta anticipate and then hopefully avoid.

Peter Robinson: All right, we should know- There is no, there is no way of being committed to a struggle in any more direct and dramatic way than to have a son following you at West Point. So we should note that you have a boy there. This is not a joke. This is not a game. We're not playing intellectual games here for the Felter family. Joe, one more quotation here. The late economist and foreign policy analyst and Hoover fellow, Harry Rowen, he's writing in 1996. "When will China become a democracy? The answer is around the year 2015. This prediction is based on China's steady and impressive economic growth, which in turn fits the pattern of the way in which freedom has grown in Asia and elsewhere in the world." South Korea gets rich, becomes a democracy. Taiwan gets rich, becomes a democracy. So Harry Rowen was making the very reasonable point that everyone in the United States, to which everyone in the United States subscribed. I was in the Reagan administration. It started then. China will get rich, and they'll become, if not a full-fledged democracy- Harry believed they would become a full-fledged democracy. They'll become easier for us to deal with. How could we have spent more than three decades so totally mistaken?

Joseph Felter: Well, Peter, I don't know. Again, I was in graduate school. My academic advisor was Ash Carter, and I think the dean of the-

Peter Robinson: Former Secretary of Defense, as he would become.

Joseph Felter: Yes, and I think Joe Nye was our Dean at the Kennedy School at the time, and the saying then was, "Don't treat China like an enemy, or it'll become one." It's time to, and exactly what Harry Rowen, who's, you know, brilliant economist, you know, it's China's an outlier. The historical record, yes. As countries' economies grow, good things happen. They become more, you know, internal reforms. They become more liberal. They become more responsible members of the international community. Of course, that's what we thought. That was what we though China's road was gonna be. Certainly didn't turn out that way. You know, encouraging, I think the last administration's national security strategy finally, you know, put a nail in the coffin of the responsible stakeholder theory and called out China for what they are, not what we want them to be or what we hope they will be, and that is that, you know, that they are our competitors. Let's hope we don't get in a conflict, but we're in long-term competition with China, and that's the reality, and there's more continuity than difference. You saw the international security strategy from this administration very much along the same lines, but my take, Peter, is that we just probably got the timing wrong, you know. We thought these reforms might come in decades. It may take a century or more. I still, maybe we can about this and other questions-

Peter Robinson: So what about the argument- I was talking last, what was it, a week ago or 10 days ago to Amy Zegart, and Amy said, "They're Communists." That's the difference. The South Koreans had an authoritarian regime. The Taiwanese, it's a complicated story, but when Chiang Kai-shek moves over to Taiwan from the mainland, it's a pretty tough regime. They were authoritarian, but the mainland is Communist, and that's the difference, and that's what we fail to take seriously. Do you buy that?

Joseph Felter: I think the ideological component is significant. You know, we're all old enough here to remember 1989. That was a big surprise when the Wall fell, so it's not like Communism can't erode from within and collapse, but yeah, I think you make a great point, Peter, that the ideological component in China is significant, and-

Peter Robinson: Right. On to, I wanna come to the Quad in just a moment, including an explanation of what on earth the Quad is, but first, one of the, one country's so large and so significant it deserves to be talked about apart from the Quad, and that of course is India. From an article that you, Joe, coauthored in a publication called "Defense One," quote, "India is a long-time partner of Russia, now moving in the right direction," in other words, toward us, "but India's deep reliance on Russia for its strategic arsenal, and the leverage Moscow maintains given India's need for everything from spare parts and maintenance to technical assistance will persist for some time. This will only diminish with positive US engagement." Okay, if I read that, there's a serious hangover, a lag effect, from all those decades when Indira Gandhi was a supposedly non-aligned leader, but in fact, she was close to Moscow, and we're gonna have to work the relationship. Here's the question: what can we give India that they can't get from Russia?

Joseph Felter: I think a partnership that has a shared vision for the future that, you know, I think Russia is not the kinda partner that's gonna get you where you wanna go in the next century, but more specifically, you know, let's look at defense cooperation, which is an area that I am, you know, more experienced in. I mean, we have the best technology. You need to buy US defense platforms. You're gonna have the very best technology, and you're gonna be interoperable with all the other great powers in the region that you wanna work with, you know. We can talk about that when we talk about the Quad, but I would say that US offers India. We are natural partners, you know, the world's oldest democracy and the world's largest democracy, and we have aligned interests for, you know, we want to see those regions stay free and open, the rules-based order persist. Russia doesn't offer them anything like that. You know, they've got 'em, they can, because they're dependent on them for so many spare parts in some of their legacy systems, they're gonna have some leverage, but hopefully, that's gonna, they're gonna wean themselves from that, and in encouraging India to starting to turn away from Russia, they went from zero to, let's see, $20 billion, from 2008 to present as far as US military sales. So the short answer to your question, Peter, is we are the natural partner that wants to see India become a regional power, a net security provider, and that's in the interests of India, US, and all the countries in the region that wanna see this rules-based order enforced and persist.

Peter Robinson: One more. I'm going to be skeptical on the allies. I'm not, I don't wanna be yoked to the memory of our former chief executive, Donald Trump, but when he bristled at the way the allies took us for a ride whenever they could, he was onto some important piece of recent history. Okay, so India, if you're Indian, if you're running India, you say, "Wait a minute, let's let the, I mean, of course, we can play off Russia against the United States. Let's, well, if the US has better technology, we'll drive the prices down, see if we can't get some technology on the cheap, and so fine, but really, time is on our side. The Americans think that our concern with the Chinese is going to drive us running into the American embrace. Eh, not so. On UN projections, the population of China will halve by the end of this century, from 1.4 billion to 700 million, whereas the population of India will remain about level, at about 1.3 billion. China's big. It's huffing and puffing right now. We Indians, who think in terms of decades and centuries, we'll play the Americans off against the Russians and sit tight." Why wouldn't that be a reasonable way for them to approach the problem? Sit it out. Time is on their side.

Joseph Felter: Well, you do make a good point, Peter, that I emphasize a bit more. I mean, we can't overstate just how sensitive the Indians are to their own, you know, sovereignty. They're not looking for a new ally, but you know, I tried international relations at West Point and Stanford. You know, countries cooperate when their interests are aligned, and we certainly have aligned interests right now with respect to China and many other areas, so I think you paint a little more skeptical picture than I think is accurate. I think in the, again, there's a lotta cultural closeness. Again, the fact that these are two large democracies that share so many common interests and common values, yeah, I think there's gonna be a close relationship with India and the US, you know, based on many things. So I don't think it's a waiting, let's wait the US out.

Peter Robinson: All right, the Quad, established in 2007 by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, much better just to call it the Quad, represents ongoing talks, a kind of loose alliance, as I understand it, but you're about to fill me in on this, among the United States, Japan, Australia, and again, India. Is this a new NATO? Should it be?

Joseph Felter: So Peter, I would say no. This was not designed, the Quad, it's an informal grouping, the region's four largest democracies coming together to cooperate on areas of mutual interest. It's designed to complement and strengthen existing institutions, like ASEAN and other regional institutions, not replace them. You know, I think calling it an Asian NATO has a bad connotation because certainly, these are all independent countries. You know, we talked about India just now, that they are not gonna sign up to be part of anyone's alliance, to be clear, but you know, encouragingly in the last several months, especially with, you know, China being the driver of this, that they are recognizing that their interests are better served by working with these large democracies, capable democracies in the region, and also, I think that the group can provide leadership. It's not just the Quad working alone. It's the Quad working with what we call, like, the plus countries, or you know, providing the leadership that's needed to advance common interests in the region, so there's huge potential, huge on leverage potential. Encouragingly, the last administration, you have to give them credit for reviving the Quad, and give this administration some encouraging indicators that they're gonna keep it going. President Biden had a virtual leader summit soon after he took office, and there's another one scheduled in person, I believe, in the fall, so great potential for the Quad to be a great informal, if not becoming more formal, mechanism to advance, you know, the common interest that we have.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so you've taught international relations at West Point and Stanford. Could you treat me as one of your slower students? You're assuming that, I mean, you say, "Oh, of course it's not gonna be another NATO," but why not? NATO worked wonderfully for four and a half decades. Why not take the Quad: India, Japan, Australia; add in South Korea; add in Vietnam. We have a tricky history with Vietnam, but it's a nation of 60 million people that really dislikes China, and just go right ahead and put it in black and white and have everybody sign a mutual defense accord? If China attacks one, we all respond. Why is that, I mean, I can tell you, as a professional, think that's borderline absurd, but I, as a layman, don't see why. Help me.

Joseph Felter: And it's not absurd, Peter. Actually, I-

Peter Robinson: Oh, it's not, oh.

Joseph Felter: I talked to Admiral Harry Harris, the former Commander of the Indo-Pacific Command and our, more recently, Ambassador to South Korea, he was very much in favor of a more, you know-

Peter Robinson: More formal alliance?

Joseph Felter: More formal, and bringing in South Korea, and boy, he's got an extraordinary amount of experience. I don't wanna overstate the concerns of countries like India, and certainly given all the progress they've made and the movement they've made, and it's just in this last year, but I do think maybe, if you wanna call it de facto versus de jure alliance, I think we're gonna have some reluctance, and remember, NATO very much was a security-focused alliance, and I think the Quad's potential is gonna be manifested across many instruments of national power, you know, and certainly the economic component, informational component, I think it's gonna be able to do more, and I think if you're an ASEAN country, you feel a bit like, "Hey, what about ASEAN centrality, right? Is this trying to supplant the existing regional security institutions that we have already, and where does that leave us?" So I think, really, the Quad can be very effective without becoming a formal alliance.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so here's another. I'm pursuing my own education now, Joe.

Joseph Felter: Please, and you're not the slow student in the class, Peter.

Peter Robinson: Oh, you had slower than me? You poor, sounds like trouble in that classroom. So the way you're talking about this, one thing I'm sort of trying to get a feel for here, at the end of the Second World War, the Red Army was in Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union represented an immediate, so it could be argued, so it was very reasonable to argue, an immediate military threat, hence putting together a military alliance, people went along with that, right? The leaders of foreign countries went along with that. So what I'm gathering from the way you're talking yourself, and the way you're describing the leaders of these Asian countries, Indo-Asian countries, to include India, they don't see China as an- Taiwan, perhaps. Aside from Taiwan, they don't see, and you don't see China as a significant military threat. Is that right, or have a I got that wrong?

Joseph Felter: Please, Peter, I absolutely see them as a potentially, as the most serious military threat.

Peter Robinson: You do!

Joseph Felter: I would say the country's in a region, they're certainly by geography alone, and many other factors. They have to maintain a certain relationship with China, and I don't think it's- It's easier for us, you know, hiding behind the Pacific Ocean, to maybe sign a pact, but if you were a country that borders China, I mean, India actually has a long border. It's the only Quad country that has a border with China, and so they're gonna look at things a little bit differently, so it's, I think countries wanna have the flexibility to define their own relationship with China, and I think a formal military-style alliance with the Quad may be something that they see as detracting from that flexibility, but certainly, the interests have never been more aligned than ever to recognize China for what it truly is, that it's in it to win it. It's out to undermine the sovereignty of any range of countries, and we're seeing that playing out now in real time.

Peter Robinson: Afghanistan, this is you, Joe Felter, writing the "Texas National Security Review." Quote, "The United States must at some point depart from Afghanistan with over 2,400 US service members killed, many more wounded, and nearly $1 trillion spent to date," close quote. My question is this: does the military industrial complex of the United States of America, to use Eisenhower's phrase, does it work? Does it merit the support of the American people? 20 years in Afghanistan, $1 trillion spent for nothing, just nothing, and now, we have Congresswoman Luria as saying, "Wait a minute, wait a minute." Davidson goes before the Senate and says Taiwan's a problem. Milley goes before the Senate and says Taiwan isn't a problem. Jim Mattis, when he's Secretary of Defense, issues a foreign, a strategic statement, identifying China as the number one problem. Three years on, the budget doesn't seem to reflect that. Who are these guys? We spent $700 billion a year. They've given us a debacle in Afghanistan, and according to Congresswoman Luria, it permitted our situation relative to China to erode rather than strengthen it. So that's throwing way too much at you, but at the same time, it's just a question that's in the air on both sides, both Republicans and Democrats. Why do these generals and admiral, why should they command our respect? We've had two decades at least of just drift now. How do you answer that one, Joe? How do you make an American taxpayer feel a little bit better about your colleagues in uniform?

Joseph Felter: Well, Peter, again, this civilian control of the military, that the people calling the shots happen to be wearing suits or not uniforms. Certainly the men and women that really run the military, but it's a fair question, and it's a bit personal for me, Peter, being certainly have a lotta friends that didn't make it bake from Afghanistan or are very, very different now, and people I've served with, and I spent, you know, some time there, but let's not forget 9/11 too, and again, it's that going in there, we had a mission. We understood why we were there, and the fact that we haven't had another catastrophic terrorist attack since then, let's not ignore that. I'm not saying that's, you know, was our president, again, is responsible for that, but let's give some credit to the sacrifice made there, but you're right. I mean, it's 20 years. I personally think that a small presence there coulda helped keep things together. I think this is gonna be viewed as a mistake to complete pull out.

Peter Robinson: Withdraw altogether.

Joseph Felter: You know, and I remember serving there, you know, under Generals McChrystal and then General Petraeus, and you know, we still thought we could win. We thought we could turn the tide. We thought that maybe something like the Iraq surge of the 2008, we might see back in Afghanistan, you know, but at the end of the day, you know, and I have a bit of a background in counterinsurgency. Maybe there's a longer answer to your question.

Peter Robinson: No, go right ahead. This is fascinating. This is just fascinating.

Joseph Felter: You know, it's the end of the day. You know, to say you can't want it more than the Afghans do. At the end of the day, counterinsurgency is about building the legitimacy of the government, and in Afghanistan, the central government, you get out into the hinterlands, Kabul did not have a lotta legitimacy, so we were, you know, often cases trying to prop up a government that was really not viewed as legitimate in the eyes of Afghanistan, so it's a very, very tough challenge. I would say from the counterterrorism, and if we could narrow that down, maybe a small force stay in there to help provide the enablers, the intelligence support and whatnot was probably worth it, and I do think that there's gonna be some horrific images here coming out in the next few months, certainly in the next year or so, of just atrocities happening in Afghanistan, horrific things happening to women, and it's, I think we're gonna regret leaving under the way we did. That said, we didn't wanna have a forever war of 100,000 plus people, but I think a small presence, you know, to advance our counterterrorism interests probably woulda been, in fact, we made some mistakes. Clearly, 20 years was too long and too much blood and treasure spent, but I do think we're gonna regret pulling out as abruptly as we're doing right now.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so by the way, if you want to, Joe, you're so respectful of, not of me, incidentally, but of-

Joseph Felter: I absolutely respect you, Peter.

Peter Robinson: Of your former superiors in the chain of command, and you're also being very respectful of political leaders. So Jim Mattis in his book "Chaos," when he writes about Fallujah, he writes about being given the order to take Fallujah, then the order to stand down, then the order to take Fallujah, all of this coming from Washington, chains being yanked in every direction by people back in Washington who really didn't, Jim would not put it this way, but this is the way it reads in the book, who really didn't quite appreciate what was going on or that every time they gave an order, Jim Mattis stood young men up, or he stood them back to all right, so if you would like to say that part of the problem in Afghanistan and part of the problem in our slowness, which I still, I wanna come back to China, again, within months of becoming Sec Def, Jim Mattis issues a new strategic document and names China as our number one competitor, and here we are, three budget cycles later, and it's really hard to see any significant response in the Pentagon budget, so you're telling me, "Peter, no, no, no, it's not the guys in uniform. It's the political system." Is that right? That'd be a fair answer. I mean, I'm just interested, your experience, from where you sit, what, why, what's going on here?

Joseph Felter: I mean, our civilians should take his advice. You know, if the president's gonna listen to his chairman, then, but ultimately, it is a, you know, civilians are calling the big shots in these types of conflicts, so but you know, as we've seen in Afghanistan, you do take the advice from your senior military leaders seriously, and that advice has very often been, "Let's stay the course." You know, it's, we need to keep a presence there. The mission continues. I'll maybe just point also, you know, George Bush Senior, Barack Obama, they all wanted to pivot to Asia and focus on Asia, but because of the terrorism challenge, they weren't able to. I think, you know, this pivot to Asia that Barack Obama wanted to do, he got mired back into the war on terror and wasn't able to fully resource a pivot to Asia. I think you're exactly right, Peter. We talk a lot about making the Indo-Pacific clear, the priority theater. You know, I was just out in Hawaii, talking to the new INDOPACOM commander just a couple weeks ago, and he's just coming on board, but you know, I think he's also very concerned that hey, if you're gonna call this a priority, let's resource it accordingly.

Peter Robinson: All right, so back to our own armed forces. Here's you again. Let me quote you. The problem of innovation. This is Joe Felter, writing in "Defense One." Quote, "Rapid innovation in new technologies: cyber, AI, autonomy, access to space, drones, biotech are no longer being led by military and government labs, but instead come from commercial vendors, many of them Chinese," close quote. Okay, in the old Cold War, the Pentagon funds the aerospace industry down in Southern California, and the innovation that the American economy throws off is taking place within, again to use Eisenhower's phrase, it's taking place inside the military industrial complex, and now it's not. Joe Felter says, "No, it's kids here in Silicon Valley," and the nature of the problem as I see it, redefine it if you'd like to, runs as follows: the Chinese outnumber us, and they will always outnumber us. They spend a little less than we do now on military spending, but that may change at any moment, and their economy is already, by some measures, as big as ours. Our only hope for a sustainable edge is innovation, and now innovation is really tricky. So I have, you've been out here in Silicon Valley for some years now. You've heard what I've heard. The CIA has its venture fund. There's DIUX, or DUIX, I can't remember, and you get off the record and have a glass of wine over a dinner, and the entrepreneurs say, "Oh, yeah, easy money." They invest in the wrong ways and at high valuations. They're the government! Of course they're going to be slow. They're going to be behind the curve. So how do we, how does the United States, how does the Pentagon, how do we incorporate innovation fast enough before it's stolen?

Joseph Felter: Peter, you nailed the essence of the challenge here, and you mentioned that yeah, we're still configured to fight and win the Cold War as far as our, you know, acquisition and requirement system, and yeah, we've got a system that's designed to build incrementally better aircraft carriers, submarines, fighters, you know, every decade or two, and that got us through-

Peter Robinson: It's good at that! It actually succeeds at that, right?

Joseph Felter: And Peter, think of our military technology, you know, of the last century. It was developed in government labs, and our best and brightest outta Stanford and MIT Harbor, they wanted to go work for the NSA and work for, you know, government primes, our military primes, but now, our best and, you know, you mentioned the military relevant technology now is being developed in the commercial sector, and critically, that means that developments and advances in these technologies are driven by consumer demand, you know, not by government directive, so it's turned on its head now, and so we've gotta find ways to identify, deploy at speed and scale these technologies, and it's not building a better aircraft carrier every decade. It's getting, you know, last week's software update, you know, better, faster, or quicker. It's looking at, you know, new coms and domains of cyber and space, but you nailed it, Peter, but there's an upside there: I do think that that innovation that we see here in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, that that's hard to steal. You know, they're doing, trying to do very well at stealing it, but for the actual innovation spirit, I think that's one of the strengths and comparative advantage the US is gonna maintain for some time.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so I have a reform to suggest, Joe. I have two reforms to suggest. This was me as the layman thinking how can I get extra credit in Joe's class, and here's one reform: you reduce the number of jobs the Pentagon does by outsourcing a lot of it. We've already seen this. Palantir arises, why? Because it's better at crunching data than the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies. Elon Musk, it turns out, Elon Musk is better at putting up satellites. If we get to Mars, it'll because Elon Musk gets us there, or Jeff Bezos gets us there, and we should be thrilled with this! If there are functions that can be performed better in the private sector, even if they bear directly on national security, let's go for it. Let's use that American strength, scale down the Pentagon. We need fewer officers trying to design the next aircraft carrier and more officers identifying problems and then getting on airplanes and spending a month or two at a time out here in Silicon Valley finding kids who can solve those problems. Pretty brilliant, wouldn't you say, Joe?

Joseph Felter: Sure.

Peter Robinson: You know, does that, does something like that sound like a workable idea, or is it already happening, probably?

Joseph Felter: I was just gonna say let's give a little credit. I think we do recognize this challenge, and there are efforts to find more ways and more pathways for individuals. I mean, there's even talk of, you know, direct commissioning, you know, entrepreneurs, successful entrepreneurs, and giving them a chance to serve. You mentioned DIU, formerly DIUX. Mike Brown, the director there, is a visionary, just doing a great job, but his previous director is actually a Hoover visiting fellow, Raj Shah, whom you know, but we're trying. You know, the DIU's a great example. Ash Carter put it into place. Jim Mattis kept it going, and it's flourishing. The services are developing their own innovation hubs. You got AFWERX for the Air Force Software Special Operations, NavalX for the Navy, so I think there's a real recognition that, you know, the military relevant technology, it's out in the private sector, and we gotta find ways to identify it and deploy it at scale, but how we're gonna find, I mean, the military, you know, I think there's recognition, and we're gonna see some changes, and you're seeing some, you call it outsourcing, but I just think there's a recognition that we're gonna find these technologies in the private sector. You know, shame on us if we don't find ways to do it fast and at scale and speed.

Peter Robinson: Okay, one more reform I'd like to try on you, or at least one new way- I grant, by the way, you were just very polite even with me in that last question, so a lotta this stuff is already going on, and my bright idea is come up with an idea that other people have had years ago. Okay, thank you, Joe. But here's another idea: punitive expeditions. Gil Barndollar, writing recently in "The Wall Street Journal," quote, "America can't afford to garrison Afghanistan, or other failed states endlessly. It can afford to inflict short and sharp punishment. Punitive expeditions: brief, high-intensity campaigns to punish sponsors of terrorism and deter others are overdue for a return to America's strategic toolkit," close quote. Joe, let's just drop this idea of creating democracies around the world. It really, really doesn't seem to work very well. The next time a Taliban gives comfort to terrorists who attack us, let's do what we did to the Taliban first in those initial weeks, which is to destroy their regime and kill many of those leaders, but then let's come home. That's the idea, that we don't think in terms of missionary operations. We think in terms of quick, unambiguous punishments.

Joseph Felter: Peter, I think starting in hindsight, that that's certainly an approach that, you know, more and more people would've realized was more appropriate, but let me just make a point on how, where we are in Afghanistan. Now, Peter, when we pull out our last service member in the next coming weeks, think about how limited we are to exert that kind of sharp, short, discrete interventions. You know, we are losing our presence there. That means we're gonna have to launch from offshore, which is very, very difficult, very, very expensive. We've lost the support of our allies. The allies had twice as many soldiers serving here recently than the United States did. We're losing all of our allied support. We're losing all our ability to collect intelligence, which you really need presence to collect intelligence. We're losing our ability to provide air support, you know, responsive air support, so I agree with you, Peter. I agree that we wanna maintain that capability to have those sharp, discrete, targeted interventions, but if we have no one on the ground, which we're gonna have very soon, we greatly limited it, and it's we've greatly increased the cost of having those. Now, we have to float an aircraft carrier out somewhere to project power, or launch, you know, and refuel in air from a base, you know, somewhere else in the Middle East, so I agree we need to maintain that capability, and we are losing that capacity to dob so or are making it much, much more expensive and much more US-centric and not sharing that burden with allies and partners by leaving Afghanistan. So I think I agree with what you said, and I think that all the more reason to point to the- I think, the mistake is gonna be to lose that small, even that small presence that we have right now in Afghanistan.

Peter Robinson: Joe, last question. You have sons. You have kids. You teach here at Stanford. You've taught at the United States Military Academy. A senior comes to you and says, "Dr. Felter, I've got two choices: the United States military." Let's say the Army. Maybe the kid is ambitious. Maybe Special Forces in the Army, "Or I've got an offer here from Facebook or Twitter or Google, tech." What do you advise him or her?

Joseph Felter: Well, thanks, Peter, and I've had the great privilege of mentoring students here at Stanford that have an interest in the military. You know, you really gotta get to know that young man or woman and really get a sense for, you know, is this military service, you know, what he or she thinks it's gonna be, and is it right for them? My experience, if they got an inkling to do it, I find it, I encourage them to explore options to do it, you know, and there's a range of ways to do that. Some, you can go to an extreme route, Special Forces, or there's other options, but you really have to get, you know, it's an individual decision. Fortunately, we're in a country that has, you know, a volunteer military, so we're, we don't put the people who don't wanna be there in the military, but it's really an individual decision. You know, I've had parents of students contacting me, distraught that I'm trying to push their children into the military, but I think it's just empowering them to realize, you know, the goals that they have.

Peter Robinson: And you feel no impulse to say, "Listen, go to work for Google. The armed forces are a mess. It's not like when I went to West Point. It's a mess. Go to work for-" You feel no impulse to say that.

Joseph Felter: You know, I think it's not just military. I think it's public service, and there's lots of ways to pursue public service. You know, our own George Shultz, you know, five cabinet posts. You know, you ask him to introduce himself, he'll say, "George Shultz, Marine." I mean, there's no greater act of public service than laying down your life for your country, so but there's other ways to serve, and I wouldn't, let me get back to your question, Peter, before we have to end. Go to Google. I mean, they're changing the world. You know, Stanford students in our tech companies are changing the world, but I wouldn't say, "Hey, go there, but remember how, you know, remember the privileges that you have as an American, the freedoms, the opportunities that you have as an American that helps a company like Google flourish and then helps you get to a place like Google, and you know, if you're there for a while, and you're in a leadership position, maybe consider that when your country needs some kinda technology like we've seen in the past, and think about that, that hey, maybe it's not so bad to support your country with some technology, or maybe you're like many people we see here in Silicon Valley, Peter, in this area. Maybe you get some means in your positions to support some causes, you know. Support some causes that you think strengthen America. You know, and I know this is a friendly crowd here, but I know we have some folks that support the Hoover Institution listening, and hey, I'm a little biased, but I think that's a great example, you know. Fund some of the thinking that helps us keep a strong country, and make sure that, you know, those ideas that divine this great, free society flourish. So the short answer to your question is hey, it's an individual. Some people are cut out for the military. I encourage them to do it 'cause you get to be my age, if you didn't join, there's always that, "Gosh, I shoulda coulda woulda," and you don't wanna be that person, even you serve for a few years. Other ways to do public service: get into public, you know, to politics, law. There's so many ways to serve, but hey, if you don't wanna to do any of that, go to Google, do well, help, you know, be a patriot in those organizations and ensure that the technologies, you know, maybe if your country calls on those technologies, do it. You know, countries like, companies like Palantir certainly do it, but can't say the same for some others, and also, if you get to a point where you can support good causes, be a patriot in how you support those causes, and you can make a difference. You can have impact, you know, not necessarily by putting on a uniform. There's so many other ways to do it, and we see it so many times here at Stanford. The impact these students have is just extraordinary, so hope that's not

Peter Robinson: Be a patriot.

Joseph Felter: too roundabout.

Peter Robinson: Be a patriot. Dr. Joseph Felter, formerly of the United States Army, now the Hoover Institution, thank you.

Joseph Felter: Thank you, Peter. It was great to spend some time with you.

Peter Robinson: For "Uncommon Knowledge," the Hoover Institution, and Fox Nation, I'm Peter Robinson.

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