Retired Special Forces Officer, career public servant, and principal architect of the historic Abraham Accords, Robert Greenway, joins Kevin to discuss conservative national defense priorities.
Now serving as director of Heritage’s Center for National Defense, Robert lays out his vision to ensure military readiness and promote American strength on the world stage and security here at home.
Greenway brings decades of experience in combat, military intelligence, national security, and diplomacy to his new role. Greenway previously served as deputy assistant to the president and senior director on the National Security Council under President Donald Trump. Greenway joined Heritage immediately after working as an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and president and executive director of the Abraham Accords Peace Institute.
Robert Greenway: What does our theory of victory, what does our termination, our conflict termination look like? Those are reasonable questions to ask. No one would start the construction of a house, except maybe the government, without knowing when it’s going to end and how much it’s going to cost. It enforces a discipline on the government, which the government desperately needs. And that is ultimately the accountability to its citizens. It’s their money.
Kevin Roberts: Hello and welcome back to the Kevin Roberts Show. I am fired up, maybe even more than usual about this week’s conversation. You are in for a real treat for a whole lot of reasons. Most importantly, you’ve heard me say if you’re someone who’s ever had the privilege of stepping into the building, as we call it, at the Heritage Foundation, that the greatest part of working at Heritage is our people. And one of our new people, who’s not new to the world of policy and politics, is my guest this week, my new colleague, my new friend, Robert Greenway, our director of the Center for National Defense, someone who served six combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the US Army Special Forces, someone who was the principal architect of the Abraham Accords, someone who, for us at Heritage, and therefore for the conservative movement and for the country, we anticipate will be the architect for a new defense posture, a new defense policy, which is certainly rooted in conservatism, but also pragmatism. All of that to say, he’s also a nice guy. Rob Greenway, thanks for being here.
Greenway: Great pleasure. Thanks for having me, sir.
Roberts: So, we’re going to get into the heavy stuff, but I told you, even when we first met weeks ago, I said, I want to know your story. And when someone hears what really is a short version of your biography, you’re a humble guy, so you wouldn’t want me to say much more than I did. They think, “Oh, this is going to be heavy on policy. There’s going to be a lot of data.” We might get into that, but I think your story’s fascinating. So tell me why you got to do what you’ve been able to do in life and service to this country.
Greenway: Well, it’s an interesting question knowing that as we’re going to start, I think I would answer it in two ways. First, it is providential, I think. There’s a number of times I felt that you end up in the right place at the right time, not by your own design or choice, but by God’s grace and providence. And here I think you feel it every day I come to work and I meet the people of Heritage and see what they’re doing and see how they’re doing it, and I recognize that it’s a tremendous gift and a privilege to be here. And that’s happened in a number of times that I couldn’t have planned or organized circumstances to end up where I’ve been. But I think that it is certainly for a reason and it’s a wonderful thing to be here.
The other way I would answer it is that I think in every circumstance I’ve had the benefit of being raised by parents that brought me up to believe that you have a commitment to the country, to each other, to your fellow citizens, your family members, and all of that is rooted in a common faith. Everyone, our ancestors included, came to the country for lots of reasons, to flee persecution, to look for opportunity, and found it here. But the obligation was always that it wasn’t about personal benefit or gain, it was about working together to ensure that that didn’t change. And that was the promise that we would pass to our children. And so that was a fundamental belief. And so I never remember a time in which I didn’t want to serve. In my case, it was military, it took a military form. And so for me, the army was a calling. I started out as an armor officer. It’s what I always wanted to do. And after three years of it realized that those things require more maintenance than they do operation and funds.
So I ended up making a transition after about three years and joined, assessed, and was selected to become a special forces officer, and spent most all of my time since really working in and around mostly the Middle East, with a few exceptions. And as a result of it, I come by my policy experience, opinions and judgments, such as they are, by virtue of that experience. Different, I think, than most of the ways that people, especially in DC, arrive at their policy experiencing conclusions. Mine is spent serving along with a lot of other tremendous people as an instrument of policy, seeing the good and bad and dealing with the consequences of it. And based on that, you get to a certain sort of judgment, I think, and I look at it differently. I look at the threats we face differently than some. And again, I look at it on the basis of my experience. As a special forces officer, I’ve had the benefit of being in small, elite, handpicked teams that master the basics and fundamentals and seek constant improvement. And that’s also what’s refreshing about being in Heritage and other organizations.
It’s very similar in that respect. It’s an organized, hand-selected group of selected individuals that are committed to a common vision and cause. And I’ve found that small groups can accomplish amazing things. I’d also add that in many times I’ve seen our country at its best, and in some ways less so, and I and others I think are rightly concerned about the trajectory that we’re on and the grave circumstances, and the fact that it’s correctable, but it’s going to take effort and commitment in order to do it. And for that reason, I’m blessed really to be here among people with common cause to work to fix the problems that we’re observing, in our case, and in my case, relative to the international forum and building a strong national defense to deal with those threats.
Roberts: There’s so many levels and aspects to that, and we’re going to try to get into as many of them as we can with the time that we have. But before we do that, I would be remiss if I didn’t observe that we’re sitting here having this conversation the week of 911. And as we talk here at Heritage on 911, this year, 22 years afterwards, there are many aspects to that, that for me are surreal, I know they have to be for you. You were serving in uniform in direct response to 911, but I think one of the things that concerns me is the large number of Americans who I won’t say don’t care.
I wouldn’t ascribe that to them, most Americans are great people, but didn’t even take a moment, best as I could tell to commemorate the day. And that seems dangerous to me given the threats to the United States around the world. It seems as if that’s a threat to us internally. Given your military service, but also your service as a senior administration official, a specialist in Middle East policy, what are you thinking, the week of 911, a couple of decades later?
Greenway: Every anniversary it comes around, a couple of things come back to mind, and I think those of us that had lived through it in some way, shape or form, it’s easier for us. We’re forced to confront this. But for those I think that didn’t, for those certainly born afterwards, it’s harder to do. I think that’s also a leadership responsibility to bring the nation, to commemorate and remember these events, so that we recall what led to them, what perhaps made us vulnerable to them, and the response that’s kept this from reoccurring. So if there’s an interregnum, there’s been 22 years now since it happened, there’s a reason, and the reason, in many cases, is we have a strong national defense which prevents those threats from reaching our shores. It’s not the only reason, but it’s certainly one of them. For me, I remember personal circumstances first.
My daughter was born almost a year before, so she was not quite a year old at the time. After that particular day, I was serving at Fort Bragg, I was in, what most people refer to publicly as Delta Force, and I was midway through my assignment there, and so we responded immediately afterwards. It took us a couple of weeks. I don’t think I left the office for a week after that. I remember watching it because my father’s a carpenter in New York City and I spent many vacations in college working with him on construction sites in New York, which is an education and probably a whole other podcast, but-
Roberts: We’ll come back to that.
Greenway: We might. But in any case, I remember many times having worked in and around that building in Lower Manhattan and thinking it is just inconceivable that this, one, would be happening, and two, that we’d be seeing the catastrophic damage. And I didn’t realize until I got back from Afghanistan after Christmas of 2001 and was able to actually talk to my family and my father. And then I realized only then that he was in South Tower that morning on a last minute call for a construction fix. He’s a carpenter, he’s a foreman, but he was called, which is not unusual, to go fix a building in a floor and a project that he had done when the building was first built. Also, not unusual, he and another colleague, Maurice Patrick Kelly, he got a call about 7:30 to go depart and go back to the job he was normally at, but Kelly had to remain and ended up being one of the almost 3000 casualties that day.
And I didn’t realize how close my own father had been that day, and how close it was to home. He was working, I think on the 104th floor, [inaudible 00:09:31] Fitzgerald repairing a small ceiling job. And so you realize how personal it was. The only thing I could do at that point was to, one, reassure him how glad it was that he made it, but two, let him know that we had delivered full payment for what had happened. And that’s what I’d spent the previous several months doing and most of my career ever since. It was easy for us, I think, to focus on it that way. And then I’d say second is, in the intervening years, having gone back to Afghanistan several times, and now looking at where we’re at, knowing that we have essentially reverted control of that country to the people that we wrested it from and essentially an affiliate of Al-Qaeda.
There’s no distinction really between them. And we’ve not only done that, we’ve given them control greater than that they enjoyed when we arrived there, and we gave them about 83 billion dollars worth of equipment and infrastructure. So we are now the world’s largest terrorism sanctuary equipped at a level in which ISIS would be incredibly jealous, and that is going to haunt us desperately. And I would add to that, ironically, as we saw yesterday in the notification to Congress, the administration formally notified them that they were transferring at least $6 billion from South Korean banks, a frozen Iranian money, that we assiduously guarded during our term in office, and for good reason. And that’s now been returned back to the regime in Tehran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, which is home to Al-Qaeda’s current leaders [inaudible 00:10:58] and many of its senior leaders. And when you put all of that together, as I’m sure it must sound, it’s a gut punch.
And it is because, regardless of what role I may play in the future, which I doubt will be of consequence, but I know people in my same circumstance in 2001, I know what they’re going to face if they have to confront this problem again on unfavorable circumstances. And that bothers me a great deal. We are wittingly providing ammunition and fuel and funds to our adversaries and someone’s going to pay a price for that. And as I said in the beginning, my policy experience is knowing what the cost and consequences of policy decisions are, and that is disturbing.
Roberts: I was going to ask you already about your reaction, the emotional reaction to the ridiculous withdrawal in Afghanistan, and I will ask you that momentarily, but it seems as if you’ve already given us the potential second, third, fourth, fifth chapters of consequences as a result of this. But let’s keep it at the personal level, if you don’t mind, Rob. When you learn what’s happening in Afghanistan, having been someone who was there several times, you would not ascribe this credit to yourself, but I will as a very grateful civilian for your service and the service of men and women in uniform, you were there, as you said, to make good on America’s promise to settle the score. What’s going through your mind as you see this happening?
Greenway: That someone is going to have to relive it, that someone’s going to have to pay for that ground the second time, and it’s an action in the military. You never want to pay for the same ground twice if you can help it, and you don’t want someone, maybe the ultimate purpose of your actions, any endeavor, you never want to have someone to have to repeat the price and pay again that price, especially in our case, because it’s such a steep price. And I remember, and I can see the faces of those friends and teammates that lost their lives over these many years in both Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular. And I’m afraid that people are going to have to pay that price again. We talked before the show about your really impactful podcasts with George Hidalgo and talking about his son Darren.
And that’s a perfect case in point. I don’t know how many others like Darren and like the Hidalgo family, they’re going to potentially have to face that same consequence and lose a loved one. And it’s unnecessary. It’s preventable. And that’s what bothers me most is the unforced errors, the own goals, and we’re seeing far too many of them. Afghanistan is a dangerous one. And I would say too, just from a perspective standpoint, Afghanistan, to me, relative to terrorism, as a terrorism sanctuary was probably the number three or maybe even the number four reason why it matters. It does, but it’s next to a nuclear on Pakistan, which is of concern certainly, and it’s also happens to be next to Iran. And to me, those two reasons are even more compelling than the first. But we found a balance ultimately when we transitioned, we had a small US footprint there, we had reduced the cost considerably and our role was scoped.
And that could have been maintained, I think in, I don’t want to say perpetuity, but it could be maintained at very low cost for a period of time to monitor the problem. What we witnessed in the withdrawal, again chosen to commemorate, chosen to happen officially on 911, which is absolutely mind-boggling. And the disastrous execution of the withdrawal, knowing friends that were in uniform, people that I’d served with, now in senior positions, but people that were working down in central command, people that were working in special operations command, Chris Donahue, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division is an old friend. Watching this unfold is just... The most painful part is knowing that it was absolutely in completely unnecessary, and it is staggering to consider the consequences of it, but the fact that it never should have happened in the first place against all sound advice. And I think it’s tragic.
Roberts: It’s tragic on so many levels. And the historical context is there was a time, not all that long ago in America when those kinds of things wouldn’t have happened even under a democratic president. That is to say you could count on Democrat president, Republican president, whoever he was, making a good decision as it related to national security. There might be differences of opinion on the margins, but tell me if you think I’m mistaken, just a couple of decades ago, we could have assumed that regardless of who was in the White House, that kind of withdrawal never would have happened.
Greenway: It’s true, and I’m glad you raised it because that, I think, when I first was asked to talk about the withdrawal, when it was occurring, what bothered me most, and especially after my time at the White House, having been involved in these conversations on a number of different levels, what bothers me most is the fact that that decision was made, and it was obviously bad, by all, no matter what you want to say publicly about it, I think it’s recognizable that this was a catastrophe and we never corrected because of it. The system never adapted. We didn’t change a process, a system or a person.
And to me, the most telling part of all of that is, is that we were going to repeat it, that this was inevitable that we were going to do it again because we had made no change. We had adapted, not at all. And of course it was done in complete contravention of the advice. Our system is built, such as it is, imperfect as it is, obviously staffed by people that are themselves imperfect, but it’s designed to create balance and to present, if not consensus, options and recommendations, and all of that, as far as we know, got to the President completely in contravention to what he was determined to do.
And I have to say from personal experience, and it was publicly covered many times in the Trump administration, he would say, often as a negotiating position or deliberately to elicit a response, especially in public, that similar statements are made about the withdrawal from Syria, Iraq or what have you, and Afghanistan for that matter. But we never did it because behind closed doors you can make a case and he would appreciate and understand. He also was loathed, I think, in some cases to indiscriminately contradict the advice he was given. He would do it and his judgment was usually very good on this. But I have to say that he listened to advice and that was enough in order to us prevent, I think, disasters like that.
Roberts: Well, the proof is in the pudding, right? No war started in that four year term.
Greenway: That is true. And ultimately I think we reduced our commitment. And we hadn’t had a fatality, a US fatality, in Afghanistan for over a year, which is a remarkable achievement. And I think with our Afghan partners, I think that position could have been maintained. Again, I understand the inclination to remove and to pull our forces back, from having been one of those. Many times I understand it, but it’s our job, it’s our job to prevent those threats from reaching our shores. And as my father is also a hockey player who got me involved in the sport, it’s easier to stop the bus five miles an hour than it is at 20. And the point was you want to defend as far into your adversary, your opponent’s territories as possible and it reduces the cost and effort. And it’s true in the military sense too.
It doesn’t mean we need to commit ourselves liberally across the planet to be the policeman of the globe, but it does mean when there’s a legitimate threat, we should do so, but we should do so prudently and in a responsible fashion, with the least amount of acceptable cost and risks to our forces. And in this case, we’re now going to have to pay, I don’t know how much, in order to recover from that. And we’ve already lost credibility. And I would add too, that it’s no mistake that Putin invaded Ukraine six months after the disaster [inaudible 00:18:32] And I say that because he invaded the first time when Biden was vice president after the notorious withdrawal of our enforcement of the red line in Syria. And there’s no coincidence, I think, in either, and we may see further I think aggression as a result of that weakness.
Roberts: Let’s hang on that point for a moment, in particular, your assessment of the US’ ability to wage war and tackle whichever aspects of that you would like, whether it’s from an external national security foreign policy point of view, or from an internal defense industry point of view. What’s our ability as a country, if we must, go into war, to actually wage it?
Greenway: It is a great question. The question. And I’d say our capability is deteriorating. And like decline in a range of other fronts, domestically, it’s a choice and we are making a choice to accept risk. I think bordering on unacceptable risk, knowing what China is doing to arm and equip itself. I would say that this period of time is also, it’s not a new phenomenon. Seldom do we rise on new circumstances. Truly nothing is new under the sun. But if you look at the late seventies, you look at a time in which we were coming out of the Vietnam experience, we were transitioning to an all volunteer force, and we were focusing our resources on really the conflict in Southeast Asia to a great extent, and I think reckoning with a Soviet Union that was paying time and attention to the buildup of its military at an unprecedented level.
And what was recognized in the Ford administration by the youngest Secretary of Defense at the time, secretary Rumsfeld, was that this decline was real, it was elective, and the trend lines were all pointing in the same direction. We were going to lose our advantage, and we would be, in what Reagan would later use in the campaign, we would be second best, which is a dangerous and unacceptable track and completely elective. Now, we didn’t have control of Congress at that point and there was a reluctance to spend. In fact, the trajectory was in the opposite direction. Everyone had other ideas for what our resources we put against. But in the eighties we saw an unprecedented response to that, and we restored our advantage, and I think we benefited from that ultimately prevailed in the Cold War, not least of which is because we had a strong national defense and a deterrent capability.
All that said, I think we find ourselves in similar circumstances, where we have, since the nineties, after the Cold War, we’ve determined that a number of other competing priorities would take precedence and we have neglected. And so our capacity both in the military industrial complex has reduced capacity to provide, and we have reduced capabilities in our military. I would add to it that we’re undermining our personnel and reducing the sort of core that makes it effective, which is the principle meritocracy, which is ultimately we have to have the most qualified people in positions of leadership because war is unforgiving. It’s the most unforgiving environment I think that there is, and it does not entertain enlightened ideas. And so we’re eroding all of that simultaneously. I think though that the past also holds promise. We can look to how we’ve corrected that situation previously. And I think there are paths for us to restore capacity with the benefit of our own country economically and militarily, and restore a strong national defense, so that we can prevail in the new Cold War, as Heritage has rightly identified we are in with the Communist Party of China.
Roberts: Policymakers in D.C., and we’re talking about men and women who are friends, members of the House, members of the Senate, have an impulse that, in a purely political context, I totally understand. All of us at Heritage totally understand. It’s not our jobs to play the politics, although we have to be aware of the politics in order to elevate our policy proposals to be the most feasible, let’s say. But there’s a natural impulse that they have to say, “We agree with everything Greenway just said and so let’s throw more money at it.” And there’s this other aspect for each of us at Heritage, which is fiscal conservatism, and not in this strident, stubborn kind of way, although I would have no problem with that either. But to say that isn’t how you fix this. We have to, in my layman’s terms, be more efficient. You’re the expert here. I’m giving Rob Greenway the magic wand. How do you fix this problem?
Greenway: I think those are two competing and beneficial tendencies, and I think they’re healthy. And I think without both you’ll end up in the wrong place. You could over correct in either direction and I think it would be a mistake. And I think we’ve seen that. I would say that we need to look at how we apportion our funds. I think we need to do it in the most efficient way possible. We owe that to the taxpayers. And we also, I think, owe complete transparency and accountability in the process. But we have a unique circumstance, which national defense is not a commercial enterprise as we would understand it. You have essentially one customer. And the industries, such as they are now consolidated, from multiple major companies now into five. We’ve lost almost 17,000 small, medium-sized enterprises in the defense industry in just the last 10 years. And so that creates distortions and those distortions have to be recognized and they have to be corrected.
I think at the end of the day, we need to recognize, one, the requirement, and two, we need to figure out the most efficient way to get there with the resources that we have. But I do think there’s a way to do it, and I think as a result of doing it, there would also be a derivative benefit to the US economy as a whole. We would put more people to work, we would put more people in good, qualified paying jobs, we’d retain critical skills, and we’d regain control of our supply chains essential to all of this, which we’ve sacrificed for the cost of efficiency. And I think in the result of doing it, we’d have a stronger national defense. But I’d also say too, that look, there is waste and abuse that occurs out there. One, government’s good at it. It’s perhaps government’s only superpower. Because in the end of the day, it’s not a profit or loss enterprise, and the taxpayers, and our ability to leverage debt, just seems to be unlimited.
But that is, of course, a dangerous path to pursue. But I’d say at the end of the day, we can look to how we acquired and developed a strong national defense in the last 50, 60 years and see a different precedent. I’ll give you one example of this, and it came from offenders in the shipbuilding industry. And they wrestle with regulation, with cost, and dealing with the government customer, which is unpleasant as we’d all expect, and it’s incredibly expensive. And so his point was that we build the best ships in the world. There’s no question of this. No one would contest the fact. But they’re also the most expensive. And this is analogous. You could say the same about our planes, even about our land combat systems. All of which unfortunately we have not developed new systems since most of us were in grade school, which is also a problem.
But his point was that our standards for building ships exceed all others, and in some cases that’s necessary. So when a naval vessel is hit by a commercial ship or is an unfortunate collision, our ship survives and makes it back to port. In the European constellation, that wouldn’t happen, and ships have sunk as a result of the same injury. The coal was another example where that survived even though catastrophic damage because we had high standards. But there are instances where we place exceptionally high standards on every ship we build regardless of its role. And I think in the past we’ve taken a different approach where we’d recognize that combat vessels need to have the highest possible standard for the highest possible survivability rates, but not every ship in the inventory perhaps needs to meet that exact same standard. Now, I think it’s case by case, but sometime in the seventies we decided that if there was a risk, we would have to eliminate it, risk of any kind.
And when you pursue that path, you get to a very, very expensive place. It’s not how we’ve always done business. So I think in the end we have to make some common sense decisions about our resources and about applying them effectively. But that those two tendencies you point out are critically important, neither of which are bad, both of which have to learn to coexist, and they’ll get us to the right answer. We have to have transparency, we have to have efficiency, and we cannot spend, as many presidents have said, like drunken sailors. And I hope that the path we chart here at Heritage and Confident will be sound recommendations for policy professionals, that can get us to a place in which we can preserve our resources and yet preserve and sustain a strong national defense.
Roberts: Thanks for the thoroughness of that response. I look forward to seeing the work of you and our colleagues in this realm and organizations around the country. And we got a follow-up question about the consolidation in the defense industry, which just worries me as a historian who pays attention to economics, and that’s a real problem. But before I get to that, it seems as if what we’re begging for is just a conversation, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, because I say this all the time about Ukraine policy. We just want the country to have a conversation about the strategy of spending. What will be, we’re probably knocking on the door of a couple hundred billion dollars on Ukraine, and if we have that conversation and the people’s representatives say, “We love this idea because our constituents say that,” then so be it. Now that happens not to be the case, but there’s a parallel here, which is let’s have a conversation about what needs to change in defense procurement in the very strategy of the weapon systems that we need to build.
Rather than saying this is under-resourced. We’re absolutely in an environment with greater threats, and therefore what we need to do politically is just close the gap with the people’s money, all the while, Rob Greenway, we’re going to run a $2 trillion annual deficit this year. And so we’re really just trying to have a conversation and I really look forward to you, for us at Heritage, leading that. But I want to come back to the relationship between the consolidation in the defense industry and what you have described as a lack of innovation. I’m assuming that those are connected. I’m not imputing motive on behalf of those five remaining defense companies who exist. That’s great. But there is a certain innovation that happens in smaller businesses in any industry, and I would imagine that this is a problem.
Greenway: There’s no question, and it’s absolutely true that small and medium-sized enterprises would typically be on the cutting edge because they’d have to be. It’s the only competitive advantage a small company has at the end of the day. The major defense firms have competitive advantage in that if you’re going to deal with the government and its regulations, you have to have an enormous enterprise that’s capable of doing it and anticipating it. And that is where their competitive advantage resides, is on the execution, which is where its manpower and cost intensive. And only significant companies can really do it at scale. And every one of our systems now is so intrinsically complex, the scale of which is unimaginable. The number of subsystems and components in our major defense enterprise and platforms, it’s vast, it defies description. It’s the point where the companies themselves will tell you we can’t monitor the supply chains.
And so we recently found out that we have Chinese components and materials in our most advanced fifth generation fighters in the F35. And it’s not because we wanted it to happen. It’s not because we made a conscious decision to outsource this to the CCP. That’s just the nature of the complex systems, the supply chains, that we have now find ourselves in possession of. The elimination of the small companies that tend to get eaten by larger ones has a consequence associated with it. And so it makes it, not impossible for innovation, it makes it more expensive, it makes it less likely. And so the costs continue to climb. But again, that we have fewer and fewer systems. Now, there’s an argument always, I think, and it’s not just within defense, but there’s an argument, period, about quantity and quality. Here again, I think the tension is important and I think the balance is what matters.
You can’t move in either direction to extremes because you’ll lose balance and you’ll find yourselves defeated. And that’s the historic precedent. And in our case, I think we’re moving towards an emphasis rightly on quality, but it’s coming at the expense of quantity. So even if we have the best systems in the world, in a confrontation with China, we may still find ourselves in losing end of it because we’ve also neglected the quantity. And the two have to, I think, exist. And this is something, again, we saw in the late seventies with the Soviet Union. They weren’t developing the best tanks and systems. They never could do that. We’re seeing this in Ukraine now, of course. We saw it in Syria before for those that were paying attention. So we’re not surprised. The reality is that you have to find that balance. Look, the Germans found themselves in the same circumstance.
They had some of the most exquisite equipment available in the thirties at the start of the Second World War, but it didn’t matter. I’d also point out too, that once we took away their industrial capacity and we took away their access to fuel, which I would argue we should look at in terms of China, it also, I think, brings into focus where we need to have that balance. So we now have a system that is encouraged, incentivized to create the most complex, exquisite and advanced systems. And that is a good thing, but it comes at a cost. And I think we need to restore balance and we need to look at making sure that we have the quantity so that we can address, especially when we have to deal with competing priorities. And your point on the conflict in Ukraine I think is more than sound, and I think that’s why we’re seeing such a massive erosion in public trust and government as a whole and its decisions.
And again, we talked just moments ago about the $83 billion of equipment and infrastructure left on the battlefield in Afghanistan, worse in the hands of a stated adversary in Al-Qaeda affiliate in the Taliban. And now we’re talking about not having a plan and not having accountability mechanisms and transparency in the checks that we’re writing for another conflict, which both of us, I think, would agree, a country invaded by Russia deserves our sympathy and attention and support. The question is when we’re going to commit resources to it is to what end and at what cost? And what does the end state look like? What does our theory of victory, what does our termination, our conflict termination look like? Those are reasonable questions to ask. No one would start the construction of a house, except maybe the government, without knowing when it’s going to end and how much it’s going to cost. And I think those are reasonable, and obviously deviations can occur, but those aren’t unreasonable requests. And it enforces a discipline on the government, which the government desperately needs, and that is ultimately the accountability to its citizens. It’s their money.
Roberts: It’s kind of switching gears, but not really. I don’t want to move from this focus, this conversation thread on defense policy to national security and to foreign policy. Even though our colleague Victoria Coates would say, “Don’t use that phrase,” foreign policy, national security, which I love. And that is your role in the Abraham Accords, and even beyond your role, the strategy by the administration in developing those and where that situation in the Middle East stands today, because there are plenty of informed observers including some here at Heritage who are worried.
Greenway: I think, look, there’s cause for both concern and optimism. I would say first that the Abraham Accords’ recognition that our partners and allies recognize that a strong relationship with the United States and with Israel are the same and that that is in their best interest for two reasons. First is for collective security. Israel is our principle investment in the region. It’s our strongest strategic partner, and it’s one of our best investments. And they recognize that even as US presence ebbs and flows that Israel and our commitment to it will remain. And so that affiliation is a strong and a sound one for their long-term collective defense. And I think that is a trend which requires encouragement. Second, I would say on the economic side, they all have long-term aspirations. They recognize many of the countries are partners in the region, are dependent upon petrochemical exports and they know that they have to transition from this.
It’s a question of when and how. Ultimately they see their relationship, not just with Israel, but their neighbors, with each other, as being integral to this. And that was a large measure of the driving force behind this. The vision by, and I’ll be the first among others to admit this, that businessmen in the White House, the president included in this, but certainly Jared, who is, more than anyone, I think responsible for seeing and following through and executing the Abraham Accords as we know it, recognized this long-term need for economic integration between the countries and chiefly our partners, which, by the way, is what China’s attempting to do, and if we’re not careful, may succeed in doing. And without an alternative, they will have organized the world to provide them what they need at everyone else’s expense. Our proposition is completely different. We benefit and everyone else benefits.
It’s a different business model. And so integrating the countries in the region economically and hopefully at one point on that basis from a security perspective is critical. I’d also say that everyone recognizes that maintaining a vast overseas presence in the Middle East or any other part of the world is something we had to do cautiously, judiciously and only if absolutely necessary. And so I think there’s strong desire across the political spectrum to reduce our presence. If we do that and the threat doesn’t diminish, and it’s not, then we have to obviously leave something in that gap. That gap is our partners and allies more properly equipped and more capable, along with Israel as a core component of it. So the vision was both economic and ultimately security, and the vision I think was based on their recognition that the future required this sort of integration.
And there’s a reason why no one anticipated it. And it’s why I think sometimes government and the foreign policy establishment, the national security establishment doesn’t see these opportunities and sometimes businessmen can. And I think the future is bright because this is an imperative for them all. But I’m also concerned that we’re seeing a convergence of threats we haven’t seen since 79. Iran is a big part of it, the biggest part of it. But I also think China and Russia factor in as well. If we’re not careful, we’ll see control of a global energy market that we are no longer necessarily dependent upon, but the rest of the world’s economy is. And that is something I think that we can ill afford to do. I’d add too, that China’s completely dependent upon it, and regardless of anyone’s desires, planes, tanks and ships are going to be on oil for the foreseeable future.
Roberts: They’re not going to be electric vehicles.
Greenway: Very unlikely. I’m not a scientist, but I’d say that that’s highly unlikely. And if they’re in fact dependent upon it, we’d be loathed to allow that. In the Second World War context, we started out targeting transportation, infrastructure, roads and railways. The second place we looked was industrial infrastructure. And it was eventually a brilliant Army Air Corps pilot named Carl Spats who said, “Look, if they don’t have gas, if they don’t have oil, Germany produces none of it. Then they can have, it doesn’t matter about the transportation infrastructure or the industrial capacity or how many planes and tanks they have, they will be completely unfunctional.” So eventually we landed at the right spot.
I think that same strategic logic applies here. We would not want to cede control of the global energy market and allow China and its ambitions to proceed unchecked. So I think we’ve got concerns in the Middle East. They’re always economic. I think we have strong partners and allies we’d be loath to ignore it. I think Israel is the bedrock for us in this sense, and I think we can build on what started the accords and finish the work. But Iran, as the principal threat, cannot be enabled. We certainly don’t need to be writing checks. We certainly don’t need to be allowing them to export unlimited oil resources. All of that goes into terrorism abroad and domestic oppression at home.
Roberts: So in the space of seven or 10 days, we have the Biden administration kowtowing to the CCP once again and making this arrangement, releasing at least 6 billion dollars in funds to Iran. If you told me three years ago, Rob, that this is what the Biden administration was going to be, even though I agreed with them on nothing and had very low expectations, I would have been shocked.
Greenway: And as am I. I knew the persons and policies that were in place, many are the same, from the Obama administration, which was the low watermark for US influence in the Middle East in my lifetime and in all of our partners, frankly, really you have to go back to the very early seventies in the fuel crisis before we had that kind of tension. They expected, they were girding their loins for turbulence, but all of them have been surprised by the trajectory and speed. Some of that is because they’ve lost internal processes. There isn’t internal discipline. If you asked who’s responsible for a lot of these policies, even people serving in the government in the administration, you might not get a clear answer. And that, as we talked about with Afghanistan, that absent decision-making discipline and process gets you strange, usually debilitating outcomes. So we’ve had lots of uncomfortable conversations with our partners overseas and they’re gravely concerned as we are.
The problem is that we also briefly mentioned this before the show today, is there’s a remarkable consistency in the approach adopted by progressives and the left domestically and internationally. And that is favoring the victim here and reducing our ability to stop and deter and prosecute crimes. And the same logic is really being applied on an international scale. We don’t need a strong national defense, and in fact, we end up providing advantage and resources to our adversaries. The level that we’re seeing it at, frankly, is just breathtaking. It is staggering. The 6 billion was really 17 by the time you account in the funds that are processed now through Europe and through Iraq, and the lack of enforcement. Iran is exporting now record degree of oil. A lot of that is, almost all of that’s going to China. And our neighbors, all our partners and allies in the region are all being threatened by this adversary and it’s abundantly clear to everyone, but apparently ourselves. Iran now is at nuclear threshold.
They could build and test a weapon potentially in weeks, maybe months, no one’s entirely sure. And I wouldn’t be shocked if that were to be the case. And the consequences of that for proliferation, and again to the world’s trade and energy markets, is staggering. It’ll make Ukraine and the consequences of what’s going on in Ukraine seem pale in comparison because they would be. And I don’t think our or the world’s economy is prepared to deal with it, but why we’ve made a conscious decision to fuel our adversaries to the extent that we are, is really, it’s beyond description.
Roberts: So come full circle in the conversation. A couple of final questions, if you don’t mind. And one of them is to confront all of these challenges, we have to do a better job with military recruitment. And I can only imagine for you talking to all the friends I have who served or are serving, it’s a real worry, not just for the respective needs of each branch of the armed forces, but each of them says for the country that this is a real problem. Heritage, I think, had been really good about talking about one of the components there, which is this emphasis on wokeness and it seems like misaligned priorities. How can we fix this?
Greenway: It is a great question and it exposes a lot of fundamental problems, because in the end, it’s not just ability to recruit and retain personnel, which is the core of our military and the all volunteer force. That’s certainly true, but it’s more than that. When I first came in the service and transitioned, as a matter of fact, one of the contributing factors in addition to the maintenance of tanks to leave and to go to special forces, was the fact that the army was drawing down, that we were drawing down in Europe where I was stationed. We were turning our equipment into storage, and the army was, for the first time in generations, reducing significantly. And of course that’s a huge turbulence and a disturbing thing to be part of. But we also saw really strange attempts to engineer the promotion system and interfere with the trust bond between led and leaders.
And when that shows up at the time in a variety of different policies in the nineties, at the same time we’re decreasing our spending and decreasing our size. All of that tension tends to boil over and it produces ineffectiveness, inefficiencies and you get recruiting and retention problems. Not surprisingly, we were seeing a same sort of convergence in the nineties as we saw in the late seventies. We have three crises in recruiting in the all volunteer force since we’ve established it in the very early seventies, wisely. And they bear striking similarity. The first is we’ve had an embarrassing defeat of some sort. We’ve had a reversal. Vietnam, Mogadishu, Somalia in the nineties and now with Afghanistan to be acute. The second is this tendency to socially engineer the promotion system and interfere, introduce woke policies, which undermine confidence, trust, the meritocracy necessary for the military to its job.
If you don’t trust your leaders to lead you in the most adverse circumstances, that has enormously debilitating consequences. And the military can’t function without that trust for I think all kinds of obvious reasons. Now the good news is that we’ve encountered this before. We’ve experienced it before, and part of that is the lack of trust people have in the military because they see the struggles that are being imposed upon it and that it’s undergoing, and where people are less likely to join. But the solutions again, are also resonant. We’ve solved this problem before by restoring trust and confidence in the military, by eliminating the policies that undermine trust, confidence and meritocracy, restoring that within the military, preserving it as an apolitical instrument that serves the state and the citizens. And we’ve also restored the resources necessary. And all of that combined can correct the deficiencies that we’re seeing. But it is not the first time. Hopefully we won’t experience it again and hopefully we’ll learn from the lessons of the past to correct it. We have to, because ultimately, again, that’s the barrier between us and an incredibly hostile world.
Roberts: Senator Tommy Tuberville has put a fine point on this with his courageous stance, which Heritage I am proud of everyone in this building-
Roberts: ... supporting him from the first moment. And that support will never stop.
Roberts: Until he prevails. And one thing I know about coach is, he’s not going to give up. In the last several days, some fellow Republicans, good men and women, have said he’s wrong because he’s costing America its military leadership. What’s your advice to them?
Greenway: Well, the facts don’t support the conclusions first. As Senator Tuberville has pointed out rightly, acting and performing the duties of, it’s the way the system’s built, the next person always will serve that function. So there’s no critical gap in capacity because of these vacancies, which he’s also right to point out. He is not preventing. They could all go to the floor if the Senate decides, and the Senate majority leader decides to present this to a floor vote. And so it is an artificial statement at its core. And so if you’re looking for the solution, the solution is if you really want to bring it to vote, go ahead, and then you’ll expose, I think, a host of other issues as a result of it. But then I think the core of the issue and the principle behind it all is there are laws. There are laws that state that federal money will not be used to support abortions. And for good reason.
It’s the law and the institution that’s responsible for making and promulgating these laws should, I think, recognize that first and foremost and insist on adherence to it. And we now have a Department of Defense, really an administration that is imposing a view and a practice that is not consistent with the law. And it’s also something that it has not done before. And it is not necessary for military readiness by any stretch. It’s quite... It’s the opposite. Imagine, as I do, a service member who has a death in the family and is allowed leave, this is well established, but has to pay for himself to get there to the funeral. And yet another service member, serving in the same organization, simply has to state they’re going to undergo this medical procedure, this abortion, and then is able to get fully funded travel. So I think on the face of it’s not in fact in my judgment damaging military readiness, but if it were, they should go to a floor vote and solve the problem.
The Senator Tuberville is not standing in the way of that. And then lastly, let’s just comply with the law. That’s the ultimate necessity here. And again, whenever the military strays from its initial primary focus to fight and win its nation’s wars, problems arise. This is no exception to it. This has nothing to do with fighting and winning a war. And the last thing I’ll say is that, that imperative, that insistence on focusing on that is absolutely critically essential. And everyone in the military recognizes it. And whenever you deviate from that, you have terrible consequences. And that is something we can ill afford.
Roberts: The policy alone is unconscionable. And what’s almost as unconscionable is a fellow Republican saying that Tuberville is wrong. And I’ll just say on the record, once again, knowing that you agree, all of us agree at Heritage, every conservative, every member of Congress, first of all, but every conservative, especially from conservative states, ought to be supporting Tuberville, not going on left-wing TV shows criticizing him.
Greenway: No, a hundred percent. And again, this is emblematic of a host of other issues. The principle matters, but fundamentally, life either is important or it is not. And again, the law either stands or it does not. But I don’t understand how we could do anything other than support his current position. And I think he will prevail as a result of it because he’s in the right.
Roberts: On that point, this hopeful conclusion to this thread about Senator Tuberville courageous stance, the final question, and it is about hopefulness. You’ve seen a lot of good and a lot of bad, and you’ve got a very sober assessment of America’s challenges. But I detect that you woke up this morning hopeful about the American future. Why?
Greenway: I’d say, first and foremost, because I’ve had the privilege of serving in our armed forces and in our government, and I know the capacity of our citizens and those that serve our citizens for good, and the strong overwhelming desire to do the right thing. And that ultimately is always, I think, cause for optimism. And second, since arriving here at Heritage now, just a little under a month, it’s exactly that same dynamic that occurs here. Everyone is committed to do the right thing, to work hard in order to accomplish it, and to work together doing it, and to do it with a smile, and to do it with joy and with a sense of optimism, which is necessary.
You can’t overcome these challenges, I think, if you don’t see a better way and you’re not hopeful to do it. And I also look to our past and recognize that we’ve confronted similar challenges, in some cases, more daunting challenges. We have overcome them. We’ve overcome them, I think, because we have hope and optimism for the future and confidence in each other, and I see no reason to see that that won’t allow us to prevail in the future.
Roberts: Rob Greenway, thanks for your service to this country. You’re a great patriot. I’ve already enjoyed working with you. I look forward to doing that for many years down the road.
Greenway: Thank you very much. So do I.
Roberts: I told you I was fired up about this conversation. I hope you enjoyed it. We’ve covered a lot of ground. Believe it or not, there’s more ground to cover, so we’ll have Rob Greenway back sometime soon. In the meantime, keep fighting, keep smiling. We are winning, and we are going to prevail. Take care.