EXCLUSIVE: Gen. David Petraeus says bolstering the U.S. military’s “core strength” and “will” to take on China and increasing aid for Ukraine should be top priorities in the annual defense policy bill, but also condemned Congress for ending the Biden administration’s military COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and said complaints about the mandate are “manufactured outrage.”
Former CIA Director Petraeus, who served for 37 years in the U.S. Army, spoke with Fox News Digital at the Aspen Security Forum in Washington, D.C., Thursday about top priorities that should be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which will be up for a final vote in the Senate before lawmakers leave town for the holidays.
The general said the “most important” priority for the country that must be reflected in the NDAA is the United States and the West’s relationship with China and all things having to do with the Indo-Pacific, including the “transformation” of military services capabilities and a strengthening of the “will” of the U.S.
He said the U.S. must focus on transitioning away from military services capabilities that are massive and heavily manned, and thus are also “huge targets” due to their size.
“Keep in mind, Ukraine has validated that old Cold War adage that ‘if it can be seen, it can be hit, and if it can be hit, it can be killed.’ Think about that in a theater where everything can be seen and there are enormous vulnerabilities,” Petraeus said.
“So we have to be sure that we are transforming that entire theater and service capabilities…to make sure that they’re transformed in a way that shores up deterrence. And deterrence, of course, rests on a potential adversary’s assessment of your capabilities, on the one hand, and your willingness to employ them on the other,” he said.
“And we have to ensure there is no doubt about the capabilities, and we’ve got a lot of work to do there, and this budget will help in that regard,” he said, referring to the NDAA.
In addition, Petraeus said that the “will” of the U.S. to lead on the world stage is especially important during Russia’s war on Ukraine and the aftermath of the Afghantisan withdrawal.
“And that’s why the support for Ukraine is so important, especially coming after the withdrawal from Afghanistan to show that the U.S. can and will lead the world and it has the will to do just that. So again, that has to far and away be the top priority,” Petraeus told Fox News Digital. “Assistance to Ukraine, needless to say, has to be definitely one of those top three as well.”
Petraeus said the U.S. has given a “staggering amount” of assistance to Ukraine already, totaling over $19 billion in arms and weapons assistance and $13 billion in economic assistance over the past year.
He said Ukraine is making good use of the assistance, and now has “an army that is bigger and more capable than is that of Russia, despite being less than one third the size of Russia and not having all of the minerals and other blessings that Russia has. I think that situation is irreversible and there’s nothing that Putin and Russia can do about it.”
The final priority in the NDAA should be developing the miliary’s “core strength,” says Petraeus, which means taking care of U.S. troops and their families.
“Taking care of them, taking care of their families, ensuring that we are recruiting the best and brightest that we can attract,” he said. “And of course, there are challenges there right now with the very low rate of unemployment, ensuring that. Taking care of them, retaining them, educating, developing, all aspects of that and their families. Because you know the old saying, you recruit the soldier or the sailor, airmen, Marines, now guardians in the Space Force, you retain the family.”
Petraeus said he is worried about military “readiness” due to misperceptions about the COVID-19 military vaccine mandate, increased troop access to abortion after the rollback of Roe v. Wade and the increase of “woke” diversity and equity trainings.
“I’m concerned that perceptions of all that may [impact readiness],” he said. “I am not one who thinks that this is one of the huge issues that is facing the military. It is, however, something that is perceived to be an issue in certain circles, and I am concerned about that. I don’t think, I don’t see this kind of concern really manifest. Perception, certainly wrong. But, you know, this is it is a military that has always taken its shots. If its FDA approved and improves readiness, why would you not get that shot?” said Petraeus.
“And why there should be some concern about this particular shot is, frankly, because of domestic political issues that really I don’t think actually have particular merit. Once the FDA has approved it. Again, everybody is taking their flu shot every year,” he continued.
The House on Thursday passed its version of the NDAA including language to strip the Biden administration’s military COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Lawmakers cheered the move to end the “draconian” mandate, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called it a “win for our military.”
However, Petraeus disagreed, saying the mandate was designed to improve the readiness of the military, and that those opposed to it are overstating the problem.
“I don’t understand actually this particular issue, and I think it is a misperception. I think it is something that should not be present, frankly. Once it is, again FDA approved. And it is to improve the health and well-being and readiness of the workforce. That’s something that obviously should be supported,” he said.
“So I hope we can get past some of the hype. With all due respect, I think some of these are manufactured grievances to pursue domestic political issues. And I think we need to put these aside for the good of our men and women in uniform and their families and for the readiness of the U.S. military.”
The Pentagon has 30 days after the final passage of the NDAA to terminate the vaccine mandate.