Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter On 'The Five-Sided Box'
This message comes from NPR sponsor indeed, if you're hiring with indeed, you can post a job in minutes. Set up screener questions, then zero in on your shortlist of qualified candidates using an online dashboard. Get started at indeed dot com slash NPR podcast. This is one A. I'm Joshua Johnson in Washington. There are some jobs that never leave you even long after you leave them, for example, being secretary of defense ash Carter served as secretary under President Obama from February twenty fifteen until the end of that administration. He started at the Pentagon back in nineteen eighty one when Caspar Weinberger was secretary. And Reagan was president, former secretary Jim Mattis spoke at the unveiling of Carter's portrait in the Pentagon Mattis remembered, seeing him at Stanford after Carter left the Pentagon, and just after President Obama offered the top job, a still recall you and I standing there on the sunlit campus as we bid for weld, one, another little knowing that one day, we would shake hands again, in Washington DC you were on your way back to the Pentagon. And I began praying for you immediately. So it was once more into the fray for you, this time you would be our secretary job for which fate or providence had well prepared you? So what does Ashqarq think of his successor secretary Mattis, we'll get into that later in the hour? And we'll explore how he prepared for. And did a job as enormous as protecting America Carter is the author of a new memoir called inside the five sided box lessons from a lifetime of leadership in the Pentagon, and he joins us from NPR in New York Secretary Carter. Welcome to one A. Thanks for having me Joshua. I wonder how you reflect on how you found yourself in the position of being Defense Secretary, is it something you were kind of groomed for thinking about throughout your trajectory at the Pentagon or did it catch you by surprise. Well, I certainly thought about the secretary defense a lot, because as you noted, I started in nineteen Eighty-one, and I had a continuous association with the department of. Fence working for in it all the way up until twenty seventeen. So I knew all the secretaries of defense, they knew me, I did, what I could to help them and help the department during that entire time. I wasn't my dream all tied to become secretary defense. But it meant that since I was, I had so many different positions including the number three and then the number two, and then the number one position in the defense department that I certainly knew what it was like since I knew what I was doing. I had a lot of preparation but that's different from aspirin to it. I mean, let's remember that in our system, at the president chooses, the secretary of defense as someone whom he or she if we ever sheep president is comfortable with, and that won't always be someone who is associated with the department as I was. But President Obama. Chose me ultimately and other police serve the role. What exactly is in the purview of your job? But maybe the average person might not think of. Well, let's, let's think about just the sheer scale the thing for starters. It's, it's half of the federal budget. It is a place that has more employees than Amazon. Mcdonald's Federal Express, target and GE combined does more Orrin, d than apple Google, Microsoft combined. It operates real property that if it were putting on one place would be as large as the state of Pennsylvania. So this is the world's largest enterprise, and people think of the secretary of defense rightly, as somebody who helps the president decide what the policies are, and then importantly, makes plans for war and carries out war when that is necessary. And all that's true. And of course, war is the heart of what we do, but you're also the manager and leader of the world's largest enterprise by far. So how do you do that job day to day without being just on the verge of peeing your pants at how big this job is? I mean it's. A gigantic responsibility. How do you just go through it without letting the Augustus of it freak you out? Well, first of all, the would grounds you always is the troops, when I would get sick, a Washington. We getting airplane when we go somewhere and talk to the troops, and now toys would make me feel better about the mission. I never got tired of it. And there's an inherent nobility in the mission of protecting our people and making a better world, for our children, being part of something bigger than yourself, that isn't really great feeling all that keeps you going even when there are a lot of hassles your, I'll tell you a story about the, the management versus the other parts of the job. Remember the national security advisor at the time who was Susan Rice, I called her up one day and Susan, you just sent me a binder full of material for meeting with the president this afternoon. How my supposed to read all this stuff, and she showed a wrote back. Well, this is the most important part of your job. And I shot back to her and said, well, no, actually because the. President expects me to run half of his government. And he expects me not only make decisions but to carry out this decisions he makes. So it's kind of one part of my job. But it's not the only part of my job. And she to her great credits at all. Right. I understand. So you have a very big job when you're doing secretary defense, and you're doing three jobs for jobs compared to the two other cabinet secretaries with regards to that job. You write in your book that you had mixed feelings about accepting it. When President Obama asked you what were the mixed feelings driven by and what helps you get past them? Just the human things that in this case, I had just moved to California taking up a new life. I had left the department several months before as the number two, I didn't think I'd ever be back to the -partment and defense after that, and I was starting off to start another career and technology, which is my other. Side is a physicist. And so I would have to wrap up everything I was doing. And come back to Washington. Go go through it again. I also wanted to talk to President Obama. And this is a caution for people who say, if the president calls, you, you just say, yes. Well, no, you actually don't the president calls. You, you say, well, I'd like to talk to you about, or at least I wanna think about it, because your duty as a cabinet secretary is to serve the president of the United States, and you have to have some reasonable idea that you can be helpful to him. And so I wanted to talk to even President Obama whom I knew about certain issues and just see if we were close enough that we wouldn't have a problem later on, if I did become secretary of defense. So you need you need to. Make sure and I have said with respect to the current president that he doesn't seem to listen to secretary defense. So it didn't didn't seem very productive to me to be the secretary of defense to him. And President Obama, didn't always listen to me, but he listened to me enough of the time that I felt like I was being useful to them. I want to talk to you more about the work of the Pentagon in a moment. We continue with former secretary of defense, ash Carter, definitely want to talk about how you manage the finances of the world's largest enterprise, some of the other challenges at the Pentagon faces and what the future for the department of defense, might look like I'm Joshua Johnson. And you're listening to one A from W AMU, and NPR. Support for this podcast. And the following message come from Babbel. Have you always wanted to speak, a new language, whether it's for travel work, or brain training, Babbel's ten to fifteen minute lessons will get you speaking confidently in your new language? Choose from Spanish, French, and more, you'll learn through real life, dialogues, speech, recognition, and interactive trainers, and Babbel's space repetition method actually, makes you remember what you've learned, download the app or go to Babbel. B. A B, B E, L dot com to try babble for free black face in a studio like fishing on Instagram got, Israel, and antisemitism. You've got Israel and colonialism, you have go music versus the denture vibes coats, which we take the subtext of race in mega text chop it up with us. This is one A. I'm Joshua Johnson were speaking to former Defense Secretary ash Carter, his new book is called inside the five cited bucks lessons from a lifetime of leadership in the Pentagon. Lemme ask you about one of the aspects of the Pentagon that seems to make the most political. Hey, you mentioned that you've tried to keep the Pentagon out of politics as much as possible. It's the amount of money that goes into defense, you mentioned that it's half the federal government based on the budget for sure according to CNBC the Pentagon seeking a five percent increase for the next fiscal year. That would bring its total apportionment to seven hundred eighteen billion dollars. I can't imagine. Well, I don't have to imagine there'd been plenty of people over the years, who have said, why does the Pentagon knee that much money where do those funds? Go if we took five percent out of the Pentagon, we could pay for college tuition for every student in the entire country. And we're spending all this money on the military and healthcare, and roads and infrastructure and the environment. No were building more. F fifteens. What? Would you say to them? Why does the Pentagon need every penny that it's getting L? I got says it's an absolutely fair question. And it's a good question. And to the point you made about defense spending non-defense. Benny, I never ever nor would I now have argued for defense spending at the expense of nondefense spending. I think this idea that it's a zero sum. Game is is really unbecoming a strong country zero-sum game, isn't it? I mean, you can't spend the same dollar twice. Well, but here's the thing in there are other the combined defense and nondefense dollars is only about thirty percent of the total budget. If you wanna go looking where dollars are in the federal budget, you have to look at mandatory spending her entitlements, and you have to look at taxes and the deficit, the discretionary spending when we're talking about which is schools. Roads are in D homeland security intelligence, but also, national defense are the things that we all need to have done for us that we can only do collectively, and that's what our government is for. And I think that we are to parsimonious with our dollars in that regard that is where people who have been afraid to take on those other parts of the federal budget have gone to get money. So I mean it when I say I don't think it should be that I think the defense department defense budget get to that in a minute, and why I think that we need to defense department that is substantial. But why we can't waste that money? But I also believe in that a strong country depends on having our Indian having infrastructure and having an educated populace and all these other things. So I. He in my view. It's not as hero seven came it shouldn't be zero sum. Game now respected defense. You say why first of all, these are very small differences from year to year. I'd everybody makes a big deal out of a small increase small decrease in practical terms. They have been a few percent here and there as gone from administration to administration or year to year. Why is it? So big in the first place. The there couple of reasons for that one is that we pay our forces very well. Now, one is that we have ballooning healthcare costs like everyone else. Does another is that we're very high technology force, and so compared to forces that are conscription forces and so forth. Our manpower bills are health care bills are very expensive. We also if you think about it, we are up against as potential, antagonise, China Russia, Iran Korea terrorists, and may be others or totally different things in the future. So we have a lot to invest in. Whereas most of them are focused on us only and can focus all their dollars on them now. So I can I can justify a lot of the size of the defense, would I can't just won't justify is the waste of single nickel of this. And this is something I did as the acquisition officer, the chief operating officer and the chief executive officer of the defense department is fight waste that you can't justify. That's one of the things I wanted to ask you about secretary because, you know, we hear these reports about, you know, four point six million dollars on crab and lobster or six hundred dollars on a toilet seat, and Dino it, obviously a ROY. Roads trust in the system there, you write about the Joint Strike Fighter program, and the problems that arose from that. It's still more than a decade behind schedule more than two hundred billion dollars over budget. I don't wanna go through all the problems of the Pentagon, because there's been plenty of reporting about the, the difficulty of just following the money there. But what did you see that can help? Explain why it's so difficult to follow the money and maybe get it how to follow the money through the Pentagon better. Why isn't that a higher mission for a mission driven organization to not waste my money? Oh, it was it was for me and there's a lot, we can do. Yes. And there are programs that are mismanaged and you can't go to the American public and say, what I was just saying about the size of the defense budget and, and the merits of having a defense bunch of this big enough to protect the country. And at the same time tolerate waste. So let's take the Joint Strike Fighter. You give an example of what I came into office as the chief weapons buyer that thing was. Years behind, and double its budget and was in such disgrace that I didn't think it conserve. I've which would have been a problem because it was the tactical fighter aircraft of the future for three of our services and the book details. What I did to try to get some managerial control and succeed in getting some managerial control over this over the Joint Strike Fighter. I talk about the area refuting tanker and so forth and the ways in which you can tighten up defense management and discipline the contracting process so that you don't have waste in the defense budget. I believe that's possible. I insisted on that from acquisition officials from me. And if you select really good acquisition officials, and you back them up when they do the right thing in the courageous thing, you can get good results in defense, but I'm not gonna policy is for. Single nickel wasted. There's no apology. You can make for that. It's disgraceful. We don't expect it. We expect the troops to give their all and we ought to give our all when it comes to mismanagement and waste in defense department. Well, then let me ask a dumb question. Why doesn't the Pentagon just use QuickBooks? I mean it's not like there's no software for following money. Why can't the Pentagon it, which is the nation's largest contractor just contract with a company and say, install QuickBooks, on every defense department computer around the world? I know that sounds reductive in a little third grade. But you know, this is just arithmetic. Why isn't it that easy? Well. I we have in a sense that kind of compat- capability today, it's not that we don't keep track of the money, we spend, it's a lot of the products. We buy are one of a kind things. Nobody else makes aircraft carriers. Nobody else makes nuclear weapons. Nobody else makes. Specialized vehicles for avoiding improvised, explosive devices. Some of the things we do our sui generous and. If we were buying, and, but we also buy things that are purely commercially sourced, and we buy that we buy them and can't buy them in a commercial way. But a lot of things we have to do in a different way and that's not to justify things when they're done in a wasted way. But we can't do everything like the commercial sector with regards to that the president was elected in part, due to a rising anger among many Americans over partisan gridlock. He vowed to run the US government like a business. The current the acting secretary of defense. Patrick Shanahan used to be the senior VP of supply chain and operations for Boeing, what are your thoughts on that on, on running? Not the whole government. Let me just stick to the defense department about running the Pentagon more like a business. Well, I think good management accurate is a good thing to have in a secretary of, of defense. And that was basically how I ended up as secretary. Fences, more on the managerial, Saturday, certainly was not a political figure. It's a good thing to have, I would and you can get that in business, I would say that. You know, running a company is not the same as running the department of defense. So it's really important that you have some prior association with department before you take over the top job in the same way, I wouldn't have said that my being secretary defense, automatically qualified me to go run a Motte major oil company or something like that. If I had never been in that sector before there's just a certain amount of that you need to learn and master about a given field no matter how talented you are. So I think it's important to have some managerial. Accurate, but it's also important to have some background and experience in defense. All these ingredients are important secretary defense. I wanna talk more about our relationships with our allies and our adversaries when we continue with former Defense Secretary ash Carter stick lifts. Support also comes from NCR. Let's face it, as a small business owner, you wear, so many hats, every day, you rarely have time to focus on activities that drive profitability or bring in new customers. That's why you need a point of sale. That does more NCR silver delivers simple to understand analysis and business building tools like Email marketing and loyalty, so you can get back to focusing on your customers NCR silver. Visit NCR dot com slash silver. We're back with a new season of rough translation. Yeah. And this time, we are following people who break the rules in lying. He's part of the business. Opinion, the best revenge against ISIS. This to be humane a mess supposed to pinch. Yeah. Yeah episodes. Every other Wednesday subscribed back now to our conversation with former Defense Secretary ash Carter, his new book is called inside the five side of box. There's an acronym that I learned through prepping for this, which is cricket. C R, I K T, China Russia, Iran, North Korea and terrorism. I imagine that those countries the entities that pose the big threats to us national security, a number of people have articulated on those various players in various ways. Give me a sense of how you would like to see us if you were Defense Secretary today right now, dealing with cricket dealing with these five different kinds of threats. And is there one that you would take care of I sure la- I can I tell you the story of cricket? Yes, it's, it's a great Pentagon story. Well, I used to talk all the time with my senior commanders we would go through our war plans, and our preparations, and I would always say, let's not make this to abstract, let's talk. Let's put the names, the names, here who are the real problem children, China Russia, Iran North Korea and terrorism, and I go through that, that list again, and again, and again, and again, and one time I overheard in the hallway somebody talking about cricket, and then I heard it again, in a meeting somebody talked about cricket. So I turned to one of my assistance, one of these people talking about cricket, and he says, oh, that's your strategy. A said, you know, everybody was repeating it so often that they just turned it into the word cricket. So there there you go just naming the parts becomes a strategy. And in the Pentagon a strategy. Gets an acronym and you ask, what do we do to prepare for all of them? Unfortunately, they're all little bit different. China and Russia are high end. That is more demanding in terms of the level of technology and both involve are nuclear powers. Moreover, so that's important. They both have substantial landmass, and so they have a lot that's in common. But North Korea say is much smaller, and if it were only a matter of conventional war would still be a serious problem, not because it's close to the United States. But because it's close to South Korea were there we would win. We would destroy North Korea's regime in North Korea's military. But because it's in such a densely urban area. The warfare takes place. It is a very grisly war, but then on top of that North Korea's nuclear weapons, so that means you're dealing with a country with a strange government like that. That is just newly come into possession of nuclear weapons. That's a different kind of problem, then you got Ron, which doesn't have nuclear weapons put his right there in the middle. East and does a lot of stuff with proxies and third parties in has blonde so for war Yemen, and that kind of thing. Yeah. And then you got tears, so they're all they're all different. And this is one of the problems that we have the world's leading power is that if you go to a job, I bet you, if you go to a Chinese military briefing, it's all about the Americans. And she go to Russian military briefing. It's all about married to an American military briefing. It's about cricket. Because we have to be concerned about all of them, and they're pretty much focused on us. Soren wrote on our Facebook page. We are the world's bully. The USA is the most hated slash feared nation in the world. Not Iran North Korea or Cuba, as Americans, we tend to see ourselves as the quote unquote, good, guys. But with our military posturing, endless wars, and neo-imperialism, don't we cause more chaos and violence than we prevent and Laurie added. Why hasn't anyone charged the US with crimes against humanity? Where are the sanctions on the US? Is everyone too afraid of the US to do what is right secretary. Well, they're spirited questions in. They're perfectly fair questions. But to the question, do we do more harm than good? I think empirically the United States is done a lot more good than harm. Let me give you some examples. There's no other country. No other country that. Could've put together the military campaign. The training of local forces, the Marsh lane of allies to defeat ISIS than the United States, and you really think ISIS didn't need to be to be defeated this as a country that in twenty fifteen a so called country is a group of people who are crucifying people who are enslaving, women who were subjugating whole populations. I, I don't think you can have that I think somebody has to stick up for civilized world and the United States did that. I think that was a good thing. It's something I'm proud of it was in our, our own country's interest. But there were other countries, particularly the people in the territories tyrannized by ISIS. But then next you come to Turkey you come to Europe. And so over that suffered much more from my inspired terrorism, the United States did. But we. We did have it also in the United States. I, I think that was a good thing next. I'd say. How about preventing war in Europe for generation without the United States, the Soviet Union Stalin's, Soviet Union probably would have over run western Europe. Now, we've made mistakes lung lines and we can all debate along the line, and we can all Ulta bait that particular instances. But I think on that the, the records pretty good and asked to the question of Dewey. Do it in a civilized way or not. Which was the second question there. Also a fair question. And I used to say as secretary defense, and I, I meant it that the United States took its values to the battlefield, and that meant US law international law, and the law of armed conflict, and we try to abide by that, and believe me. We work very hard again. We're not perfect when we make mistakes we do something wrong in an airstrike. We do an investigation report to you about that investigation. No other country is that candid about the mistakes, it makes before I could propose something to the president to approve a strike or a hostage. Rescue, or a war plan or something. Lawyers went through it looking for just those things, and they'd say this is not consistent with US law international law. And that wasn't the American way before I let you go secretary Carter wondering if you miss it, if you miss being at the Pentagon, if you miss being the secretary of defense or if you're ready to move on before we let you go. Well, there's a little of both. I mean, I, I knew that you couldn't last forever. I but I I love the department offense. I'll always be devoted to it. And I love the. Job. I felt like I knew what I was doing. And that it was a noble calling to be working in this wonderful department. I'd say that any young person now thinking about military service or any other kind of public service, whether in the defense department or anywhere else at the same time, you can't do you can't do it forever. That's not the way our system works. And so when I came out of the defense department, I said, well, I'm not going to hang around the Washington hoop like a lot of people do or I'm not going to go. I'm not ready to go retire. Either I wanna work on the other big thing of than protecting our people, which I think, is the issue of our time. And that is the way technology is affecting our lives and technology brings a lot of good things. And I'm a technologist, but we have to admit that technology can have darker side as well. So digital technologies brought a lot of commerce and. Community, but it's also brought hatred and darkness and lies and other things we have a bio revolution to come. And hey, I revolution to come. We have the whole question of technology's impact on jobs and people sense of their own worth and ability to plot a future for themselves and their, their children. These are really big issues and as a technologist I think we need to find solutions to technologies dilemmas. That's my new crusade, and I find that as absorbing as I found defending our people, I like the idea of taking on something that's big inconsequential and applying what I know to solving it. That's what got me into the defense technology business in the first place. And I'm trying to follow that same star over another horizon now that I'm out of the Pentagon Ashkar the former secretary of defense from February twenty fifth. Until the end of the Obama administration. His new book is called inside the five sided bucks lessons from a lifetime of leadership in the Pentagon, secretary Carter. It's been a pleasure. Thanks for talking to us. Thanks. Good to be with you. Thank you, Joshua. This conversation was produced by Morgan givens an edited by Miranda. Full more to learn more about them and the rest of the team. Visit the one eight dot org slash staff. This program comes to you from W AMU part of American University in Washington distributed by NPR until we meet again, I'm Joshua Johnson. Thanks for listening. This is one.