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Kelly File

A question of leadership: Obama's foreign policy cause for concern?

This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," October 10, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST: Joining me now, General Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is retired now. General, great to see you.  Thank you very much for being here with us.  

GEN. RICHARD MYERS (RET-USAF), FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEF OF STAFF: Thank you, Megyn.  

KELLY: And when Bill O'Reilly asked Leon Panetta whether he was worried right now about the state of the country, about our future plans in the Middle East. He said he is, he is worried. Should we all be worried about the leadership in the White House right now in your opinion?

MYERS: Well first of all, I've had a chance to work with Mr. Panetta for a brief few months, and he is of course one of our most thoughtful and wisest leaders on national security. So I think when he says things that we ought to listen.

On the other hand instead of, I think -- there is a real tendency now to pile on these comments and others. And what we have to do is kind of look forward and say, OK, what are we going to do going forward?  We know we have this really bad threat in its current manifestation is called ISIS. But it's the same extremist threat we've known about since before 9/11. So how are we going to deal with this in a meaningful way so we don't keep getting surprised by new mutations?  

KELLY: OK. But here's what I'm asking -- this isn't to get you to be political, which you aren't. But when I listen to Leon Panetta, he sounds scared. He sounds scared about whether or not we have somebody in the White House right now who will do the things that are needed to keep us safe. And it seems like he's saying, this is why I wrote the book, because I'm trying to pressure him to act on what I, Leon Panetta, believe to be his courage. If only he will act on it. And do you have similar concerns?

MYERS: I guess what I'm concerned about -- and some of the words the president has said are actually fairly comforting when he talks about a comprehensive strategy and so forth. At the same time, you know, we're not as ambiguous about what we might do about these things. We kind of show all our cards at the beginning of the game. And these sorts of situations where you have lots of options, ambiguity is your friend when you're trying to confront an adversary such as ISIS.

So I think -- I guess what I would say, I think we need a lot more work to develop this comprehensive strategy. And I don't think we ought to rule things -- as a military person, I mean, all those options ought to be at least on the table for a while. Some of them can be not high probability of ever happening, but we shouldn't tell our adversary that. We should proceed like this as a real danger to the United States of America and to our friends and allies, which it is.

KELLY: You know, the president has been criticized for ignoring his generals, overruling his generals repeatedly. And he's done that time and time again. That's fact. But as somebody who was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are people being too hard on him in this regard?

MYERS: Well, fundamental to our democracy and our culture and our laws is the fact that we have civilian control of the military. It's the military's role to provide their best military advice, to do that vigorously in private. Then the president gets to decide. But he's going to get diplomatic advice, he's going to get economic advice, all these things coming together. So I think that's been overhyped, the fact that in my conversations with folks that have replaced me back is that, you know, the president does listen. But in the end it's his call.  

KELLY: Uh-huh.

So now we're stuck with this, you know, for however we got here we're stuck with this terror army that seems to be on the rise and is not getting destroyed from what it appears by these air strikes.  

First let me ask you about the airstrike strategy and then and I want to ask you what you really think we need to do. Do you think the airstrikes are working?

MYERS: Well, I think they're working. But I think in the end, you know, is it going to be air strikes enough? And in fact, I would opine that it's not just air strikes that won't be enough, but military force won't be enough. There's going to be lots of other actions.

For instance, in Baghdad you have to have a good government in Baghdad. So we need diplomatic engagement with the new government of Baghdad to try to get them to provide the kind of leadership they need to provide inside that country.  

So, no, I don't think air strikes are going to be sufficient. But in Iraq you have an Iraqi army that's been well-trained that if properly led could help with this problem and maybe extinguish ISIS inside Iraq.  

KELLY: But they're not doing it. I mean, properly led? And who's going to lead them? We've been trying. You know, they put down their arms and ran when ISIS came in.  

MYERS: Yes, they did. And that was of course under -- that was remnants of Maliki regime there in Baghdad where there was no incentive for those troops in northern Iraq to follow somebody who was not trying to bring the country together. So that's what's needed. We need strong diplomacy, strong I think U.S. help and consultation at the diplomatic level in Baghdad to get the government there to do the right thing. This isn't something that's going to turn around overnight, by the way. And you made that point, Megyn, I think a minute ago. It's not going to turn around overnight. It's going to take considerable time. But that, I think, is the best hope in Iraq. Syria's a different matter.  

KELLY: Do you think now -- we've been having this debate, but do you have a feeling on foreign policy, the best foreign policy to keep us safe?  I mean, is it something that's more robust where America leads and it's more interventionalist? Or is it something, you know, do we need to let the more Obama foreign policy of, let's not be as interventionalist, let's keep more to ourselves, let's show the world that we don't want to interfere in their business everywhere it may be happening. Does that need any more time to play out? Or do we have a pronouncement now on whether that will keep us safe or will not?

MYERS: Well, Megyn, I think the world needs leadership in these kinds of situations. And if it's not the U.S., then where is that leadership coming from? And so the U.N. does a lot of wonderful things, but leadership in these kind of issues is not their strong suit. Syria would be the first example that I think of.

It's not going to be NATO. NATO has got a lot of internal issues. They have budget problems. And anything that happens good in NATO is usually because of U.S. leadership or partnership with our allies there.

So where's the leadership going to come from? And I think those countries that have the capability, the means, the intellectual thought processes and so forth, they ought to lead. And that's the United States. We do it for our own national interests. We don't do it just to be good guys around the world. But we do it for our own national interests. And I think we have vital national interest in helping exterminate this extremist movement that's been going on now for a long time. And again, the current mutation is ISIS.  

KELLY: General Richard Meyers, thank you very much, sir. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  

MYERS: Thanks, Megyn.  

KELLY: All the best.

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