Gen. Jack Keane on the Trump administration's strategy for confronting China

This is a rush transcript from "Life, Liberty & Levin," February 17, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARK LEVIN, HOST: Hello America, I'm Mark Levin. This is "Life, Liberty & Levin." We have a great guest, General Jack Keane. How are you, sir?

JACK KEANE, RETIRED AMERICAN FOUR-STAR: Good to see you, Mark.

LEVIN: I've watched you for a few years now and you're exceptional, which is why I wanted to have you on this program. You know, we get caught up in a lot of the domestic politics, a wall, and a government shutdown. That's all very important, but so is foreign policy, so is national security, so is military policy and I wanted to have you here to focus in on a few subjects.

First of all, I want the public to know a little bit more about you. You're graduate of the Army War College and the Command and General Staff College. You're a four-star general. There not a lot of four-star generals. You're the second one I've met in my entire life.

You completed over 37 years of public service in December 2003, culminating in your appointment as acting Chief of Staff and Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army. You have a career as an infantry paratrooper, a combat veteran of Vietnam, decorated for valor.

You spent much of your military life in operational commands where you had trips in Iraq and Afghanistan and you advise senior defense officials with multiple visits during the surge period and you provided assistance directly to General David Petraeus.

And in December of 2018, you received the Ronald Reagan Peace through Strength Award at the Reagan Library, the first military official to ever receive that award. That's a big deal.

KEANE: Yes, that was quite a humbling experience. You know, you get a number of awards when you in a position like me and you're certainly grateful for all of those, but that award really got to me, to be frank.

I mean, I have tremendous regard for Ronald Reagan and what he stood for and what his legacy is and I was honored.

LEVIN: Are you impressed with the foreign policy of the current President, President Trump?

KEANE: Generally speaking, yes. I do have some difficulties with certain aspects of it, but I think what the administration truly got right is they set the strategic framework for how the world truly is and that was expressed in the national security strategy that they published in their first December first year in office, which even then was unprecedented.

And they set a strategic framework that laid out in the world that we are really in an era of big power competition namely with Russia and China who want to destroy the international order that has existed for 70-plus years principally designed to prevent major conflict like a World War III again, and I think those institutions have served as well.

They want to depart from them because of their own national interests and also the regional hegemony of Iran and their maligned and aggressive behavior and what they have done in the Middle East and also globally in terms of state-sponsored terrorism.

North Korea, a rogue state with nuclear weapons threatening the use of them certainly when that strategy was crafted, now at least, we're talking to each other and of course, radical Islam. Middle East is a breeding ground for it, but the truth is, it's on just about every continent and it is thriving and it's growing.

So that strategy that they identified, I think, they got about right. It was a major departure from I think the pretend strategy we had in the Obama administration that we did not want to step up and identify these challenges in the world. I think, and only speculating now largely because they didn't want to have to deal with them and be held accountable for a strategy to cope with these realities.

LEVIN: Isn't non-involvement or non-engagement or pretend strategy, isn't that provocative? I mean, our enemies see it and they say, "Okay, Obama or whomever, they're saying this, but they don't really mean it," and then you have the invasion of Crimea and then you have the beginning of these phony islands in the South China Sea and then you have Russia moving into Syria and so forth and so on.

I want to break each one of these down. Let's start with China. I'm just a pedestrian, but I see China as a major, major threat because of all the focus and resources they are putting into their military and not just, you know, troops. Their strategic decisions, their space warfare activity that they're really leading on, stealing our technology, which they not only use for civilian purposes, but military purposes.

Constantly claiming more and more navigable waters that belong to the Philippines or belong to Japan and do you see China as the grave threat that I do?

KEANE: Yes, absolutely. Indeed, so does the administration. The National Defense strategy identified China as the number one strategic long-term threat to the American people and the security of the United States.

I spent a year-long effort on a commission looking at the National Defense strategy and also how it's being implemented, so I'm intimately familiar with what our challenges are here.

Now first of all, many people in the United States after Deng Xiaoping started to conduct economic reform and open up China's marketplace and move towards capitalism fell in on China. Our business leaders fell in on them, strategists, analysts --

LEVIN: Like 25 years ago or so.

KEANE: Yes. Two-plus decades, absolutely, right, and the thought was is that if we helped China along in terms of developing them economically that political reform will follow.

Well, we lost that bet because that hasn't happened. China has doubled down on authoritarianism. They are fundamentally run by a very closed Chinese Communist Party. When you think of China, you just shouldn't think of all the wonderful things that's inside the culture of that country, you've got to think about who runs it. Chinese Communists run it, and they run it with an absolute iron hand and in control of the people.

What they're about is now in writing and in public discourse, it used to be in the closet so to speak, until President Xi came along he has set some serious formidable goals for them. One, to dominate and control the Pacific, the Asia Pacific region at the expense of the United States and to try to drive us out of there and cut off the relationship that we have with our allies.

Two, is to replace the United States. In the late 2030s, early 2040s, replace the United States as the world's global leader and they are about doing this and they have a couple of pillars to accomplish it. One is they are economic predators and they used that engine of investment in emerging countries to pull them to them with some pretty tough behavior, which they put money into these countries. The countries default on loans. They take over the infrastructure projects that they were promising. They don't deliver a quality product.

As a matter of fact, they only use Chinese labor when they're doing it and they insist on Huawei, their service system to be the main driver in that country and their telecom units as well, which means they're taking over the personal intelligence of the people in that country for generations to come.

They are opening up sea ports because they want to be a global power like the United States, so they have a Navy base in Djibouti. They have another one that they're developing in Pakistan, and they are taking over many of the ports that are in the key choke points around the world in terms of operating those ports.

LEVIN: Who runs the Panama Canal?

KEANE: China.

LEVIN: China runs the Panama Canal --

KEANE: They help operate it.

LEVIN: They have a foothold there effective.

KEANE: They have a foothold there and for why? For the obvious reasons, it is of strategic influence in the world today and it helps to control commerce. South China Sea -- they've militarized the South China Sea, which they told President Obama they really weren't doing, but everybody knew they were doing it to include our intelligence services that were working for President Obama.

They militarized the South China Sea because half of the world's economy passes through the South China Sea and in a time of conflict or unrest, they want to have control. Sixty two percent of their oil comes out of the Middle East. They know that the United States carry a battle group that could tie that up in terms of confrontation and it's the Achilles heel right now China.

That is why the port exists in Djibouti. That is why they're building another one in Pakistan near the Indian Ocean. They want to have economic influence initially that will give them geopolitical influence and ultimately control.

LEVIN: What you're suggesting here is they are preparing for not necessarily ready to launch, preparing for an offensive war against the United States. Why else would they be doing all this?

KEANE: That's a great question and I'm going to disagree with that a little bit, okay. They saw Desert Storm 1991, the prowess of the United States. Before that, we have been involved in Vietnam, a protracted war and on low technology. We recovered from that largely due to the Reagan administration, which got us on a proper footing with the Soviet Union and up-scaled all of our military capabilities.

The American people didn't really know how good we got until they saw that. Well, guess what? So did Russia and so did China see that and it spooked both of them. As a result of that and then the Iraq invasion in 2003 was another data point for them. They made this conclusion.

One, we don't want to fight a war with the United States, a conventional war, a high-end war because of the capabilities they have. Two, what we need to do is get those capabilities ourselves to a certain degree and in certain cases, have special capabilities that the United States doesn't have. So in the event we have to fight that war that we're not going to be disadvantaged.

But here's the key thing that they've done. China wants to avoid conflict with the United States so they have developed what I'm calling "gray zone operations" that conduct operations below the level of conflict that will get them the same results that conflict would get, which is what? Geopolitical control and influence.

So South China Sea, East China Sea, areas around Japan and Taiwan are all about intimidation, coercion, undermining civil society, undermining governments, taking over media operations as a spin that they want as far south as Australia. This is a major campaign.

They have a 130,000 commercial fishing boats that work for the PLA -- it's the People's Liberation Army -- all militarized with proper GPS and also radio communications to do what? To intimidate and coerce other fishing rights that countries have in the region. Day in day out, week in week out, month in month out, they're wearing down these countries in terms of their own sovereignty.

They violate their air and maritime rights on a regular basis and they're trying to demonstrate to those allies, to those countries who are mostly all allies of the United States that, "Look, the United States can't help you here. You want to be successful in this region and have some degree of sovereignty, you're going to have to work with us."

LEVIN: When we come back, I want to ask you about the Chinese and what they're doing in space and it appears India has awakened to what China's doing, too, when we return.

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LEVIN: Now, General Keane, as I mentioned before we left, they're also militarizing space. The Russians are, too, we'll get to them in a moment. They're militarizing space to do what?

KEANE: Well first of all, they recognize how dependent we are on space technology. So they had -- many, many years ago they began to develop anti-satellite kill capability and now it's a major endeavor of theirs. Then here's a reason. Obviously, GPS and all the location would be taken out by that; all of our communications, but all of our weapons telemetry. So when you see cruise missiles flying and precision-guided munitions coming out of airplanes, all of that is controlled by satellite technology, and they would actually bring us to our knees if they took those satellites down.

The President is right about making sure we have an emphasis on space because eventually, space will be weaponized. We will have capabilities flying around in space on space stations that will be weaponized to kill other things that are passing through space like missiles, airplanes or whatever that is passing through there. They're going to take it out.

So we've got to stay involved in technology in space. The Chinese in some respects have caught up to us in terms of satellite technology, but they're ahead of us in terms of anti-satellite technology.

LEVIN: Because I read that the Obama administration cut off resources for it and while - so the Chinese are moving as fast as they can and the President is trying to play catch-up to what the Chinese have done, what are we doing about all this? What are we doing about China?

KEANE: Yes, well first of all, the President, I think is absolutely right in taking China on economically. It is obviously not my expertise, but nonetheless, clearly intellectual property theft, forcing joint ventures on our business companies and the tariffs and balances are pretty significant endeavors of the Chinese. They've gotten away with it for years. This is something that the President has been talking about for 20-something years.

So he's absolutely right about doing it and I give them plenty of credit. I think, we still don't have a comprehensive strategy to deal with China's gray zone operations which intimidates and coerces are allies. While the military can play a role there and we're doing some of that by navigating through the South China Sea and East China Sea when we feel like it, even though China says, "That's our waterway." It is not, it's international waterway, but they claim it, that's important.

But we need a whole-of-government strategy. We need a political, economic, military aspect. We need an information campaign that Chinese what they do domestically, they are a repressive society and what they're doing around the world in terms of their cyber offensive capability, we've got to expose that and they're paranoid and insecure about what the Chinese Communist Party actually does.

And they kind of keep a lot of that in the closet. We've got to pull back the veil of mystery that surrounds all of that. Get all of our allies involved in that as well, and push these guys back into a box and a lot of that will take non-military comprehensive strategy to do. I think we need to do some work there. The second thing is --

LEVIN: Where do we -- the President makes a decision. He says, "Okay, do what General Keane said," who does that? That's part of the problem, isn't it? Which department? Which office?

KEANE: Well that's a great question and you know so that our viewers can understand that. When a President makes a decision, "Look, I want to do something about China. We don't have to get into the details about it. I want to push back on these guys." I think our strategy is right. They are threatening to us. They're our number one threat. Put together a strategy to do that. That is the province of the National Security adviser, the Director of the National Security Council is one in the same person and they bring the whole of government effort together in terms of what is the overall strategy and what are the elements of the implementation of that strategy, bring that to the President, put some options in front of them, associate the risk with each option. Let them make some decisions about doing all of that.

LEVIN: So John Bolton would be --

KEANE: John Bolton now, H.R. McMaster before that.

LEVIN: Okay. Now India. India obviously is a very big country with a lot of people. Their military is certainly not up to the standards as the Chinese, but apparently they're starting to pour a lot of resources into their military because like with all the countries in the region, China is pushing, pushing, pushing and they're pushing India, too. Do you know what India is trying to do to respond to this?

KEANE: Well, militarily, they're slowly increasing their capability. They are very concerned about China's predatory nature in their region. China is in the Indian Ocean every single day.

By the way, just as a data point, China now has more combat ships than the United States Navy, and they're going to go right past us in all of this. Now, people say, "Well, they only have two aircraft carriers." Well, they're never going to have as many aircraft carriers as we do because they're not certain you can protect those given the missiles that China has. They know that they can take down our aircraft carriers and our surface ships, not easily, but they know if they swarm missiles at them, they likely can do that.

So they know how vulnerable they are, but the point is, India is intimidated by China's behavior. They have been aligned with Russia for military capability, as you know for years, but we have made inroads into India and I think we're getting closer to them than we've ever been in a generation. Why? Because we both see the domination of China and what they are seeking in that region at the expense of the countries in that region.

LEVIN: And they have a western friendly Prime Minister over there now, too?

KEANE: Very much.

LEVIN: Yes. Well, be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARIANNE RAFFERTY, CORRESPONDENT, FOX NEWS: Live from "America's News Headquarters," I'm Marianne Rafferty. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says his state will immediately file a lawsuit over the President's national emergency declaration to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Becerra told ABC this week that the border wall isn't a national emergency and would divert resources from more important needs. According to the "Washington Post," six other states will be joining California in that lawsuit.

More than 1,500 people attending a prayer vigil in Aurora, Illinois today for the people killed in Friday's workplace shooting. The gunman, Gary Martin shot and killed five people after he was fired from his job. He wounded five responding police officers before he was killed by police and in an exchange of gunfire. Police say Martin had a criminal history and should have prevented him from owning a gun.

I'm Marianne Rafferty, now back to "Life, Liberty &Levin."

LEVIN: General Keane, Russia. You know it's a relatively poor country. It's got the GDP of Texas. It doesn't have an enormous number of people, relatively again speaking, and yet under Putin, they're really focused on R&D on their military, too, aren't?

KEANE: Oh, yes, very much so. You're right to start with some of the challenges that Russia has because that they are significant. They are the largest country landmass in the world. They have 150 million people in it which is half the population, less than half the population of the United States.

Of the industrialized states, they have the - they are number one in HIV. They're number one in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. They have an enormously alcoholic problem in their country and they've had that for generations and their economy is in a tank. The ruble is in trouble. Inflation is spiraling out of control and they are one commodity product country in terms of oil and gas and very dependent on what the prices in the market are for all of that.

All that said, Russia, I think because of Putin and the leaders around him having suffered through the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were much younger one that took place and they certainly are frustrated by their leaders who they hold accountable for that loss, are energized intensely so about returning Russia to a world stage and to a sense of greatness for the nation.

And if any of our viewers have ever spent time in Russia, being around the Russian people is a good thing. They're good people. They're hearty people. They are tough people. Twenty two million of them were killed in World War II standing up to Nazism and that aggression. They got within 30 miles of Moscow and they made that Army turnaround defeated. Quite remarkable what they did.

They have pride and Putin knows that. He knows that population will suffer and be willing to suffer, so that's why what he does has a strategy. He creates this myth that the United States is really the aggressor in the world, that we've caused all the problems in the Middle East and in Afghanistan.

We are the strategic problem and what has to be done is we must contain the United States, and NATO is also a threat to us, much as Germany was a threat to us in the past. They could possibly be a threat to us in the future and it's true.

While we don't believe that Europe is going to attack Russia again, as Germany did in World War II, the Russians have it in their psychic. A Frenchman was there in the 19th Century and put Moscow on fire. A German was there in the 20th Century and came mighty close to doing very much the same thing. They want a buffer on their western border that they had post- World War II all the way up until 1991, that's Eastern Europe. Al of that is largely in NATO now.

Putin is fixated on NATO. He wants to weaken it. The Transatlantic Alliance that has served us so well for all of these years, now, there's challenges with it. To be sure, a lot of those governments are social democracies and some of those leaders are feckless. They won't stand up even to protect their own people, much less the Alliance, and they - some of them lack spine in terms of what their predecessors were like.

Henry Kissinger said, "Once they move down the line of social democracies, the Europeans will find it difficult not only to fight for somebody else, but even to fight for themselves," and I think that prophetic statement that he made 30 years ago has turned out to be somewhat true.

All of that said, the NATO alliance is very important to us. Russia wants to weaken it. They eventually want to break it and they want to weaken the United States' will to be a global leader in the world today.

LEVIN: And yet there they are in Syria. I think, they are even in the North Pole. They're trying to move out. They are developing weapon systems, hypersonic weapons as the Chinese are, too. Is Putin just an irritant or is he a serious problem? Isn't he also building alliances with the Chinese?

KEANE: Yes, I think, Russia today is a threat. There are adversaries to be sure and because of Putin's aggressiveness and his lack of patience, by comparison to the Chinese, I think it's much more of a near-term threat for us. The economic burdens and social burdens that we just discussed are a millstone and it'll become much more of a motherlode for them as time goes on, and it's actually weaken the nation state and its capacity to wage a major war.

But I'm telling you, Mark, on the Commission I was on for the National Defense strategy for a year, well I can't get into all the details of it. We've certainly provided it to the Congress. In a general sense, if we had a deal with Russia in Europe today, we're an ocean away. We have very little capacity there for the United States. It's not what we had post- World War II for all of those years of the Cold War, we would be challenged if we were fighting, say, over the Baltics.

Article V, NATO declares it, "One country attacked, all 28 countries respond to that." We're collectively going to fight Russia. That would challenge --

LEVIN: I want to ask you when we come back, why is it a challenge? Is it because we've removed so many resources? Is it because we haven't upgraded? Is it because there aren't enough troops? I'll ask you in just a moment.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEVIN: Now, General, you indicated we'd have a tough time in Europe fighting Russia. Sort of conventional warfare. Why is that?

KEANE: Well, first of all, they've been very successful operating below conventional warfare using hybrid warfare where they create civil unrest using special operation forces to do that and then on a phony claim, they bring in forces that are not wearing Russian uniforms to put down that unrest and claim that territory. That happened in Georgia. That happened in Crimea and also in eastern Ukraine. That has been successful.

They do that because they want to paralyze decision-makers as to whether this is really a real war or not. Should we go and help the Ukrainians or not? They've got inside President Obama's head, I believe and paralyzed him that there's too much risk to do that. It's really not a war, and so we abdicated -- a very successful strategy.

However, they were also preparing for the potential of a conventional war with us and if we had to fight with them in over Eastern Europe, we have to get there, we're an ocean away. We would struggle with that. Our Commission concluded our casualty rates for personnel and high-value assets, ships and airplanes in particular, some of our most sophisticated would be at rates we haven't seen since the Korean War and World War II and that I think is an absolute fact.

LEVIN: Because of the same technology the Chinese are working on?

KEANE: Yes. China and Russia are using the same asymmetric capability. When they saw Desert Storm and the Iraq War, as I mentioned before, high- end conventional warfare by the United States. They realized the only way you could win a war against the United States, you would have to take away their air power premise and prowess that we have. That's just not airplanes, it's cruise missiles. It's the whole ensemble of it.

LEVIN: They can blind us.

KEANE: Yes, and once you take that away, whatever they're doing on the ground say in Europe, it becomes very vulnerable to their tanks, airplanes and missiles. So if we were fighting over the Baltics, they have the Kaliningrad offensive ship missiles, long-range missiles and they can bring up to the border of Russia strike bombers using cruise missiles that can range every airfield we have in Europe and every port that our ships are coming into.

LEVIN: But now, let me ask you this and I don't want you to give away any National Security secrets. Can we do the same to them?

KEANE: We can do a lot of damage to them, but we have to get there. See, in the Cold War, we were pre-positioned there. We had stocks and warehouses and we had 400,000 troops. No one is suggesting we need something like that today. But we have to increase our deterrence.

To prevent conventional war that I'm talking about, the way we have done that in the past so successfully is making certain that we have adequate deterrence. What is deterrence? Deterrence is getting inside the head of your adversary. He looks at that capability you have and it's real and it's going to impose significant cost on him.

Right now, that capability is not what it should be when you're looking at China and when you're looking to Russia. That's why the Trump defense build-up is so important to us. It can't be two years. It has got to be five or six to dig ourselves out of this hole that we put ourselves in.

The second thing is, not only does he have to see the capabilities going to impose cost, but he's got to believe that you would use it.

In the Obama presidency, I would suggest the capability wasn't what it should be and we're improving on that, but we're not there yet, but he knew Putin knew full well that Obama wouldn't use it.

That's not where we are today. When they look at the Trump administration and President Trump, they know that he would use it and they -- I think, despite all the rhetoric that's going on about Russia, the thing that Putin pays more attention to than anything else is that defense buildup that's going on.

Why? Because when Reagan did the defense buildup in the 1980s, that contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It wasn't singular; certainly, there other factors involved and a lot of them were internal problems that the Soviet Union had, but it was a major contributor to it. Putin is looking at that and he fears the United States getting the advanced capability that it has always had and getting back to having a conventional domination that we had.

LEVIN: Has Trump been tougher on Russia than Obama?

KEANE: Oh by far. Absolutely by far. What happens is, you're the President and it mystifies me a little bit, I mean, just to be frank about it. It is that, he goes way out of his way to want to be friendly with adversaries. So it's President Xi who is his very good friend. It's Putin who he wants to have a relationship with, where he knows it's not quite right and even with Kim Jong-un, who is one of the true thugs of the world.

But I give him some concession here because I think the motivation is simply this. He knows full well that these are adversary nations. They're much more than competitors to the United States who maybe use that word to be nice, but he knows full well these are adversaries. And these are countries that can clearly threaten the security in the United States.

But I think what he believes is based on his own personal attributes, he thinks, "If I can have a decent relationship with an adversary, maybe we can make some progress."

LEVIN: But he's been tougher on every one of those countries you mentioned than known Obama ever was and that's the bottom line. He is tough where he needs to be tough most of the time and I think these other, as you were saying, these other leaders, they either respect him or they fear him or they're not sure what to expect of him, but they're not taking provocative actions right now because of him. We'll be right back.

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LEVIN: How do you think world leaders view President Trump?

KEANE: Well, that's interesting. I traveled to the Middle East, Europe and the Far East and when I'm talking to leaders around the world, at times they are uncertain because the President speaks so frequently on so many subjects, but I think they're adjusting to that. They're not used to having a President of the United States speak publicly virtually every single day.

What I tell them is pay attention to U.S. policy because U.S. policy as it pertains to your region and to your country, there's only one person making a decision on that policy and that's President Trump. So pay attention to policy, and certainly you're going to pay attention to what the President is saying, but it's the policy that's the most important thing.

LEVIN: Iran, how do you think the President has handled Iran?

KEANE: He went to Riyadh last summer, 55 leaders in the room and he told them this. He said, "I stand here with you and I want to cooperate with you to standing up to the number one strategic threat in this region, what is Iran." And I know the administration has been trying to stitch together a closer alliance with the Middle East nations, sort of like what I'd call an Arab NATO, which I think is very much needed.

The Iranians ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was formed in 1980 have had a singular goal which is dominate and control Middle East. To accomplish that goal, they have two objectives. One, drive the United States out of the region and two, destroy the State of Israel and they make this statement I'm talking about in almost the same words I'm describing every single year for the last 37 years. That's the reality of what we're dealing with here, and they are succeeding at that.

What's the measure of that success? Control of Lebanon, almost total control of Syria, except at a portion where we are in Eastern Syria, more political influence in Iraq than what we have, beginning a Civil War in Yemen for the single purpose of encroaching on Saudi Arabia because Yemen is to the south of that and that is the prize that they have been after so they can squeeze Saudi Arabia from Syria and also from the south.

LEVIN: They cut off the water on --

KEANE: And cut off the water, absolutely. The Straits of Hormuz and of course, Syria is most largely about their strategic anchor in the Middle East. It's most largely about encroaching on Israel. There's 130,000 rockets that they've placed in Lebanon for that purpose as we speak today and they're also putting -- they want to put bases in Syria with missiles and rockets there. Every time they try to do that, Israel attacks them.

LEVIN: What can Israel do about this? Russia has sort of sent mixed signals, stop hitting sites in Syria. This is really life or death for the Israelis, isn't it?

KEANE: Oh yes, very much so. That is why they've literally conducted somewhere between 100 and 150 airstrikes into Syria going against the Iranian targets. Iran is very aggressive here. They fly rockets and missiles in the Damascus Airport, put them in warehouses. Israeli just struck it two weeks ago in one of those warehouses at the International Airport of Damascus.

They have a land bridge from Iran through Iraq through Syria. It isn't formalized yet, that's one of the things that I'm opposed to as to why we would pull out prematurely from Syria, we don't want that land bridge forming.

The threat to Israel is real. I think, publicly, they do not disagree with the President's decision because they have not had a President as supportive of Israel in a generation as President Trump is. Privately, they were really taken aback by the decision because they know it impacts on their security.

LEVIN: You think war there is inevitable? I want your answer when we come back. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEVIN: So General, war between Israel, Iran or some collection of countries in the Middle East isn't inevitable?

KEANE: Yes, more likely and I think the success they've had in Syria particularly, if they're able to gain control of the entire country will contribute significantly to it and they try to avoid direct confrontation themselves. They use their proxies and they have been so successful at that.

It started right after they took over the country, the Iranian country from the Shah, when they blew up the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon using their proxies. Marine Barracks proxies, Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia, four years in Iraq targeting and killing American soldiers, a 10-year hostage- taking program that they sponsored. They killed our CIA Station Chief and it damaged the Reagan presidency where it nearly brought the presidency down.

What they would do here is use their proxies again from Lebanon, from Syria, multiple locations firing simultaneously into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, imposing casualties on the Israelis that they have never seen in their history rather significantly. That would lead to major confrontation.

I believe an Israeli response to something like that and I think this is what the Iranians are not anticipating. They would go full-throttle into Lebanon and if that wasn't enough, they would go to Iran and take as much of their military capabilities out. That is war and the Iranians are serious when they say every single year, drive the United States out of the region is our objective to accomplish our ultimate goal and destroy the State of Israel and they are about that business and I think the leaders of Israel know it, this President is very much aware of it and tuned into that and we have got to make certain --

LEVIN: Who wins that war?

KEANE: Israel does, aided by the United States. They have never ever asked us to fight with them. They have asked us to help them in terms of military capability.

LEVIN: And a lot of these Arab countries probably won't sit on the sidelines either. They may view it as an opportunity as well.

KEANE: The relationship with Israel and the Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Jordan has never been closer, and I mean we're at the point where they share intelligence together. Think of that. These are countries that were warring at one time and now, they are literally helping each other against a common enemy.

LEVIN: Yes, because just again as a pedestrian, I don't see Israel sitting there and only fighting in Lebanon. If they're taking it in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, they're going to say, "Okay, we're going to hit Tehran and we're going to hit their government center. We're going to hit their military centers and we're going to hit them with everything we've got."

KEANE: That's true and that's why I hope the administration can stitch together an Arab NATO because standing together collectively against the Iran would really impose a deterrent capability where the cost would be the destruction of their regime if they tried to do something.

LEVIN: Well, let's hope it doesn't reach that point and let's hope it doesn't reach the point where Iran gets nuclear weapons either. It's been a great honor, General.

KEANE: Yes. I enjoyed it.

LEVIN: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

KEANE: Good talking to you, Mark.

LEVIN: Don't miss us next time on "Life, Liberty & Levin."

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