Skip navigation

A Conversation with General David Petraeus

October 7, 2019

General (ret.) David Petraeus, Chairman of KKR Global Institute and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Moderated by Eliot A. Cohen, Dean
Chairman of the KKR Global Institute and former CIA Director David Petraeus visited the school to deliver the 2019 Rostov Lecture on International Affairs. The wide-ranging discussion began with that day's announcement that the White House was withdrawing troops from Syria.  Petraeus responded that this action could lead to Islamic State forces to reestablish its Caliphate. Petraeus and Cohen shared concern that sudden withdrawal would undermine confidence in the US among our allies worldwide.
Petraeus shared his insights and experience leading US forces during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among the most important lessons learned, Petraeus said Islamist extremists will exploit ungoverned spaces in the Muslim world, and therefore the US has to take the lead in avoiding this but also must build coalitions with international partners, especially with Islamic countries. Furthermore, he stressed that it needs to be done through a comprehensive approach and with a sustained commitment.
Cohen inquired about the future of the US- China relationship, to which Petraeus responded that the future depended on the actions taken by both governments. However, he underlined that this relationship should be the US’s number one priority and that foreign policy should be both coherent and comprehensive, and include our allies as well.
Petraeus finished the discussion by talking about strategic leaders and the importance of their “big ideas,” which he said do not typically occur fully formed like Isaac Newton's theory of gravity after being hit by a falling apple. More often, a strategic leader will introduce the kernel of a big idea and go on to shape and develop it in a collaborative and iterative process, revising continuously with peers and advisors.  

Photo Album / View Video