As part of the Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society (FOCIS) 10th anniversary lecture series, former CIA director and U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus on April 12 addressed a wide range of issues including globalization, gun control and Syria. He also praised Detroit for bouncing back from bankruptcy "like a Phoenix rising from the ashes."
The lecture, entitled "National Security: How safe are we at home?" featured a speech from Petraeus followed by a discussion moderated by local journalists Carol Cain (Detroit's CBS 62) and Chuck Stokes (WXYZ).
Petraeus said the biggest problems facing the country are nuclear threats from North Korea and increasing tensions with Russia and China which he described as a "return of history."
"There is a new competition between western democracies of the world and the system being established by China," Petraeus said. He added that there's also been a strain on the international institutions, norms and principles that were put in place post-World War II.
In addressing the ongoing conflict in Syria, Petraeus said, "[Syria's president Bashar-al Assad's] forces have to be punished for what they did in using yet again lethal chemical weapons on their own people. I applauded President Trump when he did take that action [ordering a missile strike] last year."
"At this point in time in Syria, I think the objective that we have, in addition to finishing the defeat of the Islamic State and then making sure we keep them down, which means that you have to have a continued presence, albeit a smaller one," he said. "If you don't help them restore basic services and establish local governance, if that isn't done, you're going to be right back fighting again, and will give citizens in that region a reason to welcome the Islamic State back."
On Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election, Petraeus said "there is no question Russia tried to put their finger on the scale and influence our election." He added that President Trump "took so long" to denounce Vladimir Putin and Russia, but applauded the Trump administration's recent sanctions against Russia.
Petraeus was also asked about his views on gun control in the wake of recent school shootings across the country. Said Petraeus, "I am a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, but I'm also one of those who doesn't think that that necessarily means we should allow anyone to buy a weapon that has one purpose alone and that is to kill a lot of fellow human beings."
“There’s a common sense approach which includes addressing those issues while still being fiercely protective of one’s right to have a weapon, assuming that there’s been a sufficient background check.”
In his speech, Petraeus applauded Detroit for overcoming bankruptcy, saying, "It is quite remarkable to see what can happen when people pull together and determine how to move forward with an initiative that rescues a community with such important to our country."
Petraeus was appointed by President George W. Bush to head multinational forces in Iraq, and later was commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. After retiring from the military, he was appointed director of the CIA by President Obama. Petraeus was the second keynote speaker for the 2018 FOCIS lecture series.
Past keynote speakers for the FOCIS lecture series include Robert Reich, Michael Eric Dyson and Gloria Steinem, who appeared in March.