A Conversation with General David H. Petraeus

Gen. (ret.) David H. Petraeus addresses the 2017 USC Global Conference in Tokyo. (USC Photo: Daiki Suzuki)

Gen. (ret.) David H. Petraeus addressed geopolitical turmoil in the Asia Pacific region, as well as current administration policies that affect the area and beyond, in a wide-ranging discussion to open Saturday’s morning plenary at the USC Global Conference in Tokyo.

Petraeus was joined by Yukio Okamoto, a foreign policy expert and former Special Adviser to Prime Minister Hashimoto and Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan, in a conversation titled “US-Japan: Shared Concerns in an Unpredictable Global Environment.”

During the hour-long conversation, Petraeus and Okamoto shared a deep admiration for each other while discussing topics that have been dominating the headlines in recent weeks.

According to Petraeus, after nearly 25 years as an uncontested superpower, the United States finds itself in a unique position that it has to learn how to navigate.  China’s ascent, along with Russia’s increased participation on the global stage and North Korea’s aggressive moves to become a nuclear power, have changed the geopolitical landscape.

“We are entering an era of great power rivalries,” said Petraeus. “As a strong China emerges, we will have to reconcile how our largest trading partners are also becoming our biggest strategic competitors.”

The general also noted that on the surface people may be left with the impression that there has been significant change introduced by the new administration, but the policies being put in place are largely consistent with previous administrations and represent continuity and stability on many fronts.

“There has certainly been change in policies on trade, climate, and immigration,” said Petraeus, “but the administration’s approach to national security and foreign policy have embraced traditional policy positions.”

In reflecting on the current administration’s support of Japan in the strongest statement since 1975, Okamoto expressed that he “was reassured that the United States is an institution, not an entity run by an individual.”

Yukio Okamoto at the 2017 USC Global Conference in Tokyo. (USC Photo: Daiki Suzuki)

Petraeus further addressed the seeming unconventional approach of that individual – President Trump – in pursuing many of the current administration’s agenda items.

“Everyone here should read Trump’s book ‘Art of the Deal’,” added Petraeus. “What you see is straight out of the playbook in an effort to keep opponents off-balance.”

In 2013, Petraeus was selected as a Judge Widney Professor at USC, a position named after the university’s founder and reserved for eminent individuals from the arts, sciences, professions, business, and community and national leadership.

Petraeus served more than 37 years in the U.S. military, including command of coalition forces during the Surge in Iraq, command of U.S. Central Command, and command of coalition forces in Afghanistan. Following his service in the military, Petraeus served as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Petraeus is currently a partner in the global investment firm KKR, chairman of the KKR Global Institute, a member of the board of Optiv (a global cybersecurity solutions provider), and a personal venture capitalist.

The Global Conference is USC’s marquee international event held every other year in Asia. This biennial event brings together business, government, and academic leaders from across the Pacific Rim — as well as USC faculty, staff, and alumni — to discuss critical issues, developments, and opportunities facing the region and the world.

USC held its inaugural Global Conference in Tokyo in 2007. Subsequent conferences have been held in Shanghai, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Taipei.

Gen. Petraeus receives a USC letter jacket from USC President C. L. Max Nikias (USC Photo: Daiki Suzuki)