Opinion

opinion | Matt Cadwallader

PolicyCast: David Petraeus sees US continuing to dominate world affairs

In an interview with the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast, David Petraeus discussed US economic growth, the Iran nuclear deal, and Syria’s civil war.
Tatiana Johnson/Harvard Kennedy School
In an interview with the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast, David Petraeus discussed US economic growth, the Iran nuclear deal, and Syria’s civil war.

The Boston Globe presents the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast, a weekly podcast on public policy, politics, and global issues. HKS PolicyCast is hosted by Matt Cadwallader at Harvard Kennedy School.

“Rumors of the American demise . . . have been greatly exaggerated.”

So says Retired US Army General David Petraeus on this week’s episode of the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast.

Over the course of a 25-minute interview, Petraeus discusses his belief in the United States’ continued role as the dominant global power over the coming decades; the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal; and what strategic shifts he believes are necessary to make headway in the seemingly intractable Syrian Civil War.

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Two years ago, Petraeus was asked what would follow the “American century.”

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“I think they expected me to say the Asian century, or perhaps even the Chinese century. Instead, my response was, ‘after the American century: the North American decades.’ ”

Listen to HKS PolicyCast’s interview with David Petraeus

Since he joined Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs as a nonresident senior fellow in 2013, Petraeus has been researching how four ongoing technological revolutions here in the US — in life sciences, shale gas, cloud computing, and 3-D printing — are expected to cause significant market disruptions that the US, along with Canada and Mexico, will be uniquely poised to take advantage of.

As global markets shift to adjust to these new technologies, the preexisting economic integration between the US, Canada, and Mexico due to the North American Free Trade Agreement will give the three countries significant competitive advantages. Together, Petraeus refers to them as the “next great emerging economy.”

“It’s the US revolutions, in many respects, powering a lot of this, but it’s the integration of our economies, it’s the shared beliefs in democracy, free-market capitalism, and the lack of any kinds of historic, ethnic, or sectarian, or even geographic rivalries that spark conflict, the way you have in virtually every other part of the world.”

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But while Petraeus feels confident about the potential, he also warns that there’s still work to be done. He cites the need for education reform, immigration reform, cybersecurity legislation, and more investment in research.

“The inability to compromise on Capitol Hill . . . has prevented resolving some of these issues, and turning headwinds into tailwinds that could propel us even faster on the road to our GDP growth.”

Turning to the Middle East, Petraeus worried about the reaction of regional allies to the Iran nuclear deal and called for an “ironclad US national commitment that Iran will never be allowed to enrich uranium to weapons grade” to offer some reassurance against future Iranian “adventurism.”

Venturing into the tangled web of alliances that have thus far made peace in the Syrian Civil War a pipe dream, Petraeus described the situation as, “a geopolitical Chernobyl that is spewing violence, instability, and extremism, not just in the region but really now throughout the world.” He puts the chances of any collaboration between the US and Iran against ISIS as “very, very, very, very, slim indeed.”

And while he believes a change in US strategy is necessary, he doesn’t think it can be done without a viable Sunni Arab ground force that the US can support against all enemies, “. . . not just the one we want it to focus on, the Islamic State.”

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You can read the General Petraeus’ report, coauthored with Paras D. Bhayani, titled “The Next Great Emerging Market? Capitalizing on North America’s Four Interlocking Revolutions,” on the Belfer Center’s website.