‘The more nuclear weapons we have, the greater danger to our existence’- ex-Pentagon chief Cohen

‘The more nuclear weapons we have, the greater danger to our existence’- ex-Pentagon chief Cohen
Former Defense Secretary William Cohen told RT’s Larry King what he thinks of President Trump’s Cabinet picks, why he is uncomfortable with the president’s decision making, and what he thinks of putting Iran on notice.

Cohen Group chairman and CEO William Cohen explained to Larry King: “A possibility that a nuclear bomb will destroy an American city…or a city anywhere in the world,” keeps him awake at night just as it did when he was at the Pentagon.

“Once that happens, the likelihood of an existential threat to our existence on the planet becomes more real. Bill Perry, my predecessor in office, who’s a physicist, the father of stealth technology, has written a book about it, Going to the edge of this abyss, that was saying rather than focusing on how we can reduce the number of weapons. We have our president talking about maybe South Korea should have its nuclear weapons, maybe Japan should have its nuclear weapons, maybe the Saudis should have their nuclear weapons. The more nuclear weapons we have in existence, the greater the danger is to our existence. That keeps me awake at night,” he said.    

In January, former Maine Senator and Secretary of Defense Cohen introduced and endorsed Trump’s nominee for Defense, retired General James Mattis at the confirmation hearing. 

“I know Secretary of Defense Mattis because he worked for me as a young colonel when I was at the Defense Department. I got to know him. I watched him over the years. I’ve stayed in closed touch with him over the years,” Cohen said. “Not only…he is a great warrior, but he is a great scholar. He reads a lot; he has some 6,000 books in his library, most of which he has read, unlike many people who have other thousands of books. He is constantly studying world affairs; philosophy, the art of combat; and the art of negotiating. So I felt very, very comfortable having a man like him in that position, given the very difficult times we live in.”  

He also explained why Mattis, with all his intellectual capabilities, is called ‘Mad Dog’: “there was no one who was fiercer in battle.”  

“He is a warrior who – I hate to use the phrase leading from behind - but he is leading from ahead. He was always in the heat of the battle. He went to be with his men on the battlefield,” the former Pentagon chief said. 

In Cohen’s opinion, Mattis is among the best Cabinet picks by President Trump. 

“I have enormous respect for Rex Tillerson, as well. Don’t know him as well, but I have served with him on the board of the CSIS, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and I’ve been impressed. Obviously, no one gets to be chairman of Exxon Mobil for as many years as he has with the responsibilities he had as CEO, without being a man of great substance,” he explained.  “But I would say between the two of them we’ve got two very, very substantive and, I would say tried individuals. I think they can work together very well. Normally there is some tension between State Department, Defense Department. I was able to work with Secretary Madeleine Albright – work out our differences. Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis are going to be terrific together.”  

Before the election, Cohen said he would be uncomfortable with President Trump making decisions on existential issues since he lacked the necessary knowledge of the military world, history and global affairs. Not much has changed since then; he said “other than the fact he appointed good people – I take comfort in that.” 

“My concern is whether or not he will listen to them, or whether he will be tempted to do what he has done as a businessman. That is to make decisions on his own – based upon what he feels is right,” Cohen told Larry King. 

“My hope is that he has surrounded himself with really great people and that he will take their advice. We saw some of that, where he has come out in favor, for example, of waterboarding and more torture. Mattis said: “No, that is not the way to go.” And what the President has said: “Well, you hear what my view is, but I defer to the Secretary of Defense. That is good news, but it is highly unusual. Usually, the Secretary of Defense is someone who defers to the President, and not the other way around,” the former Defense Secretary said. 

Commenting on the US putting Iran on notice following Teheran’s testing of a ballistic missile, Cohen said the US has to be careful if that is seen as a red line. 

“We went through this process when President Obama drew a red line that had the Syrians ever used chemical weapons – they would have to face serious consequences from the US. We know how that story ended, where we made the pledge, and we backed away from it. That certainly had an impact on our allies. And it certainly had an impact, as far as President Putin was concerned, in terms of our seriousness under those circumstances. So here we have to take great care,” he said.  

In Cohen’s opinion, “the Iranians are going to do whatever they can to irritate the US.” 

“They will test up to the point where they can claim that it is not illegal for them to test these types of missile… The question then becomes: if you lay down a marker saying: ”You’re on notice,” the next question: “What do we do about it?..” he said.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.