cartwright in des moines

Retired Gen. James Cartwright speaks about national security issues Wednesday in Des Moines. 

DES MOINES | If voters want to support a presidential candidate who can tackle national security issues, they should examine the candidates’ ability to forge personal relationships.

That was the advice given Wednesday by a retired military leader who served as a high-ranking official in the two most recent administrations.

Gen. James Cartwright, who before retiring in 2011 served under Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic President Barack Obama, spoke about national security issues Wednesday in Des Moines.

Cartwright’s appearance was part of a series of issue and candidate events hosted by the Iowa Caucus Consortium, a collaboration of central Iowa business, media and education organizations.

“There is a significant value in personal relations,” said Cartwright, who served as commander of U.S. Strategic Command and as vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Prior to his military service, he attended the University of Iowa.

Cartwright said too much of the national security debate in presidential campaigns has been about how candidates would address specific overseas conflicts. He suggested voters look for clues that a candidate has displayed an ability to foster personal relationships because developing those relationships with foreign heads of state will be crucial for the next president.

“(Candidates are saying), ‘This is the way I’m going to handle (Russian president Vladimir) Putin. This is the way I’m going to handle Xi (Jinping, president of China),’” Cartwright said. “Wait a minute. These people are all equivalents. They’re all trying to run countries. (As the next president) I’m going to want to impose my will on them at times, and I’m going to want to compromise with them at times. Do I have a demonstrated ability to do that?”

Cartwright said that skill can be developed regardless of the candidate’s background.

“I can get that out of the business world. I can get it out of the academic world,” Cartwright said. “There is nobody in the world that has the right experience to be president. You’re basically making a bet, and then that person is going to grow in that job. That’s the reality of it at the end of the day. …

“So talking to candidates, it’s (asking), ‘What is it that you’ve done in your life that demonstrates that you can work at that scale and that you can connect these dots and juggle all these balls at the same time?’ ”

Cartwright said the presidential campaign has become awash in “buzzwords” that are not helpful to the dialogue.

“The country is struggling, quite frankly, for some over-arching strategy. We have tailored buzzwords right now: 'We’ve done a pivot, we’ve done a reset, we’ve led from behind,' ” Cartwright said. “(What’s important is) what is it we’re going to stand for so people who see something happen are going to know whether to expect us to act or to not act.”

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