The newly retired Commander European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe spoke recently with Managing Editor Fred Schultz about the challenges he faced in that job, the caliber of today’s junior officers and enlisted, and the state of the U.S. Naval Institute, where he’ll be taking the helm as its Board Chair this summer. He has also just begun serving as Dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University.
Proceedings: In light of the economic turmoil in Europe and its various ramifications, what were the biggest challenges you faced during the tour you just completed?
Stavridis: The number-one challenge was Afghanistan. And clearly, Afghanistan will continue to be a challenge for some time to come. I feel like we made a fair amount of progress—in particular, the buildup of Afghan security forces, which now number 350,000. In the civil sector, access to healthcare has gone from 10 percent to 65 percent of the population. There are now 16 million cellphones in Afghanistan. Most important, there are 9 million children in schools, 3.5 million of them girls. That’s a 16-fold increase.
But is it still a challenge? Are there issues with governments and corruption and sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan? Absolutely. But I think we’re on the right track. Afghanistan absorbed more of my time than any other single issue, both from the European Command side, where I was responsible for preparing U.S. forces to go there; but particularly on the NATO side, where I was the strategic commander. I was lucky to have absolutely terrific generals working for me: Stan McCrystal, Dave Petraeus, and John Allen. I caught the very beginning of Joe Dunford as well, so really four wonderful commanders in the field who I think deserve a lion’s share of the credit for the progress there.
Read the full Q&A here