At a talk at the Ford School Monday, General George Casey Jr., former U.S. Army chief of staff, said some of the most dangerous threats in the world today are posed by non-state actors such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, focusing on  the persistent existence of world conflict with these actors and the subsequent mental health impacts war has on soldiers and veterans. 

Casey began his Army service in 1970, as the senior commander of the interantional collation created to confract forces in Iraq from 2004 to 2007. He was promoted to chief of staff by President George W. Bush in 2007 and served in that position under President Obama until 2011.

“What I want to do is give you a soldier’s view of the international security environment,” Casey said.

Rather than countries waging war against one another as was the case with World War II or the Vietnam War, Casey said some non-state actors such as al-Qaeda and ISIS have become more dangerous, citing a number of recent events. 

Looking back to 9/11, Casey pointed to how a non-state actor, al-Qaeda, was able to inflict catastrophic damage on the United States.

“Nineteen terrorists, in an hour and 17 minutes, murdered 2,977 people, inflicted about $40 billion of economic damage on New York, and when the stock market reopened it lost $1.4 trillion in value,” he said. “That’s a challenge that we need to be prepared to deal with.”

Comparing the current ideological struggle against Islamic extremism to the struggle against communism during the Cold War, Casey talked about how conflict is likely to persist for decades to come. He noted that ideological conflict tends to last longer, pointing to how the Cold War lasted about 45 years and noting it has been 15 years since the United States began fighting Islamic extremism after 9/11.

“However, this is not a struggle like the Cold War that we can win by ourselves, it’s a struggle that can only be won within Islam,” Casey said. “You see that struggle taking place between moderate and extremist Islam, but by virtue of that fact that it is an ideological struggle, it’s going to take a long time to resolve.”

Casey also discussed his experiences and the challenges of his time Iraq.  He said while the United States needs to stay engaged in the ideological conflict that is taking place in the Middle East, it also needs to better understand its military power and unite diverse groups to lead collaboratively.

“We are the indispensable catalyst, we bring unmatched economic, military and moral power,” Casey said. “We can create coalitions to deal with a lot of these challenges.”

Casey also discussed the treatment of veterans and improving soldiers and veterans’ mental health.

“We cannot and should not expect the government to do everything themselves,” Casey said. “I worked for the government for 41 years, it is a huge inefficient bureaucracy, and it will never be able to deal with the individual challenges facing our veterans and their families as well as private efforts can.”

The more than 400,000 organizations around the United States that support veterans are the ones making a real difference, Casey said.

“They send a signal to the men and women involved in the armed forces that America cares,” Casey said. “That is hugely important.”

Speaking on the health of current soldiers, Casey said when he was preparing to assume his position as chief of staff in 2007, he reviewed an Army personnel survey that found 90 percent of soldiers would not seek treatment for a behavioral health issue because they thought that it would affect their career.

“We began working to reduce the stigma of getting behavioral health care,” he said. “After banging away at it for my four years, we had reduced the number who would not get help from 90 percent to 50 percent.”

According to Casey, that number has now decreased to approximately 35 percent since he left his position as chief of staff, but he reiterated that efforts need to continue to reduce that further.

Brian Garcia, a Business and Public Policy graduate student who served as a field artillery captain in the Army in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012, said it was an honor to hear and have the opportunity to interact with Casey.

“Hearing him speak was awesome,” Garcia said. “I think that he and I view a lot of the same issues that soldiers face and that the U.S. faces on foreign policy pretty similarly. He’s an incredibly well-spoken and well-thought-out individual, and I hope that his influence is still felt in national foreign policy.”

Garcia added that he thought the talk helped attendees be more informed about military issues. 

“Overall I think it was a very enlightening conversation that we had, and I think that a lot of people are going to walk away from this with a greater understanding of the nuances that the military and U.S. faces on foreign policy issues,” Garcia said.

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