Washington (CNN)Former CIA director David Petraeus on Wednesday urged that the Trump administration's travel ban be resolved quickly and suggested that it could serve as a propaganda tool for Islamic extremists.
Petraeus urges travel ban be settled quickly
"The sooner we can figure out what additional steps need to be added to the process to ensure we double and triple check to ensure civilians coming to our country" aren't going to do any harm, the better, Petraeus told the House Armed Services Committee.
The four-star general was responding to a question from Rep. Susan Davis, a California Democrat, who asked about the ban's impact and whether Islamic extremists would use it against the US.
"The long-range effects will be determined by how quickly whatever changes can be implemented, and we can get back to routine business," Petraeus said at the hearing to examine "the State of the World: National Security Threats and Challenges."
He spoke of foreign nationals in the affected countries who worked with the US military as translators and said he was heartened by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly calling for waivers in those cases.
Earlier in the hearing, Petraeus had told the lawmakers that "we must also remember that Islamic extremists want to portray this fight as a clash of civilizations ... we must not let them do that."
John McLaughlin, a former CIA acting director now with the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, also testified and told the committee that "almost everything we do gives the Islamic extremists ammunition... and they will do that with this," referring to the ban.
Petraeus said more preparation and better staffing may have avoided some of the outcry about the executive order and the problems it caused.
He cited his litmus test for policy -- whether it will take more "bad guys" off the field than it adds.
Petraeus was responding to California Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat who had asked Petraeus and McLaughin for their thoughts on a statement by Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA and NSA who called the travel ban "a horrible move" that was driven by political ideology that has made Americans "less safe."
McLaughin said the ban was "the action of an administration that doesn't yet know how hard government is." He added that "you always have to ask what are the secondary, tertiary consequences of what you're about to do."
The proper way to have executed the ban, McLaughlin said, would have been to assemble all of the relevant players ask what the implications of the policy would be.
"I would like to think an administration learns these lessons, but we will see," McLaughlin added.
Petraeus' main message Wednesday was that the US should not take the international order for granted, suggesting that it could collapse and benefit US adversaries such as Russia.
"Americans should not take the current international order for granted," Petraeus said. "It did not will itself into existence. We created it. Likewise, it is not naturally self-sustaining. We have sustained it. If we stop doing so, it will fray and, eventually, collapse. This is precisely what some of our adversaries seek to encourage."
Petraeus specifically mentioned Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that the former KGB agent "understands that, while conventional aggression may occasionally enable Russia to grab a bit of land on its periphery, the real center of gravity is the political will of major democratic powers to defend Euro-Atlantic institutions like NATO and the EU."
The committee chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican, said that at a similar hearing two years ago he quoted former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who said US hadn't faced a more diverse and complex array of crises since the end of WWII.
"I'm not sure that anything has been simplified or made easier in the last two years," Thornberry said. "In fact, it seems that the world has only grown more dangerous."
Petraeus was also asked about Trump's decision to make his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, a member of the senior advisory body within the National Security Council. The move puts Bannon on a par with Cabinet secretaries, generals and above the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff, who will now only attend when the committee considers issues in their areas of responsibility.
It is "somewhat extraordinary" to have a political figure like Bannon made a statutory member of the Principals Committee, Petraeus said.
Several Democrats quizzed Petraeus on the impact of some of President Donald Trump's statements about traditional allies, including the EU, Japan and South Korea, and the Muslim ban. The general's cautious answers indicated steps he would like to see taken, but he avoided any criticism of the new administration.
Petraeus faced possible felony charges and prison time in 2014 for violating the Espionage Act and lying to the FBI about it after he had shared classified information with his lover. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for mishandling classified information.