Wolf Blitzer: You’d have a hard time finding two law-makers here is Washington further apart in the political spectrum than Democratic Congressman Barney Frank and Republican Congressman Ron Paul. But now they’re teaming up big time to call for substantial cuts in U.S. military spending. They write this in a joint article: “We may not agree on what to do with the estimated 1 trillion dollars in savings, but we do agree that nothing either of us care deeply about will be possible if we do not begin to face this issue now.” Representatives Frank and Paul are joining us together from their respective states. Congressmen, thanks very much for coming in. How did you guys team up to call for this massive cut in U.S. military spending, Congressman Paul?
Ron Paul: Well, the two of us have talked about this over the years, but actually Barney Frank was motivated to come to me and ask me about this about setting up a commission to do this study and set out a program. And it’s not going to happen tomorrow; it’s a ten year program. He asked me if I’d be interested in doing a little bit more work, and I obviously agreed to do that. I think it’s a great idea, because that’s what I’ve been arguing for a long time, and I’m always looking for an opportunity to bring progressive Democrats together with some conservative libertarian types because there are places where we can agree, and I think this is a very important place to start.
Wolf Blitzer: Let’s talk about some of the specifics you have in mind, Congressman Frank, for example, you want U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, out of Iraq. But uou also want U.S. troops out of Germany, out of Japan, out of South Korea. And you think if you start doing this, together with eliminating some expensive military systems, you can save 1 trillion dollars in U.S. tax payer money over the next ten years. Is that right?
Barney Frank: Absolutely. What Ron Paul and I are saying we worked together on some other issues and we’ve both been defenders of people’s right to make their own choices without the government dictating to them. And the number varies whether we think the choices are wise or not. We decided Iraq and Afghanistan … now both Ron and I opposed the war in Iraq and it seems to me that the argument to stay in Iraq is to solve the electoral disputes among the various political parties, the religious groups in Iraq. But .. Iraq and Afghanistan. You know, NATO was a wonderful accomplishment in 1949, and the year since Western Europe has gotten strong, the military threat to Western Union, the Soviet Union, has disappeared. We continue to subsidize the budget to Western Europe. There was a degree of interventionism in American foreign policy, the notion that we must be the superpower and we have to intervene everywhere. Ron Paul and I both think it makes no sense. We are committed to defending America’s legitimate, strategic interest. But we have got a military establishment that has been … it’s not their fault, it’s the fault of the political leadership projected into a worldwide situation far beyond our legitimate military needs.
Wolf Blitzer: Here’s what the president of the United States said the other day, Congressman Paul, in justifying why the United States right now has nearly a 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. I’ll read it for you, we don’t have the clip:
Barack Obama: Our nation is at war, we face a very tough fighting Afghanistan, but Americans don’t flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult paths. We persist and we preserve. We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorist who want to destroy Afghan society from within and launch attacks against innocent men, woman and children in our country and around the world”. You don’t buy that, do you?
Ron Paul: No. Matter of fact, I did a speech last week, a speech on the House floor, it was called, “The war that’s not a war”. And I made a point that it was not a war because it wasn’t declared. How can it be a war when we’re not fighting against a government? We’re fighting against a group of people that don’t have planes or tanks or ships or missiles or anything. It’s an insurgency and the insurgency is all because we’re over there. They don’t like foreigners and we were part of their insurgency when the Russians were there and the soviets were there. We joined Osama Bin Laden and we joined them in trying to get rid of them. At that time they were called the Mujahedeen and now they’re called the Taliban. No, it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s not in the interest of our national security. Even our CIA now says there are very few, if any, Al-Qaida in Afghanistan, they’ve chased them all over to Pakistan. Where are young to chase them to? Take over Pakistan and that then Yemen and then Somalia? We just don’t need to be the world’s policemen. We’re digging a hole for ourselves.
Wolf Blitzer: Congressman Frank. The argument is that if the U.S. pulls out 100,000 troops, or whatever the U.S. has right now, from Afghanistan, the Taliban will almost certainly takeover and recreate the situation that existed before 9/11, allowing Al-Qaida to come back in and train and hatch their plans against the United States.
Barney Frank: I have two responses. Well, first of all you’re focusing much too much on Afghanistan, and if you read all we say, we are talking about making reductions on a worldwide basis in wealthy nations. Marines in Japan, troops in Germany, other than Afghanistan. That’s a separate but legitimate debate. My own view is that the ability that we might have had to win in Afghanistan, and I voted for it originally, was dissipated when we then made a major effort in Iraq. And Ron Paul makes a very important point, if we are to be told that we have to do this to keep this from being a base for terrorisms, well, Sudan will be a base for terrorism, Somalia, Yemen, other countries. Frankly, if we want to withdraw the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and spend about 2% of what we spend on those troops in bolstering national security here at home, we would be safer. But again I want to stress, even if people want to stay in Afghanistan, and I think that it is time to withdraw, there are tens and tens of billions of dollars being spent in military scenarios that have nothing to do with Afghanistan, nothing to do with terrorism. I wish you can defeat terrorism with nuclear submarines because then we could beat it because we have all the nuclear submarines. The major part of our weapons spending and our military commitment overseas has nothing to do with terrorism and little to do with making us safer.
Wolf Blitzer: Right, we’re only just beginning. But very quickly, Congressman Paul, why are you and maybe Michael Steel, the chairman of the Republican Party, almost basically the only major Republican figures who are saying what you are saying. Because almost all the other Republican leaders totally disagree with you.
Ron Paul: Well, who’s going to define the public leader. You know, there are several other Republicans like Walter Jones and Jimmy Duncan and a few others that are opposed, too. So there are some others but it still is true. The other night in a debate they said, “Oh, 66% of the Republicans agree with the party that we have to stay there forever”. Well, I mean that means 30 some percent of the Republicans are questioning this. And, of course, there have been several of us who have been questioning it for a long time. And I make the point that this has been questioned by Republicans; this type of policy for many, many years. I often make the point that George Bush ran on a non-interventionist, humble foreign policy, no policing the world. And in the year 2000…
Wolf Blitzer: But that was before 9/11.
Ron Paul: Well, why should the truth be removed. I don’t think you have to change your mind about a foreign policy.
Wolf Blitzer: Because he’s the first one who says. Hold on, guys, I want to take a break.
Wolf Blitzer: We’re back with Democrat Congressman Barney Frank and Republican Congressman Ron Paul. Congressman Frank, the Pentagon’s budget for 2010 is almost 700 billion dollars. In your estimation, what should it be?
Barney Frank: Oh, for this year I would like to cut it to about 50. And I want to stress, I don’t want this argument hijacked. The case that Ron Paul and I are making, along with Representative Walter Jones or like minded Democrats is separate to a great extent from Afghanistan. People can differ about Afghanistan. I voted to go in, I think it’s (?) down. But we are talking about useless expenditures which for geo-political reasons, that I don’t think are valid. In NATO, in Japan. We had against the Soviet Union three ways of dropping thermal nuclear weapons on them when we were at the height of this war with them. We have all three: Nuclear submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic (?) I wanted to be very radical and say to the Pentagon, “pick two”. I don’t think you have to worry about the Soviet Union as much. So I want to make it very clear, we are talking about NATO. NATO was a wonderful idea, it was formed in 1949. We are as far away from NATO as NATO was when it was (?) from the presidency of Grover Cleveland. NATO has served its purpose. The New York Times had released an article a couple of weeks ago about the extent to which Western Europe, wealthy nations, facing no real threat, can afford very, very good expenditures to social welfare because America …
Wolf Blitzer: So basically both of you are saying bring the troops home from Germany, from Japan, from South Korea. Bring them home from all over the world. It’s a waste…
Barney Frank: No, not all over the world. Excuse me. I don’t argue in extremes, not all over the world. There are parts of the world where I think it needs to be.
Wolf Blitzer: Where?
Barney Frank: Well, for instance, I do want to see an air power to confront the People’s Republic of China. I don’t want Taiwan overrun. And I think seeing air power can help with South Korea. But South Korea is larger than North Korea and can put its own troops in. 15,000 marines in Okinawa are irrelevant to what we want to do with China. We’re not going to land marines on the Chinese mainland. So yes, there are parts of the world where our presence would be useful, and I think we have to be very clear that we will be the militarily to confront Iran. But it is not any longer reasonable to have troops virtually everywhere. The general view is America must be the superpower and be everywhere, and that exasperates our national security, it doesn’t help it.
Wolf Blitzer: I know you agree with that, Congressman Paul. But give me a number that you think would be realistic from your vantage point for the pentagon’s annual budget?
Ron Paul: Well, you can’t do it in one year, but I think we could probably do it with about 30% of what we have if we had a non-interventionist foreign policy. And I agree with Barney on his argument; this project that we’re dealing with it and which I agreed to join in, doesn’t deal with bringing troops home which are active in battle in Afghanistan. So that is the case. But I’ve also made the case that I want to distinguish between military spending and defense spending. We’re mostly talking about some military spending and Barney makes this very important point that we are subsidizing other rich nations for this. And I think that’s very important. Defense spending is very, very important. I believe in defense, it’s just that I think the intervention, matter of fact, undermines our defense. And that’s where I find the problem. But right now I think that this is to me, you know, a modest approach. But that’s where you start. My goals might be slightly different from his goals. … that we can agree on.
Barney Frank: We can save, I believe, tens of billions of dollars by withdrawing immediately from Iraq as soon as possible. There is no logical military or national security justification. We were told that we were going to pull out of Iraq, but because the Iraqi Parliament can come together on a government, we may have to stay longer. That is just nonsense. And we are spending money on their infrastructure, we are spending money mediating the political situation. So yea, I believe we can save upwards of 10 billion dollars from what is now planned if we simply said, “Alright, we now begin an orderly withdrawal from Iraq to protect the troops”, and then we get out.
Wolf Blitzer: Because the President says the combat forces will all be out by the end of August, and all U.S. troops will be out by the end of next year. That’s not good enough, Congressman Frank?
Barney Frank: No. You know how much it would cost us? You asked me for a figure, you know how much it will cost us to keep all the troops in next year? And if there are any combat troops, what are they? Crossing guards? By the way, there is also a problem with the definition of “combat troops”, as the New York Times points out. There will be troops there that will be engaging in firefights alongside Iraqis. You know, the Iraqis don’t face an external enemy, the Iraqis ought to be able to deal with themselves, and if they can’t … When we got rid of Saddam Hussein there were never any weapons of mass destruction, but yet to keep troops there for another year and a half, the public lost 20 billion dollars. You want a number there, and I don’t understand why we should be paying it
Wolf Blitzer: Have you spoken, Congressman Paul, with the chairman of your party, Michael Steel, since his controversial comments came up?
Ron Paul: No, I haven’t spoken to him. I went to his defense because I though he bolted out the truth and I was very pleased with it and I wanted to encourage him. Of course, the political pressure decides that these things have to adjust a bit. But, let me tell you, there are a lot of people who agreed with what he said and a lot of Republicans agreed. And I think the non-interventionist foreign policy under the stress of this economy, not only is a necessity, it makes good common sense if we quit doing this. I think I’m willing to win this argument long term. Our empire is going to end, our troops are going to come home. I want them to come home in a more calm, deliberate fashion. But I don’t want them coming home like they did in the Soviet System with the total collapse of the system. Our empire is going to end because we can’t afford it. I mean, we’re running up these trillions and trillions of dollars worth of debt, and when you look at the total debt, what we’re talking about here of what we’re saving over 10 year periods, this is a modest suggestion. And there shouldn’t be any reason why anybody should disagree with this. And I find tremendous support, especially with the young people who are inheriting this budget and this debt. They’re sick and tired of it and they don’t want to have any part of all this foreign fighting and militarism that’s going on. I would just like it to happen a little smoother than what’s going to happen if we don’t do something.
Barney Frank: And if you don’t do what Ron Paul and I suggest … surge in Afghanistan, you’re reducing the thermo-nuclear arsenal to destroy a non-existent Soviet Union and letting NATO defend itself. Then you’re going to have to either have a degree of tax increase that could damage the economy and impinge people, or make cuts in vital domestic programs that infringe on the quality of life. And I don’t understand why we should continue to subsidize Western Europe and Japan, leave aside Afghanistan.
Wolf Blitzer: Alright, Congressmen, a good discussion. We’re going continue this discussion down the road. Barney Frank and Ron Paul, thanks for coming in to the Situation Room.
Barney Frank: Thank you.