John King: Let’s continue our conversation about the overseas challenge—in Syria, in Libya and elsewhere—with the Republican presidential candidate who has consistently challenged presidents of both parties about US military interventions and involvement overseas. He’s the Republican Ron Paul of Texas. It’s good to be with you.
Ron Paul: Thank you.
John King: Here in New Hampshire, a few days before our big debate. Welcome. I want to talk to you about some of these challenges. And I want to you particularly about Libya. Back in the Congress today there was a conversation about the NATO operations. NATO has been quite open in recent days that their goal now is to continue the military strikes until Gaddafi yields power. And there’s been some grumbling that the President has not asked the Congress to endorse this military action. Let’s listen to Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama:
Jeff Sessions: The Obama administration is clearly in violation of the War Powers Act, so I suppose that represents a death-blow to the War Powers Act—if a liberal, Democratic administration clearly has no intention of complying with it.
John King: What is your sense there? Should the President ask? Or is the President right in saying, “I’m the Commander-in-Chief, and this is being done through NATO. I don’t need the blessing of Congress”?
Ron Paul: The President is absolutely wrong. You don’t even need the War Powers resolution, because the Constitution is enough. And he can’t go to war without permission from the Congress. So, the War Powers resolution was meant to put some restraints on the President—and technically I’m not all that excited about the War Powers resolution, believing the Constitution would be enough. But it is a real insult to the American People, it’s an insult to Congress for him to say, “I don’t even need to tell you; all I need to do is get a UN resolution and then use the force through NATO.” NATO was set up to fight and stand up against the Communists. So they’re searching for a mission. Instead of now defending Europe, they’re starting wars.
John King: On the bigger question, do you think the administration’s goal and the policy of the United States should be regime change in Libya?
Ron Paul: Absolutely not! It’s none of our business. We ought to just stay out of it.
John King: None of our business?
Ron Paul: None of our business. We don’t need to be in there. That’s a commercial business, going over there. And that’s why—the British have commercial interests; the British and the French have commercial interests, and I’m sure we do, too. We’ve been doing business with Gaddafi for the past five years. And now the oil is over in the east. That’s where the rebels are. And I understand that there’s very likely some al-Qaeda there. So we’re probably inadvertently getting involved in something that’s going to have blow-back and consequences. Already we have the consequence costing way too much money. We don’t have any money, and we’re getting involved there? And it’s not going to be in our self interests. This is detrimental.
John King: Do you worry at all, as you seek the nomination for President from the Republican Party, that your views might leave you out of the Republican mainstream? And, Colonel Gaddafi has sent a letter apparently to the United States Congress asking for Congress’s help. He wants Congress to continue its investigation of military activities of NATO and its allies, and here’s what he says: “to confirm what we believe”—this is Gaddafi–”to confirm what we believe is a clear violation of the UN Security Council resolution 1973. Do you worry that in the public discourse it could be argued, Ron Paul is on the side of Muammar Gaddafi?
Ron Paul: No. Hardly. Because I don’t want to be on his side. I’m not supporting him. I’m supporting the United States. I’m supporting neutrality. I’m supporting our position of staying out this. I’m supporting the position that NATO and the United Nations has no authority to send our kids off to war. So, no. And besides, the American People don’t want to go. We’ve had a vote already about “hands off” over there, and I think almost everybody, if not everyone in the Congress says, “Don’t send in ground troops.” They’re very very leery of this.
John King: The President said, “No ground troops”?
Ron Paul: Yeah, we’ve told the President that. But we’re also coming close on winning this vote, “No money” and, “Bring the troops home” and “Quit. Cease and desist.” So, no. I’m not worried one bit. I think those who are supporting this, and supporting our militarism, I think they’re going to be in trouble with the American People, because the American People are coming my way.
John King: As this plays out, we’re also seeing disturbing images coming out of Syria. You see political protests. We know there’s been a brutal crackdown by the regime. We’ve seen some videos, apparently of teenagers tortured by the regime. The administration has not called for regime change in Syria. And its language is beginning to get more muscular. Listen here to the Defense Secretary, Robert Gates:[Video: Robert Gates: The slaughter of innocent lives in Syria should be a problem and a concern for everybody. And whether Assad still has the legitimacy to govern in his own country after this kind of a slaughter, I think is a question that everyone needs to consider.]
John King: Does Assad have the legitimacy to govern, in your view? Should the United States now be demanding regime change in Syria?
Ron Paul: My personal opinion is not as relevant as what our policy should be, and what our Constitution says, and what the responsibility is to defend this country. Yes, there should be some question. But that’s a personal opinion. But that doesn’t justify us going in and picking sides in a civil war. That’s how we get into these messes.
John King: So what would President Paul do then, if we’re seeing images of children being tortured, people by the hundreds trying to flee their country because their own government was shooting at them, and imprisoning them if they were marching in the streets demanding rights?
Ron Paul: I don’t think we have any authority to get involved. We don’t have Constitutional authority; we don’t have congressional authority; we don’t have the money to do it; we don’t know all the details. We shouldn’t be picking sides in civil wars. That’s what we have been doing. That’s why we’re in 130 countries, 700 bases, and we’re bankrupt. So I would say it’s bad policy. It’s bad for our national defense. And it’s bankrupting our country.
John King: How different do you feel advocating these positions in this campaign? I remember, if we go back four years, when you advocated very similar positions, you took it pretty hard—from Senator McCain and others, who cast you as the outcast, as the non-interventionist. They put you on the extreme, saying that was not the mainstream of the Republican Party. We do hear more Republicans—maybe not adopting fully your position, but—talking about they’re skeptical about Libya. They think maybe it’s time to start coming home at a quicker pace from Afghanistan.
Ron Paul: I think we just had 87 Republicans join a coalition of getting out of, staying out of Libya, and coming home, in this area. So we’re winning this vote. The American People are sick and tired of it, saying they want us out of Afghanistan—
John King: The evolution because of the Constitutional question or because of the financial costs?
Ron Paul: Well, I wish it had been based on moral principles and the Constitution, but I’ll take the support any way I can get it. And I’ve always made fun of myself: It won’t be because I give a grand speech and I’m going to convert them. It’s always going to be the money. All great nations come down because they extend themselves too far, the empire gets too big, and they can’t afford it. Just as the Soviet system came down; that is what’s happening. We’d better wake up and realize it, and realize that if we live within our means, with our Constitution, we’re going to be safer and much more prosperous.
John King: Let me ask you: You’re a veteran at these things. Some of your rivals up there on that stage Monday night will be new to these debates. Do you spend a lot of time preparing for them, going through preps? Or do you just wing it?
Ron Paul: I try to keep up on the news. I thought you were going to say, “You’re a veteran of these things,” and I am a five-year veteran, so I know a little bit about the military. So yes, I prepare by reading the news. I don’t have a system, and when I make my mistakes, people say, “Well, maybe he should practice more.” But I deal in issues and on principles and things I believe in. So my answers are always the same. I’ve been “practicing” a long time. I’ve been practicing and voting this way for, you know, 24 years. So I don’t think that taking a lot of instructions and do a little cramming for this test is going to help me much. People say, “What are you going to do?” I say, “I’m going to try and get good night’s sleep, and get some exercise that day.”
John King: Excellent advice. Congressman, we’ll see you Monday Night. I appreciate your time.
Ron Paul: Thank you. Good to see you.