IJN Associate Editor interviews Bob Schaffer, former US congressman, and now running for the US Senate in November’s election.
Q: Is the current US approach working through the UN for limited sanctions a sufficient response to Iran?
Im rarely satisfied with using the United Nations as a primary vehicle for projecting Americas national interests. To the extent that the UN behaves in a way that is consistent with US goals, it is a fine tool that is occasionally at our disposal, but the UN should at no time define Americas diplomatic objectives in achieving the countrys security goals.
There are a number of strategies. First, deterrence, which involves a number of tactics use of missile defenses, credible threats. Other deterrence would involve enlarging and building a coalition of nation states as a regional defense organization, such as NATO and other groups based on sharing Western values.
Second is preemption. Im not suggesting out of hand military preemption, although I would never rule it out. Preemption is sometimes economic, sometimes political, sometimes diplomatic. When those strategies come up short and the situation warrants it, then military preemption.
There are certain problems with preemption obvious risks and serious pitfalls, but with respect to Iran, a nuclear Iran is a game-changer. It is a direct threat, not only to US interests but to the global economy.
Q: If Israel decides to launch a military strike against Irans nuclear facilities, what do you think should be the appropriate American response?
I would presume to say out of hand that as a hard and fast rule, under any set of circumstances and at any point in time, Israels response needs to be measured and one that satisfies the United States that it was a measure of last resort. However, I regard our alliance with Israel to be very firm. From my standpoint, the United States should stand with Israel.
I would presume that any kind of preemptive strike by Israel would be done in a way that is not a surprise to the US. Its a matter of course that it would have to entail airspace clearance from the US and other neighboring countries that would presumably require some back channel assistance from the US.
Q: Please describe whats going on today on Wall Street, and what immediate and specific moves would you recommend? Would you have voted for the bailout plan?
Im not in a position to answer that question directly, only because I used to serve there and I know that answering that question is virtually impossible.
I can tell you no, which is probably the right answer, but I also know that there are so many side agreements that take place with a bill of this magnitude that the rest of us dont know about. Theres so much more in the way of pertinent information in the context of preparing for a vote that its not generally available to somebody like me, in the private sector in Colorado.
My answer would be totally reliant on the popular press, and nine times out of 10 thats not reliable enough for me. However, I am highly skeptical of the legislation . . . a $700 billion bailout that entails very little protection for taxpayers in having the $700 billion returned to the people who are paying it.
This bill has quickly become something more than a reaction to what I am persuaded is a legitimate crisis on Wall Street.
This bill has been laden with various special interests projects and tax manipulations that are designed to placate certain special interests and industries.
It lacks the precision of getting resources precisely to where they are most needed, giving the Treasury Secretary enormous latitude to make multi-billion dollar judgments without the oversight that I would insist on if I were a member of the Senate today.
Q: What is the root of all this? Is it deregulation, greed, a lack of ethics?
There are excesses on Wall Street and in many ways they have been encouraged by a federal policy designed to push people into home ownership and high risk mortgages with little likelihood of being able to pay.
This can be traced back to growing pressure under the Community Reinvestment Act to push commercial banks, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, into taking extraordinarily bad risks. Those risks get bundled and sold and leveraged and there has been a longstanding presumption that the government would bail out any institutions where the market presumes is too big to pay off.
There have been a lot of stockholders, board members, CEOs that have made irrational risk decisions for the last three of four years that have blown out of control, placing a growing number of financial institutions at great risk.
When confronted with the financial realities of this house of cards and the precarious nature of the credit markets, members of Congress have persistently voted against proposals to clamp down on unreasonable risk exposure.
Mark Udall, the candidate Im running against, is one of those people who turned a blind eye and voted multiple times against specific amendments designed to remedy a worsening situation with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, all while he was collecting Fannie Mae contributions. One has to wonder whether one is related to the other.
That expansion and growth of prime mortgages, the bundling of them and mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations being sold leveraged in some instances to 30-to-1 exacerbated all this.
Q: List the steps you would advocate to address the issue of healthcare in America today.
We need a national policy that is predicated on the notion that every single American can have access to private health insurance. The direction of reform should be to reconnect the traditional relationship between patient and healthcare provider and move every American to being a legitimate consumer in the healthcare marketplace.
That entails a number of things.
One is improving the availability of a cost-effective health insurance product. For example, Id have to be in favor of association health plans that would allow people who have their profession in common, fraternal organizations some community nexus to band together and purchase insurance policies for associated groups.
Small business owners should be able to band together and have an association that increases the purchasing power of their pool numbers to purchase policies.
Secondly, I would make health insurance competitive across state lines. Certain states have, as a matter of state law, state-sponsored insurance mandates that have driven up the price of insurance to extraordinary levels that no one can afford. Meanwhile there have been other states that have been quite responsible with limiting different kinds of mandatory coverages, and insurance products can be purchased at lower costs.
The lack of competition between states is one of the reasons you see an uneven availability of insurance products state to state.
Colorado has been fairly reasonable, or somewhere in the middle, whereas states like Kentucky or Idaho have maintained high quality and low cost insurance programs. The most expensive state is New Jersey and next door, New York, is another one.
The point, though, is that New Jersey and New York make the price of insurance unbearably high in their states. They have more and more citizens with middle class incomes going without insurance policies. They end up utilizing emergency rooms or indigent care programs which get subsidized by the federal taxpayer.
You have taxpayers from places like Colorado seeing a higher portion of their federal taxes going to states that have reckless insurance regulations.
I would make insurance expenditures 100% deductible for individuals, just as businesses have to.
For low income or those who have no income, I would institute a 100% refundable tax credit that would essentially provide a healthcare voucher with which they could purchase private health insurance.
Research shows that that kind of approach would dramatically reduce the Medicare and Medicaid outlays by state and local governments. I would take a very similar approach for those who find themselves in uninsurable categories so that an insurance product could be portable.
Then there is taking a serious approach to medical lawsuit abuse. I would put forward specialized health courts so that there is consistency in how healthcare cases are resolved, rather than what we see today, which is attorneys shopping for jurisdictions that are likely to give the highest cash awards.
The lawsuit abuse not only increases the cost of medical malpractice insurance and the insurance required by people who make things like drugs or medical supplies and equipment, but it also provides a perverse incentive for unneeded but defensive medical practices in a doctors office.
The number of tests and follow-up visits driven by defensive medicine, by the fear of lawsuits rather than practical medicine, is estimated to account for as much as a third of the cost of healthcare in America today.
Q: Are we fighting Islamic terror in the right countries? If not, where and how do you think that fight should be waged?
Were fighting it in the right countries. Were far safer having incapacitated Saddam Hussein and replacing the Baathist regime with a new government that is at least making some progress toward shutting down what was until just six months ago regular insurgencies out of Iran.
Were fighting terrorism in a great many countries, but the attention of the American people is obviously focused on Afghanistan and Iraq. When it comes to a variety of non-military [tactics], or, for example, financial surveillance, that is being waged worldwide. When it comes to the war against terror from the standpoint of intelligence gathering, that is worldwide as well.
The most obvious trouble spot right now is Pakistan, a very active staging area for a growing number of terrorist organizations. We are thinking about al-Qaida and the Taliban, but anymore they are being subsumed by an entire coalition of loosely related terror groups in Pakistan.
The United States has got to put mounting levels of pressure on the Pakistani leadership either in cooperating with the US or stepping up to the task of eradicating the various terrorist bases in their country.
We are not fighting terrorism hard enough where it announces its activities, in places like Jordan, Syria and even Egypt, where the US needs to be far more aggressive in leveraging our alliances with the Egyptian government cracking down on the missiles and arms making their way into Gaza.
There are many places where I would like to see the US play a much more vigilant and active role in clamping down on the shipment of arms to Hezbollah, to Hamas.
I would like the US to play a stronger role, either ourselves or through an international coalition, on interdiction on the high seas. Too many cargo ships go uninspected and are unaccountable for what their cargo is, where their destinations are and what their origin was.
Q: Would you describe your race against Mark Udall as a below-the-belt campaign? Arent some of the ads being run by both campaigns an insult to the intelligence of Colorado voters?
First of all, Im not waging a campaign against Mark Udall. Im running a campaign for the United States Senate. Udall is running a campaign against me. My belief is that posing positive ideas and leadership vision is the right and best and honorable way to conduct a campaign.
Youre probably referring to independent expenditures by outside, third party groups. Those are impossible to control, due to the laws that congressmen back in Washington passed to protect themselves.
The campaign finance laws are essentially an incumbency protection strategy and that has pushed the campaign funds away from individual campaigns and toward independent groups accountable to no one.
I think those ads that attack me actually project Mark Udall and represent his candidacy. Im pretty proud of what our campaign has done to project a very positive vision of leadership for the state and for the country predicated on smaller government, lower tax burden, strong national defense.