IJN Associate Editor Chris Leppek conducts an interview with the Democrat candidate for Colorado’s 5th Congressional District in November’s election.
Is the current US approach working through the UN for limited sanctions a sufficient response to Iran?
A: Fundamentally, our foreign policy has been a pretty bad show the last seven or eight years. The cowboy diplomacy of youre with us, youre against us has created a lot of problems for us.
The dynamic in the Middle East has been exacerbated by that notion. I totally support a strong diplomatic and economic program in that region. Going to the UN is absolutely the right thing to do, and now Iran understands that its in everyones best interests, including their own, to be a nuclear free nation.
Im not convinced that we have exhausted diplomacy yet. I simply dont believe the Bush Administration has done even an average job, but has in fact done a very poor job, in diplomatic missions around the globe. I certainly would include Iran as one of those.
It may end up with sanctions, who knows, and obviously military action would be something different. But I think we have an opportunity here, with a new administration in January, to reengage with the Iranians and have them understand what is really in their best interest from an international market perspective.
Q: If Israel decides to launch a military strike against Irans nuclear facilities, what do you think should be the appropriate American response?
A: Its a pretty tough hypothetical because it would totally depend on the dynamic of the situation. I mean, the United States is always going to be a friend of Israel but that doesnt mean that were going to agree on everything. Israel may attack precipitously.
On the other hand, if there was an overt indication that Israels security was at risk at that moment and had to be immediately responded to, I would have a totally different response.
As an overall hypothetical, I think the far more important thing is that we actually use diplomacy, we actually use the State Department and we use the UN and our international partners to keep from getting into that situation.
The basic answer is obviously the first response is going to be to support Israel but we need to understand the dynamic of what went on. Our foreign policy over the last eight years has not in any way been exemplary to the rest of the world and it has caused us some problems. So context is everything.
Q: Please describe whats going on today on Wall Street, and what immediate and specific moves would you recommend?
A: It starts with self-discipline and fiscal responsibility. Its a very bad thing to spend wildly more money than youre bringing in. Its bad for a family and its certainly bad for a country. Im a fiscal conservative. Im a blue dog Democrat in the sense that there might be things you want but youve got to have the money to do it. This thing in Iraq is costing us $10 billion a month.
The first thing our economy needs is a government led by people who understand that leaders are supposed to be compasses and not weathervanes. Were going to have to make some tough choices.
Im troubled by the trillion dollar bailout weve seen in the last few days. I will say that (Federal Reserve chairman) Ben Bernanke and Secretary (Henry) Paulson at Treasury do have some credibility with me. Theyre saying weve got to make these changes because of the ripple effect through the economy.
To use an analogy, if you have a mayor who over the course of seven or eight years lays off all the policemen and theres a riot, you have to call the National Guard and its much more expensive. You may have to make the call, but that doesnt mean that you let the mayor off the hook for those bad decisions.
Based on the information I have today, Im willing to go along with this but its got to be part of a much more comprehensive package to include regulation of the financial industry at a much higher level. Its got to include much more transparency and oversight.
Today we now have people who call themselves Republicans who are overseeing massive increases in spending, massive deficits, massive deregulation and the bill goes to the American people. Its shameful.
These Republicans have now nationalized part of the financial sector.
Ive been teaching political science for over 15 years and nationalizing industry is not something you associate with [American] government. Theres a remarkable and tragic irony that these radical Republicans are the instrument of this nationalization.
We have seen John McCain who led the deregulation mania, and now we see . . . the taxpayers get to come up with a trillion dollars. Thats a number thats hard to fathom. If youre going to spend a million dollars, one dollar every second, it takes you about 12 days. A billion dollars takes you about 32 years. A trillion dollars takes you 32,000 years. Thats the kind of money that were talking about because of the poor management that weve seen.
I certainly hope that Wall Street is the last of the dominoes.
In 2000, the oil men got control of all three branches of government and we are now reaping the benefits for stale policy. And unfortunately CEOs are getting incredible bonuses . . . this is the kind of corporate greed that puts Wall Street ahead of Main Street.
Weve absolutely got to remember that we need government for everyone, and particularly the middle class, because thats what most of us hang on.
Q: List the steps you would advocate to address the issue of healthcare in America today.
A: I first have to admit as the most junior member of the US Congress, it is quite possible that the leadership there and President Obama in the White House will not come to me to lead on this issue.
I do support a national healthcare system, as outlined by Mr. Obama. The strength of the Obama plan is what some people find frustrating, in that it attempts to deal with healthcare in discrete steps.
If you look back at the 90s and the failed Clinton plan, one of the major problems they had was that they were trying to do everything at once. The result was that the industries that were going to oppose them were willing to join arms with every other opponent and create this impenetrable wall of opposition insurance, pharmaceuticals, big business, everybody.
Obamas plan starts simpler. It starts with kids and then, as our budget allows, we work steadily toward national healthcare.
The Obama plan has a lot of specifics, things like letting Medicare actually negotiate with drug companies to get cheaper bargains. If people can go to the market downtown and bargain over the price of apples we should be able to negotiate the prices of these medications.
I make one campaign promise in all the talks I give and thats that Ill work really, really hard, but I also say that every problem we face and this is a bad answer in terms of getting elected is going to take time.
Its going to take years to get us back on the right path on healthcare, on fiscal discipline, on taking care of veterans, on the economy, on the environment, on renewable energy . . . but weve got to make those changes now.
Q: Are we fighting Islamic terror in the right countries? If not, where and how do you think that fight should be waged?
A: I was actually in the Pentagon on 9/11 and I had to see and do stuff that I never want to think of again. This issue cuts pretty close to my heart, and Im outraged that this administration has let us into the wrong war at the wrong time against the wrong enemy.
That does not mean that Im sorrowful for Saddam Hussein. He was a very bad man and I dont miss him one bit, but dictators rule in Sudan, they rule in Chad, they rule in East Timor, and we didnt invade there.
The real war against Islamic terrorism is international. Its in Australia and Bali and Indonesia and all around. But the nexus for all of this is Afghanistan and to a lesser degree Pakistan.
One of the reasons Im so angry at Mr. Bush over the war in Iraq is that we are not using those resources in Afghanistan to go after the people who were actually behind 9/11.
Q: Has Congress, and the presidency, totally given up on the idea of immigration reform?
A: I dont think its been abandoned because of complexity. I think its been abandoned because the economy is a story that affects virtually every American negatively, unless youre one of that top 2% that Mr. Bush cares about the most. Its swamped just about every issue because people are losing their homes.
Here in El Paso County, the Colorado Springs area, people are losing their homes at about twice the rate they were last year. Weve seen real income come down, unless youre part of that top elite. So I think emigration has been pushed aside by more pressing issues.
The simple answer to the question is that theres no simple answer. I favor a guest worker program, along the lines weve seen in Europe. But while that would be a federal program, I want to give the governors of the states a lot of discretionary authority to modify it.
For example, the governor of Arizona and the governor of Montana have very different immigration challenges. So Id love to have those governors have the ability to make different choices based on their own particular landscape.
In a lot of industries, employers are the problem. The people who come here are generally not always but generally looking for a better life for themselves and their families. And the people who hire them are the ones we ought to target if we want to be serious about illegal immigration.
I prefer some kind of guest worker program, given that a lot of the workers are in agriculture, particularly, and we depend on these people to do the jobs and get the food and products into our homes. If were bringing them here to do that job, lets get them here legally in some way so that they can work off the table, not under the table.
They can pay taxes. They can call the police if theyre victims of violent crime so predators cant prey on them. They can be involved in contributing to society in every way we expect every other citizen to.
Q: Youre running as a Democrat in one of the most secure Republican districts in the country. Do you seriously intend to win and, if not, what do you hope to gain in this campaign?
A: I seriously intend to win, and I think I can. We have polling data that suggests that I can.
I was raised by parents who said if you want to complain about something you ought to try to be part of the solution.
I spent 25 years in the Air Force serving my country and in the last eight years I have seen it go in the wrong direction. So I thought, how can I help? With 25 years in the Air Force I have learned some remarkable things.
I have a doctorate in American government, I have taught the Constitution of the American government at the Air Force Academy for 15 years, I was a cop, a military policeman at the Air Force Academy, I worked in the White House and the Pentagon and the State Department, and I started my career as an
ICBM watch officer, one of those people with a finger on the button during the Cold War.
That provides me with an opportunity to be of service in Congress.
[Cong. Doug] Lamborn is not a bad man. Hes a good man doing what he thinks is right, but I think hes horribly wrong. He voted with President Bush and against the Democrats more than anyone else in the House or the Senate at a 99.3% clip.
I dont know anybody Id agree with 99 times out of 100. I will tell you right now, I will not vote with Democrats 99 or even 90% of the time, because I will do whats right for the people in this district, the State of Colorado and this country. As a career military officer, I cant do anything less.