LOREN DEJONGE SCHULMAN: The saying goes that politics stops at the water’s edge. I think it’s fair to say that this year has not been a beach party for folks in or out of the water. It is because the national security space has become increasingly politicized that CNAS places a significant emphasis on rebuilding that bipartisan consensus on critical national security issues, both the content of what that agenda is and the process of how to build it.
Today, we’re happy to welcome two of our finest public servants and strongest advocates for national security issues. Senator Lindsey Graham is an Air Force veteran who spends his congressional breaks serving in the Reserves – (inaudible) – in Iraq and has been a dedicated supporter of our men and women in uniform in his 14 years in the Senate.
Senator Jack Reed is an Army veteran and currently ranking member of the Senate Armed Service Committee who has spent his long congressional career working across the aisle in support of our troops.
We’ve asked them here to offer a perspective from the Hill on the process of developing national security and defense legislation with a particular emphasis on building that bipartisan consensus. They’ll be led by Karen DeYoung, the award-winning associate editor and national security correspondent from the “Washington Post.” (Applause.)
KAREN DEYOUNG: Good crowd. Thank you. Good afternoon and thanks so much for the introduction. As you’ve already heard, we’re so lucky today to have two senators with long experience debating issues of national security and defense and foreign policy. As you know, both are military veterans, both serve on the Armed Services Committee, both have been in Congress since the early 1990s, first House representatives, Senator Reed in the Senate since 1997 and Senator Graham since 2003.
I hate to start off by referring to another media organization but I want to begin with something one of your colleagues said on the radio this morning. Senator Angus King of Maine, who’s one of – as you know – of only two independents in the Senate – and I won’t say who the other one is but you know – was ruminating on what was wrong with Congress and why it has so much trouble finding common ground and getting things done. He said that about 65 senators, two-thirds of the entire body, have been in the Senate eight years or less. And he said most of us had never seen the place work. We’re like a football team that’s lost every game for the last eight years. We’ve literally forgotten how to make it work.
Some might argue that the disconnect on foreign policy and national security is a little bit less than it is on other issues, but I would submit that that’s a testament to how bad things are on domestic issues rather than anything positive about foreign policy. It used to be said that politics ended at the water’s edge. That may be less true than we think but I think there’s certainly still some truth to it as America’s relationship with the world has gotten more and more bogged down in partisan squabbling. Our friends and foes overseas see it. Some worry about it and others seek to take advantage of it.
Congress has been unable to pass a new authorization for the war against the Islamic state. There’s been criticism on both sides of the aisle of the Obama administration’s national security policy and very little common ground, not only of the Middle East and South Asia but in the Far East, in Europe, and Latin America. Both Houses have managed to pass a defense authorization bill but the president says he’s prepared to veto it.
But rather than focus on specific areas of disagreement, I’d like the two of you to put them in the context of process and politics and, hopefully, to interact with each other for our benefit. Feel free to interrupt each other or me or to agree or to disagree. And I wonder if we could start with each of you taking a few minutes to talk about how you see the situation now. Do you think during your own time in Congress and particularly in the Senate that things have changed in terms of the ability to reach consensus on national security writ large and on a commitment to ending politics at the water’s edge. Why is that? Is it money? Is it interest groups? Is it the need to be constantly campaigning even in the Senate? Is it trying to avoid bad votes that you’re going to get stuck with later? Is it Obama? Where are the areas of consensus? Maybe some of them aren’t too visible to us in the media. But I wonder which of you would like to start. Senator Reed, do you want to go ahead?
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Let’s start with the smart one first so Jack.
MS. DEYOUNG: Okay. Go ahead.
SEN. GRAHAM: The reason I didn’t go to West Point is they wouldn’t let me in. (Laughter.)
SENATOR JACK REED (D-RI): Well, I had to get away – (inaudible) – to get in.
SEN. GRAHAM: I would have passed that.
SEN. REED: We’re in a moment in time where we saw a situation where we came together very dramatically. That was after 9/11. There’s no question. And that I think support allowed President Bush to conduct a very adroit campaign in Afghanistan. Then I think we began to have policy differences really at the lead up to Iraq. And I think since that time, there’s been much more disagreement and dispute on both sides of the aisle. I think there are some constants that we do recognize.
One is the threat to the United States by ISIL and both in terms of their activities overseas, their potential for coordinated attacks outside of the region, and most tragically and recently, this self-directed terrorism which they might not engender but they certainly encourage. And so that is an area I think that we are looking at and trying to focus in the best means. And we disagree in terms of operational techniques but the best means to address that threat. But that is something I think that is – pulls us all together.
Your comments about sort of what’s happened over the years, yeah, I think there is a diminishing center. There’s a polarization. Some of that is structural in terms of – particularly in the house in the terms of the way districts are organized. When Lindsey and I were in the House of Representatives, there were probably 100 swing districts. I guess there would probably be 10 or 20 now. That has an effect on politics. The issue of campaign finance, of course, that affects it. And so you have issues, and it’s not just in the realm of foreign affairs.
In fact, you point out, relatively speaking, there’s more bipartisanship there. But I remember places, and Lindsey does too, where infrastructure, for example, that was a no brainer. Everybody needed a bridge. We got it done. Now we’re having a difficult time doing that. So there has been changes. Again, I think we have episodes in your history where politics does stop at the waterline. But when you have a traumatic event, that certainly is the case. When you have less traumatic events and policy decisions, that tends to get less clear.
The only final point I’ll make too, it’s also the age we live in. You know, most things used to stop at the water’s edge unless you run a Trans-Atlantic cable. Now we’re in a global economy, a global media environment. We’re in a social networking environment so that issues that before, that were clearly, you know, foreign, remote from us, that we could step back without any sort of concerns about domestic impact and make judgments are fewer and fewer.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, that was well said. The bottom line is the Congress usually reflects where the people are at. Most people in politics, most of us are herd animals. We like being in a herd. It’s kind of safer. There’s a lot of green grass over there to go get but you can get eaten by lions. So the bottom line is I think there’s a fight within the Republican Party for who we are on foreign policy. From the Rand Paul view to the Lindsey Graham-John McCain view and Trump is somewhere out there, somewhere saying something about – I don’t know where he’s at. (Laughter.)
So I think there’s a more traditional view of foreign policy emerging on the Republican side. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to run for president. But this idea – how many of you think we need to replace the defense cuts under sequestration? If you don’t raise your hand here, you’re in the wrong crowd. Of course we should. Now, when we do something together, it doesn’t mean it’s good. We did sequestration together. The one time we did something together was really screwed up.
So here we are, how do you fix it? So Jack and I had a conversation. The next president, whoever he or she – most likely she’s going to be – needs to get these defense cuts set aside. We need to buy back sequestration following the formula of the Super Committee, where you have some revenue to buy back sequestration, defense and non-defense. The FBI is being cut, the CIA, the NSA, Homeland Security. It’s just not DOD. There’s a lot of defense infrastructure that’s being gutted, even though it’s not under the DOD title. So I’m willing to close some loopholes in the tax code, eliminate some deductions that a lot of us enjoy, put that on the table as revenue and I’m sure Jack would be willing to let Medicare and other entitlement programs and see if we could make them more reasonable and save some money to buy back sequestration.
That formula is what the Super Committee was supposed to do. They failed. So here’s what I think. I think by January of 2017, the next president is going to have an opportunity here to reset on sequestration. I now that I and Senator McCain and others – hopefully he comes – will sit down with Angus King and Jack and a bunch of likeminded Democrats and see if we can buy back what’s left. And if we can’t do that, then the system will be truly broken.
Why? Because all of us on the Defense Committee, Republican and Democrat, see the need. The Democratic friends are going to say, you can’t just do defense. You’ve got to do non-defense. I’m willing to look at non-defense. I’m willing to buy it back rather than forget what’s left, because we do have a debt problem. To me, the test of the Congress next year and the new president is can we find a pathway forward to stop gutting the military at a time we need it the most? Because here’s the sad fact. You can eliminate the Department of Defense entirely over time and really not move the debt needle.
So to my friends on the right who will never do revenue, I just urge you to look to the Department of Defense. And to my friends on the left who want to leave entitlement programs the way they are, well, one, they’re going to fail if you don’t do something about it. Surely we can find a pathway forward to give the men and women in the military who’ve been busting their butt for the last 14, 15 years the resources they need to win a war we can’t afford to lose.
So I’m going to make a prediction, that the center will hold if you have presidential leadership next year. I think there will be a buyback of sequestration defense and non-defense. I’m hoping that will prove to be a correct prediction. Time will tell.
SEN. REED: I concur with Lindsey. I think this is not just something that has to be done. This is the first thing that must be done.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yes.
SEN. REED: And I don’t think the window is long. I think this is something where the new administration has to come in ready to go on inauguration day and move very quickly. And it has to be both sides of the ledger. There has to be revenue. Longer term, we have to look at programs that can contribute to deficit reduction. And I think if we do that, and we have to do that, we’ll position ourselves for the challenges ahead. If we don’t do that, then just the impact on DOD in terms of uncertainty, of the cuts they have to plan because sequestration is on the books, that’s so disruptive that that itself will complicate any type of coherent strategy.
MS. DEYOUNG: Well, you mentioned, Senator Graham, that – you obviously listen to what your constituents say. There is, one could argue, a critical mass to do what you’ve outlined. You’ve got an administration that wants to do it. Is it just that people are afraid to go out and – or there’s nothing to be gained by explaining these very complicated issues that cost money to people and to go out and literally persuade people, which is what presumably leadership is all about and what politicians used to do.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, there’s some in the House and the Freedom Caucus that basically like sequestration. Some of them would say that the Defense Department is too big and they can even get more. Well, what Jack and John McCain and I and others have been able to do is really reform the Pentagon in a pretty substantial way. You know, retirement benefits have been changed prospectively. TRICARE have been changed to be more affordable. We’re going to fix price contracts versus cost plus. So the idea you should shake the Pentagon up, I buy into.
But half the cost of the military is personnel cost. We can’t defend this nation, my view, with 420,000 people in the Army, and that’s where you’re at in 2021. You need more than 278 ships in the Navy and you need a bigger Air Force. There are some people like Bernie – I have no idea how Bernie would answer this question. You know, Trump answers it differently literally depending on the day you ask him.
So the bottom line is what Trump is doing is he’s declaring war on our allies. If you look at what we do in Japan and South Korea, it’s the best deal in the world. They pay most of the bills but we have a footprint in that part of the world to stand up for our values and to be in alliance with people who think like us and kind of a bulwark against China. So there’s some people ideologically that believe the Pentagon needs to give more, the left and the right. There’s some people who say you can never touch entitlements, mostly on the left. There are some people who say you can’t generate another penny of revenue. You’ve just got to do it all, you know, revenue neutral, mostly on the right.
I believe – here’s what I’ll say and I’ll just shut up. If you can’t get this right next year, then I will really have lost hope for the Congress as a body because if we can’t see the need to repair the damage under the military in a bipartisan fashion, then we really have lost our way.
SEN. REED: If I could just add, one of the problems is communicating with the people. I think they have a great commonsense and, by and large, I think they would agree we have to do this.
SEN. GRAHAM: The people are not the problem.
SEN. REED: But terms like sequestration, terms like automatic cuts and things, it’s not in their daily lives. It’s not important. But when you talk about raising my taxes, when you talk about cutting my benefits, that resonates. But I think this leads to the way we’ll get action. This has to be a primary focus of the presidential campaigns because a presidential leadership will be key. And we saw it in the ’90s with Bill Clinton. The debate which ironically was shaped as much by Ross Perot as the Republican and Democratic candidates was we’ve got to reduce the deficit. We’ve got to take hard steps to do that. And we managed to do that with presidential leadership. But unless this is the item that comes out of the campaign for president as the one people think have to be accomplished, is a leading issue, you’ve got to do something, we won’t have the political force to do it.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, you know, give Trump some credit. He talks about we’re going to have a big military, a strong military and we’re going to use it wisely. Okay. Count me in for that. We’re going to destroy ISIL, well, count me in for that. The bottom line is he’s saying some things that make me believe that he does see the need for a larger military. When it comes to destroying ISIL, I’m not so sure how he does it differently than Obama. I think Secretary Clinton would be somebody who would see the need to repair the damage done through sequestration. Congressional leadership’s probably going to be pretty much the same. I hope we can get our congressional leaders in the room and the rank and file can find a way to come up with a solution to this.
MS. DEYOUNG: You mentioned that congressional leadership is going to be about the same. Regardless of how the exact balance ends up, the Senate will still be pretty divided. Senator Graham, you said during your campaign that you – your presidential campaign that you were looking for practical solutions and you noted that –
SEN. GRAHAM: You saw how well that turned out.
MS. DEYOUNG: You took the question right out of my mouth.
SEN. GRAHAM: I should have not said that.
MS. DEYOUNG: You said that you’ve been accused of working with the Democrats too much but that, in your view, there wasn’t enough of that and you were going to change it if you got to be president. Yes, I think, as you said, you need a president to come out and say, this is what we need to do, whether it’s sequestration or whatever. But what are the mechanisms? How do you get people who, the majority of them have no real tradition of working together across the aisle, haven’t for a number of years. How do you do it?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, my pathway forward was to drink more, to do the Tip O’Neill-Ronald Reagan deal where you come down to the White House, you know, knock a few back and see what you can get done. (Laughter.) Personal relationships matter. Jack and I travel all the time. He’s a wonderful fellow. You know, he’s a Democrat, I’m a Republican. I think we see this pretty much the same.
The bottom line, with the presidential leadership, the need – the first thing is people in this audience who are in the defense world, you have to educate, you know, your employees and people that, you know, that listen to what you have to say about what we’re about to do to the military if we go back into sequestration. I think if you can define the problem as being as dire as I think it is without being alarmist, that most Americans believe that the military should be well taken care of because they’re there for all of us, vegetarian, libertarian, gay, straight, you know, black, rich, poor, Democrat, Republican. These guys and gals are on the tip of the spear defending us against enemies who would kill us all if they could.
So I think the case can be made. The partisan environment right now, you’ve just got to project post-election day. There will be a desire by all of us to help the next president, whoever he or she may be. And I would advise the next president, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, to start – give Jack and me and other people a call about rebuilding the Defense Department, setting aside sequestration. I may be wrong but I think there would be a pretty large audience for that.
SEN. REED: Well, one of the things that strikes me about leadership is that it’s a combination of many factors. One is temperament, the ability to reach out to people, to talk to people and, importantly, listen to people. That has to be done. And then also, understanding the institutional culture, how we operate, what’s important to us, what’s important to the House versus the Senate. That understanding and that temperament is absolutely critical. People have intellectual gifts. People have, you know, a resounding victory and then the vote behind them but if they can’t put that together in the one on one, that type of dynamic, then it’s really hard to pull us together. Our tendency is to go apart and they have to recognize that. And a lot of it is just this one-on-one sort of I need your help, I need your assistance, I need your advice in doing that. And one has to be comfortable doing that.
MS. DEYOUNG: Do you get this feeling that because there’s so many relatively new members that – I know the organization I work for – because we’ve changed from print to digital, there’s this whole group of people I don’t even know anymore that have been hired – you know, they weren’t even born when I started doing this. Do you find that there’s not that kind of comity, that you have to reach out and go find people and say, look – offer to mentor people? Is there any interest in that?
SEN. REED: I think, honestly, yes. And I don’t think we do enough of that, frankly, because, you know, we have been here for a while. We know people. We have relationships. We rely on those relationships, et cetera. But I think there would be a most conscious effort to talk to new members, to talk to everybody, to go across the aisle. I must say I think we all can do more of that. This is not one side or the other side. And just developing – in fact, it might be better to talk about something unrelated to the job first to establish, hey, I didn’t realize that you – you know, you had those interests. Let’s see if we can work together. I think that’s absolutely essential.
SEN. GRAHAM: On our side, I mean, you really send some real killers into the Congress. I mean, I’m – these people will write to me on defense which – I love this. I mean, like, you know, Joni Ernst, Kelly – Dan Sullivan. You’ve got a really good group of new people that have come into the Congress from military backgrounds in the Senate. And, you know, David Purdue’s lived all over the world. He understands the budget, that entitlements drive the long-term debt of this country.
So the new people, I don’t – quite frankly, I think the new people are easier to talk to than some of the people who’ve been around for a while. I mean, philosophically, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham are on sort of the opposite ends of where the Republican Party exists, but I think Rand would be willing to look at sequestration relief because it is taking a toll.
There will be things we can’t agree on, like Gitmo. The next president of the United States – the Iran agreement. I don’t know what the Iranians are up to. Here’s the one thing none of us are talking about: the election, how much will national security matter. I think it depends on what happens. If there’s another 9/11 type attack, it’s going to be the number one issue. Orlando was horrific but I’m afraid there’s more coming. I’m afraid there are too many of these guys to watch, that Brendan (sp) is trying to give us a wakeup call here that is they’re losing the battlefield. They’re still becoming a terrorist organization with a great amount of lethality.
And our systems have been deteriorated. The FBI, the CIA’s budget has been cut. The ability to track a lone wolf, the ability to pick up intelligence has been greatly diminished because of these budget cuts and some other policy changes. We’re losing intelligence. So I just think it’s a matter of time until national security emerges as the number one issue for the country. And, unfortunately, I think the vehicle for it to emerge is going to mean an attack against us. And, God, I hope I’m wrong.
MS. DEYOUNG: If there is another 9/11 type attack – we’ve seen what’s happened in the wake of the Orlando attacks, not a lot of agreement there.
SEN. GRAHAM: Sad.
MS. DEYOUNG: People making political points. You think you’d see the same kind of pulling together as you saw after 9/11?
SEN. REED: I think you would see a coming together but I don’t think it would be, honestly, as emphatic as 9/11. Nine-eleven was a shock heard around the world literally. And it was – it defied all of our understandings of our national security, of our vulnerabilities. It was – you know, one of the things they did so astutely is they went beyond what we thought was feasible, possible or even being contemplated. You know, when you hear that an airline was being hijacked, of course, it was going to be taken to some airfield, ransom would be demanded, there would be SWAT teams prepared for it, but they went beyond that, which, unfortunately, affected, you know, thousands of lives and the country. That brought us together. I think in the wake of another serious attack like that, we would come together but it would not be with the same sense of – you know, of undiluted unity that I think was quite obvious in New York City and supporting the president.
SEN. GRAHAM: The first thing out of Trump’s mouth, (thanks, congrats ?) on being right about radical Islam. Forty-nine people just got killed. The first thing out of Secretary Clinton’s mouth was talking about gun control. I mean, the bottom like that this is a case study of how fractured we are. I mean, you see in this incident what you want to see. If you want to see terrorism on the rise, you see it. If you want to see gun control laws not being sufficient, you see it.
The bottom line is this time that we live in, where we don’t see things as clearly as we should is not the first time that’s happened in the world. I see Iran completely different than I think President Obama. I see it as a regime that’s trying to develop a nuclear capability, would use if they ever got it, and that this agreement is making them stronger, not weaker. And these kind of discussions will move forward. The clarity that you need to defend the nation should start with the resources made available to those who have to fight no matter whether it’s a big war or small war or just to prevent war.
So I am hoping and I am praying that with all the evidence available to the Congress, that we can find a way to give the men and women who fight these wars what they need to win and come home as quick as possible and whole as possible. And here’s my approach to it. If you’re going to fight fixing sequestration, you’re a complete A hole. I’m going to get down to the most basic level that if you want to fight over this, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, we’re going to have one hell of a fight because I’m not going to put up with this crap any longer. Come next year, we’re going to get a resolution. And there’s no ideology on the right going to stop me from getting to yes if I can find a Democrat who will say no to the ideology on the left.
MS. DEYOUNG: Do you see consensus coming?
SEN. REED: I see the circumstances as Lindsey does that this is something we can’t avoid. We have to fix it. And so far, in those moments where, you know, the nation was in peril, that we have taken the right step forward and I think we will, but it’s not going to be easy. And, again, I have to emphasize, I don’t want to diminish our great influence but without a strong presidential voice in the campaign and then beginning the day after the election about, this is job one, then reaching out personally before actually being sworn in to start setting the wheels in motion, you just – it will be difficult to do it despite the best efforts of a guy like Lindsey Graham and others. That has to be done too.
SEN. GRAHAM: And this is such a weird cycle. You’ve got the Republican nominee wanting to be friends with Putin and you’ve got the Democratic nominee saying, I’m not so sure. I mean, everything is sort of turned upside down right now. I cannot express how disappointed I am with the foreign policy debate within my own party, but it’s getting a little bit better. But Bernie – you know, Bernie captured a moment. I don’t remember Bernie’s foreign policy very much. I just remember that, you know, I made a joke about Bernie, the only war he ever voted for was World War One. (Laughter.) I like Bernie. Making a joke there because I made one about Cruz. And the only reason he voted for that, he thought Kaiser meant banker in German. (Laughter.)
So we’ve got a Democratic Party and a Republican Party that’s very populist. Like Trump’s foreign policy is literally all over the board. And I’m hoping what Jack says is true, that as you get closer to the election – well, what would you do about Putin differently? You know, what are you going to do different about ISIL? Where do you think ISIL will be in January of 2017? And do you see sequestration as a threat to our common good? I hope we’ll have these debates.
MS. DEYOUNG: Well, you know, you had Secretary Carter here this morning and he listed out the five major challenges, five major defense and national security challenges: Russia managing historic change in the Asia-Pacific, strengthening deterrence and defense forces against North Korea and protecting our allies there, checking Iranian aggression and malign influence in the Gulf, and, of course, counterterrorism. As you said, Senator Graham, I think we all agree on the threat. The problem is we don’t agree on what to do about it.
And I wonder if this – you know, the kind of real strong disagreement about basic strategy with the current administration, if either of you think that there comes a point when you’re engaged in combat or trying to counter these kinds of threats, where you say, I’ve said my piece, we’ve tried to influence a policy, now it’s time to come behind it whatever it is. Because is there not a price to be paid overseas and with our adversaries and our allies to the kind of division that we’ve seen?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, let’s start with – okay. Those five things, we agree. So what do you pivot to Asia with? Like a row boat? I mean, we need more ships. So if we all believe we need to have a bigger presence in Asia, let’s have a bigger Navy, right, because it’s sort of the anchor tenant up there. If you want to reassure your NATO allies, how about increased defense spending in a responsible way and encourage them to follow? How are they going to spend more if we’re cutting? So you just name the threat, counterterrorism. It’s a whole of government approach. You’ve got to not only rebuild the Department of Defense. It’s just more than Special Forces. What about the CIA and the FBI, people on the frontline? So resources, hopefully would be a common ground to approach all five that we all agree we need more resources.
SEN. REED: I think the point of resource is well taken. And that’s why I think there’s been a growing understanding just fixing DOD’s top line is not going to fix national security. And it’s growing to state, to FBI, to DHS, et cetera. And that’s been a learning process, frankly, in the Senate and I think we’re going further on that. The strategy that Ash laid out I think is the right one, the threats are the right ones. And then it’s – you’ve got to prioritize your resources. One of the difficult issues is that as we – if we commit more resources in one region at the current level, we can’t apply additional resources elsewhere. And that’s I think one of the tensions within the administration.
There’s also a temporal dimension. We do need more ships, but we’re not going to in two years go from present Navy to a Navy that’s robust enough to be all over the world and all the things we want to do. That’s why, one, and I keep – like a broken record, we’ve got to get rid of sequestration. Then we’ve got to get a plan that goes out aggressively but responsibly forward in terms of rebuilding resources.
You’ve got to take care of technology too. One of the things that’s affecting us right now is we used to have a huge technological superiority in all sorts of dimensions, and that’s shrinking. And so we have to invest more in technology, not necessarily new platforms but platforms with better technology. And we’re trying to do that. Some of the reforms – and John McCain has been critical in this – of acquisition reforms and other reforms, are directed precisely at that, getting more value for investment, getting better technology, getting it deployed faster.
MS. DEYOUNG: Well, I want to push you a little bit because I know you both on armed services I know you both focused on resources for the military. But I think I’m kind of talking about a larger point, about strategy. Senator Reed, you voted against the Iraq invasion and you were in a fairly small minority there and you’ve stuck with it all these years, even as it became more popular, it became less popular. It’s kind of gone up and down. But is there a price to be paid for vocal disagreement over a strategy against a major national security threat or is it your duty to be utmost, to resist it and to speak out against it?
SEN. REED: No. I think there is a responsibility to make the best judgment you can based on the facts, based ultimately on what you think is the best for the United States and then to argue very vociferously but in a principled fashion about the decision. And you can disagree. And there was disagreement. But I, again, speaking personally, I think you have to sort of lay out in a sensible, practical way what are the opposition, not just I don’t like this or my constituents don’t like it, particularly when it comes to those critical issues of national security. There is a role to step back and pay the price. And I, you know, had made decisions that I looked back and said, you know, I wasn’t as astute as somebody else in that position, but it helped me make a better decision in the future. But I think that’s the obligation a senator has, to stand up and do your best but not in a reflexive sort of political sloganeering, simplistic way but in a very thoughtful, very precise, if you can, manner.
SEN. GRAHAM: Let me give you an example of disagreeing but understand there’s only so much you can do when you disagree. I don’t think the strategy in Iraq and Syria is going to destroy us, doing some damage, but how do you hold and build? I don’t think we had a hold and build follow-on strategy. How do you make sure – if you take Raqqa away from ISIL and you’ve got a bunch of YPG Kurds doing it, I don’t see how they hold the place.
The bottom line is even though I don’t agree, I’m working with Secretary Kerry and the administration to create about a $4 billion relief and recovery package for there is – we have liberated so let’s celebrate that if we knock them out of Fallujah, well, how do you hold Fallujah? Ramadi has just been devastated. Sinjar. The Kurds are under tremendous pressure. There are like two million refugees.
So even though I don’t agree with the strategy, let’s put some money into the pipeline to give some relief and recovery to these areas that we have liberated and we can argue about what you should do tomorrow but let’s deal with the gains we’ve achieved today. And Jack has been very practical. I mean, when it comes to opposing the Iraq war, he was there, but I said 8,000 to 10,000 U.S. forces to help the Iraqi security forces is what we need to do in Iraq. Well, we’re at about 5,000 to 6,000 now. You know, a few more thousand I think would do a lot of good. So rather than argue with the president, you don’t have my number, at least you’re moving toward where I want you to be.
But the territory we liberated from ISIL, we need a game plan to hold this. Can you imagine what it’s going to take to reconstruct Syria the day that we have destroyed ISIL? And Assad, I have a completely different view about how to handle Assad. This president at least acknowledges Assad should go. The nominee in my party says he should stay. I mean, these are huge gaps. And you just do the best you can.
SEN. REED: There’s one other dimension here too is that we have a difficult time talking, you know, to the public about more money in defense, more – particularly because of what we’re seeing in this campaign, this uncertainty and nervousness about their own financial future, and then when you talk about providing – which I think we have to, I agree with Lindsey – assistance to rebuild, that’s the foreign aid. God, we can’t do that but we have to, again, not only the Congress but the president has to articulate why it’s in our national security interest to do that.
And the other aspect too I think that we’ve become – we’ve gotten a really expensive education is the cultural issues of when we talk about police, we talk about professional law enforcement officers that have court systems they can rely upon, that indeed have a vested interested in being professionals. When you go into some countries, they don’t have those and the police are sort of their own source of justice. And we’re trying to create these infrastructures in places that’s very difficult. And it is time consuming. And that’s one of the factors I think that we’ve become very much aware of over the last 15 years, the long-term nature of these commitments if we choose to commit.
MS. DEYOUNG: I’m going to ask one more question and then ask you to wrap up but if you could just look at the authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic state, there’s an issue where – all kinds of reasons why there hasn’t been agreement. But it would seem that that would be an issue where people could come together, compromise. Why has that been so hard or is it just not important, do you think?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, how many people here believe that when it comes to ISIL, you should not be limited by geography, means or time? All right. So if I’m going to fight ISIL, I don’t want to limit it to one part of the world, because we’re moving around. I don’t want to put a time period on it because what it takes, it takes. And I don’t want to limit means because you need to give your commander in chief whatever options are available militarily to destroy the enemy, which we all have as a common goal.
Tim Kaine has a limitation I can’t buy into. I like Tim a lot. My authorization to use military force is very simple. It’s just what we did after 9/11. Wherever they go, you can go, do whatever you need to do. It takes as long as it takes. And if we don’t like a particular tactical choice, you can defund it. So this is where the Congress is fighting the last Iraq war. A lot of people are still focused on Iraq and the mess, for lack of a better word, that we go ourselves into, if you buy that it was a mess. And there’s some truth to that.
But the future – radical Islam is growing in terms of capability. Its presence – it’s in Libya, it’s a bunch of places. We’re not going to find agreement on that because some people want to limit the president’s authority. I’m willing to give a Democratic president whatever they need to destroy ISIL. But here’s the good news. I think most of us agree anyway that the war is still legal and I’ll support the president where I can.
One last thing about Asia. TPP – I got back from Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan. They talked more about trade than they did the military. So if you really want to show up in Asia, I think the next president should probably try their best to pass TPP. And when you listen to both candidates running, I’m not overly encouraged. And it really will send a signal to our Asian partners if we can’t get TPP done that we’re all talk and no action.
SEN. REED: Well, I think the authorization has to be updated. Lindsey and I were there. It was done very quickly, still recovering from the shock of 9/11. There was great authority given but was focused on al Qaeda and elements, et cetera. That has been overtaken by ISIL. I think just as a matter of course, we should update it. But I also concur with Lindsey is that putting severe restrictions, geographic restrictions, temporal restrictions, et cetera, our opponents don’t have temporal or geographical restrictions.
MS. DEYOUNG: It’s your Democratic colleagues who want to do that –
SEN. REED: I know that.
MS. DEYOUNG: – if you’ve not been able to persuade them.
SEN. GRAHAM: There are Republicans too who – (inaudible).
SEN. REED: There are some – this is not one of those issues that neatly falls into the Democratic or Republican box, but it’s – again, I think a healthy debate, amendments – I mean, let’s get back to what we do and see what we can produce. That has not happened yet. We haven’t had the opportunity yet.
MS. DEYOUNG: Looking forward, I want both of you to make – to some extent, you’ve made it in part but to make an affirmative case as to how things can be better with the new Congress. What advice would you give your colleagues, new colleagues, old colleagues?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, we don’t want it to get worse. We’re at like 19 percent approval rating. And I don’t know what the 19 percent particularly like – (laughter) – but here’s what I’d say to my colleagues. We have the luxury of disagreeing about everything under the sun, from Bernie to Trump and everything in the middle. It’s so much fun to play politics in America because you can just scream and shout. You’ve got guys on cable channel to validate your views.
These are great things that come at a price. Why can’t we understand that whatever difference we have, the enemy doesn’t see us as really different? They would kill Jack and me just as quick as they’d kill anybody else. They see all Americans as a threat because we do believe in choosing our leaders. We do believe in religious freedom, worship God your way or not at all. We do believe in a certain level of tolerance that the enemy categorically rejects.
So here’s what I would say to the members of the next Congress: whatever differences you have, the one thing you should have in common is that those we ask to fight these wars deserve the best training equipment, readiness, the most modern equipment possible. I’m not looking for a fair fight when it comes to war. I want to end it as quickly as possible on our terms and see if we can appeal to their better nature of being an America, see if we can get everybody to buy in, or at least most, that whatever differences we have, the one thing we should rally around is those who fight this war deserve better, and ask the president to lead.
And I’ll tell you this to the next president, if you will lead on finding a solution to sequestration, I will follow. To members of the Democratic Party, if you want revenue, I will produce revenue with my vote if you will do your part. And the next thing you know, the public will be behind us because the public does like one thing about the federal government: they like our military.
MS. DEYOUNG: Senator Reed?
SEN. REED: Well, I think, one, hopefully, we’ll be building on the momentum that’s generated, positive momentum in the president election because they have the bully pulpit.
SEN. GRAHAM: Can’t wait until that day gets here.
SEN. REED: Yes, but they have the bully pulpit. And if the consensus is the issue that – or one of the major issues that moves this needle for one or the other was dealing seriously and thoughtfully with sequestration and with the budget dilemma here in Washington, that will help. And then I don’t think we should simply wait for the next Congress. We will have weeks in the lame duck session where we can sit down and try to do things. I don’t think we just sort of say, well, let’s wait until everyone comes here. But with a new Congress that convenes and a new president inaugurated, sequestration should be job one, ending it for the reasons that Lindsey eloquently describe because ultimately it’s about the men and women who serve, and when it comes to the Department of Defense.
It’s also about FBI agents. But it’s also in terms of the sense of what they’re fighting for. They’re fighting for an America that people have a chance. They can raise their families in peace but they’re also going to raise their family, hopefully, to a little bit more prosperity. That too is part of it. And I don’t think you can ever totally separate those who are fighting and what they’re fighting for. And I would suspect, you know, that, basically, this is not particularly profound pronouncement, but my sense was people will always sort of – at least (where I’ve lived ?), they wanted their brothers and sisters to have a chance. They might not be soldiers but they want them to have a chance, for an education; they want them to have a chance to have a good job, et cetera, and that also has to be recognized. But I think those forces together can propel us forward and I hope we will move forward.
SEN. GRAHAM: You know, these two slogans of the candidates are different but not that – make America great again, well, I think a lot of people believe we have sort of slipped as a nation and want to get back to that strong America where everybody can have a chance. And we are better together, right? So I find it odd that the two slogans, if you really want to make America great again, you’d better be together. So there you go. (Applause.)
MS. DEYOUNG: When we came out here, I said to the senators, I hope you guys are ready to talk a lot. And Senator Graham said, we’re senators. We talk. And not only that but held our interest and taught us a bit. Thank you so much. (Applause.)