Former New York Governor George Pataki joined me on today’s program to discuss his candidacy announcement this week:
HH: We turn to the former Governor of New York, and now announced presidential candidate, Governor George Pataki. Governor Pataki, welcome, congratulations on your announcement. How has the reaction been to the Pataki campaign rollout?
GP: Well, thank you, Hugh. I think it was just tremendous. We had a great crowd, a very enthusiastic crowd yesterday in Exeter, New Hampshire, and I’ve been crisscrossing the state today, and the response has been tremendous. Now I don’t have any illusions. It’s an uphill fight. I haven’t been in public office in eight years. But if you believe in your ability to lead and your ability to change the country at this time when we need to do that, you fight the fight and make the case.
HH: Now I spent last night with Mike Morell, former acting director of CIA at the Reagan Library talking about The Great War Of Our Time, his new book, and about the war against ISIS, of course. You were on the front line from the first day forward, so I want to not talk about the process of the campaign, but what George Pataki thinks needs to be done in the war against Islamic fanaticism, both Shiia and Sunni? Why aren’t we doing better 13, 14 years into this, Governor, than we are?
GP: Well, I think we have a very weak leadership that has no strategy, or if they actually have one, it is a failed strategy and has to change. Hugh, as you know, I was governor on September 11th, and back then, people thought that because radical Islam was thousands of miles away across an ocean, it didn’t pose a threat to us here. And we learned the lesson when they carried out the most horrible attack ever against American civilians. And now, we have an administration and too many in Washington who are basically thinking the same thing – ISIS is over there, Iran is over there, they don’t pose a threat. Well, they do, and I fear we are at greater risk of an attack today than at any time since September 11th. So I have a very good, detailed program that I think we should do to roll back ISIS and defeat them, and to protect the American people.
HH: Can you expand on that?
HH: How do you de-radicalize a radical Islamic slice?
GP: Well, I don’t think you go on the internet and try to convince them they’re wrong. I think you have to defeat them on the ground militarily. First thing I’d do is I would provide real assistance – arms, training, financial support, whatever it takes to groups like the Peshmerga, the Kurds fighting ISIS on the ground. I’d do the same thing with the Sunni Arabs, the sheikhs who are Sunni but anti-ISIS looking to fight against ISIS as they fought against al Qaeda. And not getting the help from America they need, this administration sends all aid through Baghdad. It doesn’t get to the Kurds. It doesn’t get to the Sunnis who are on our side, and we’ve got to just stop doing that. The second thing I would do is I would do exactly what we did two weeks ago when we launched that strike that killed one of the ISIS leaders. I would not be at all reluctant to look and try to track down and find where they had training camps, recruiting centers, social media hubs where they are actively planning to attack us here, and if need be, to destroy those. If we couldn’t do it from the air, launch quick strikes with American forces, destroy those training camps, destroy those recruiting centers, and then get out. No ten year war, no trillion dollars in nation building. Do what is necessary to protect the American people here. We cannot look the other way. We have to prevent them from planning and organizing over there, or otherwise, we are going to have another attack here, Hugh. It’s that simple.
HH: In retrospect, ought George Bush to have invaded Iraq?
GP: No, knowing what we know now, I don’t think so. I think it really did not work the way we had hoped, and in particular, when you launched the war based on weapons of mass destruction and then they don’t turn up, it is very disillusioning to the American people. But also, the more important question is should Hillary and Obama have pulled out every last troop in 2009, creating the void that allowed ISIS to expand and pose the threat they are now? They made a horrible decision. We had won that war, and then they pulled out…
HH: I think you mean 2011, don’t you, Governor? 2011?
GP: 2000…whenever, yes, they pulled out the last troops, yes, it was 2011, before Obama was running again, to keep his pledge. And they created this void that allowed ISIS to be the threat to us and to civilization that they are today.
HH: Now Governor, in terms of going back, and everyone hesitates to say commit boots on the ground, it’s a cliché now, but you can’t win this war, can you, without the basing of a significant number of American troops at the front lines of the battle with ISIS and on the borders of Iran?
GP: You know, I don’t think we have to have hundreds of thousands of troops based over there at all. I think, you know, it’s not, I don’t believe, the American people’s job to create a lasting, stable government in Iraq or in that part of the world. It is our job to provide and protect for the security of the American people. So I would just destroy their planning and training centers and recruitment centers, the resources they are using to plot and organize to attack us here, and then get out. And I think it would send a very clear message that we’re going to do what it takes to protect our freedom, but we’re not going to put one life in harm’s way unnecessarily.
HH: Now Governor, you’re used to the Albany press corps, so you’re not unused to people objecting and saying back to you, but give me some specifics.
GP: At least you let me answer the question.
HH: Well, I’m not satisfied with that last answer, because…
GP: All right…
HH: ..I want to know what it looks like. I want the American people, if I’m on that stage and a Republican says to me destroy their training centers, I want to know where are our troops coming from. They don’t just, you know, come down from the pod in the sky. Where are they?
GP: You know, I don’t think we need massive troops. Where did they come from when we launched the attack into Syria that killed the ISIS leader? You know, we had Delta forces come in. There’s no question right now we have over 3,000 boots on the ground in Iraq. We have forces there. There’s no question that the Kurds would welcome our using a base there for as long as necessary to launch these strikes, and they are right on the front line against ISIS. You know, I have two sons. One fought as a Marine lieutenant in Anbar for a year in Iraq while he led a platoon. The other got back in September as a lieutenant in Afghanistan. I don’t want to see us put one person’s life in harm’s way where it’s not absolutely necessary. I don’t want us to station tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of troops over there for any extended period of time. But I do want us to take whatever action is necessary to protect us here.
HH: Were both sons Marines, Governor Pataki?
GP: No, my older son was a Marine, or I guess still is a Marine. He’s not active, but once a Marine, always a Marine. My younger son was in the 10th Mountain Division in the Army.
HH: So which one’s smarter?
GP: I’m proud of both of them.
HH: Well, I know that. I’m just wondering which one, they must get into this around the dining room table, don’t they?
GP: Well, actually, they really don’t. They’re both proud of their service, and they’re both proud of their brother. So hey, we’re all Americans, they both served, and I know there’s the inter-service rivalry, but they’ve managed to let the family ties prevent that from rearing its head.
HH: We have a minute to break. I did not know that about you, Governor Pataki, that you had two sons who’d been in combat. And I am curious how that changed…
GP: Well, they were over there in service. My son was a platoon leader. You know, they don’t talk in detail about it, so I don’t want say…
HH: Okay, but I’m just curious, did it change your perspective as a leader having kids in harm’s way?
GP: Oh, it can’t help but make you think twice before deploying troops. You know, I know what it’s like to lie awake in the middle of the night fearing you’re going to get a phone call. It is a terrible thought. And I just don’t want to see any parent or husband or wife or child go through that unless it’s absolutely necessary. So yes, it has made me understand that you have to be extremely prudent in using force and putting Americans in harm’s way. But having said that, they want to attack us, we can’t let them do that.
HH: Governor George Pataki, come back early and often in the next few months. Great to have you in the race.
End of interview.