HH: Congressman Rob Wittman represents Virginia’s 1st district. He’s a member of the House Committee on Armed Services. He’s chairman, in fact, of the Oversight and Investigations sub-committee of Armed Services, and he is a member of the Sea Power and Expeditionary Forces sub-committee as well as co-chair of the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus. Congressman Wittman, welcome back, and a Happy New Year to you.
RW: Hugh, it’s great to be back with you, and Happy New Year to you and all your listeners.
HH: Now when I was in your district recently, stopped and saw the Marine Corps museum. What a wonderful facility. I gather you’ve got all of Quantico Marine Corps Base in your district?
RW: I do. I am honored to have the Marine Corps base in the district, and the museum. It is an unbelievable place. I’ve been there many times. And every time I go there, I see something new.
HH: Well, I hope to get back there to broadcast from there sometime. But it’s not a good day, Congressman, because the President unveiled this new strategy, which is 8 pages of gobbledy-gook, and massive cuts to the American military. What’s your reaction to today’s events?
RW: Well, my reaction is that this is absolutely unacceptable. You know, we are unfortunately allowing the Defense strategy for this nation to be driven by budgets. And granted, we have significant budget issues to deal with. But you know, the first and foremost duty that we have as members of Congress is to defend this nation. That is, I believe, our top Constitutional duty. I do not believe that the cuts that have been proposed by the Secretary of Defense and the President are in any way going to assure that we have the greatest military the world has ever known, and a global leader for good.
HH: So how do you stop them?
RW: Well, I think those of us, both in the House and in the Senate that believe strongly that this is the wrong course of action, and especially the Armed Services Committee, need to point out where strategically this nation needs to go, and how we get there with the necessary resources, and then point to the proposals, and how they will not allow us to do that. You know, as I listened to Secretary Panetta today talk about this, I heard him talk about trade-offs. And I heard him talk about an increased acceptance of risk. And I just don’t believe the American people are ready for that increased acceptance of risk, especially in a world today that’s much more dangerous than it has been, I think, in recent history. How are we now going to pull back military presence, not project power in areas where we know others are looking to project power, and project power in very, very negative ways, in many instances, seeking to do the U.S. harm? How do we, under those circumstances, say hey, we’re going to pull things back, there are trade-offs here, we’re going to have to accept some increased risk? You know, the problem with this is, Hugh, you don’t get a do-over if you make a mistake with this.
HH: Now Congressman Wittman, because I know a little bit more about the Marine Corps than the other branches, I was down at Pendleton doing a tour of the MEF, and you own Quantico, let’s just focus on that. A 10-15% cut in the Marine Corps from, I don’t know what their current level is, it’s not where it was at 200,000, I believe would compromise their ability to be the kick-in-the-door force that can go anywhere at anytime for the United States. What’s your thought on that? I mean, can we really afford to take the tip of the spear, and then obviously you’ve got the 101st Airborne as well, and Special Forces. But the Marine Corps does the battering ram stuff. Can we really afford to cut it 10-15%?
RW: I mean, I don’t think so. To me, there’s a contradiction. When Secretary Panetta says that we are going to have a more mobile, more agile force that can project itself forward, that means the Marine Corps and, as you said, the other expeditionary elements of the Army. The thing is we have to have a Marine Corps that’s capable, we have to make sure that it’s properly resourced. We know now that they don’t have the number of amphibious ships that they need. They don’t have a modern craft where they can put Marines on the beach. I mean, I just don’t see how we’re going to accomplish these things, and have that robust expeditionary force that the Marine Corps needs to be by saying hey, listen, we’re going to jump in there and cut 10% plus at a time where that’s the force that provides us that agility, that flexibility to meet challenges around the world, to have that forcible entry capability. And I know some folks say well, we don’t need that, we can just put some helicopters on shore. But I can tell you, as we find around the world countries that say hey, listen, sorry, you’re not going to be based here, we’re going to need that quick, agile force where we can go to areas and project force when it’s necessary on a moment’s notice. We’re not going to be in a World War II scenario where we’re going to have months and months and months of the ability to build up. When things happen, as we’ve seen, they’re going to happen quickly. We need a Marine Corps that’s properly resourced to be that projection of power.
HH: Now Congressman, you’re on the committee on Expeditionary Forces, so I asked you about Marine Corps. But you are the chairman of Oversight and Investigations. Is there anything you can do to hold hearings into how this “report” was developed, because I looked it, and it appeared to me to be a speechwriter’s document, not a strategic survey on the order of the Quadrennial Report, or anything that is serious.
RW: Well, Hugh, what we started last year was an investigation into how strategic planning is done within the Pentagon, because many of us that are on the Hill, and especially on the Armed Services Committee, believe that that process has broken down, that it’s now driven by budgets and not by what is best for this nation, and by what is needed to defend this nation. So I’ve already started down the road with those hearings. We will continue those hearings into this year, to try to seek out where the weaknesses are in this whole process, how we can assure that the proper information is used to put together these strategic plans to make sure that the Quadrennial Defense Review is indeed something that’s meaningful. And as you know, an independent evaluator looked at the last Quadrennial Defense Review in their words, not mine, said it was a train wreck. So we have got to do a better job in focusing on what are the strategic needs of this nation, and make sure that we plan accordingly. We have not done that, and my committee is going to continue to seek out where the process has broken down, and where it needs to be improved so that it’s a meaningful, thoughtful and realistic process in projecting what do we need to defend this nation.
HH: You know, that’s not one of the sexy things up there, but boy, is that important, to fix that Quadrennial process, because that’s everything. That drives all the priorities. So Congressman, what do you want our candidates, I don’t know if you’ve endorsed Romney or Santorum or someone else, yet. Have you yet, Congressman?
RW: I have not. I haven’t endorsed any of the candidates yet. I’ve been listening intently on their positions and where they stand on many of the issues, but haven’t endorsed anybody.
HH: How important is it that they be talking today, tomorrow, next week, and next month about these Defense issue, even though everyone says number one issue is jobs, jobs, jobs. This is the national security of the United States. Where do you want to see it on the priority list?
RW: I think it needs to be right there at the top of the list along with jobs and the economy. And I agree that jobs and the economy need to be a focus of what we do, but a nation that’s not secure will have bigger problems than jobs and the economy if we don’t make sure that a focus is there. And especially with these candidates, they need to lay out where they believe this plan sells short the American military, sells short our ability to project power and protect this nation, and then also, I think, project their plan, and what they believe needs to happen with our military, how they see future funding, and a future configuration of the military, and how that would need to take place. I want to hear both their differences with the President, but also I want to hear where they believe they can come in and provide the necessary ability for our military to meet the challenges that are going to be out there in the years to come.
HH: Last question, Congressman Rob Wittman, and thanks for joining us from the 1st District of Virginia, hope my WRC listeners on 1260 that are in your district are listening tonight, and that is Mitt Romney said we’ve got to go from 9 to 15 ships being built every year. Rick Santorum’s endorsed that kind of a ramp up. Do we have the capacity to do that?
RW: You know, Hugh, I believe we do. Now it’s going to take a little bit of work, but you know, our shipyards are extraordinarily capable. What we’ve got to make sure is that the efficiency within those shipyards continues to increase. And I can tell you they have done a tremendous job in increasing their efficiency in how they build ships, and the speed and the cost efficiency with which they build ships. You know, there’s been a lot of concern about the cost per ship going up. But what we’ve seen recently in things like the Virginia class submarine program is actually cost coming down per submarine, and construction times shortening because they’re getting much better at that. And they can do that with every ship they build.
HH: Great news. Congressman Rob Wittman, thanks for joining us on the Hugh Hewitt Show.