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Jon Kyl On Obama’s Foreign Policy Inconsistency, And The Budget Impasse

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
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HH: Very serious situation in the Middle East right now, especially in Syria. And to discuss that, we turn to one of the very serious people in the United States Senate, Arizona United States Senator Jon Kyl, the Republican Whip. Senator Kyl, always a pleasure, thanks for joining me.

JK: Good afternoon, Hugh.

HH: I’ve read your statement on Syria. Would you tell the audience what you think the American people need to know about Assad and his dictatorship?

JK: Yes, the rationale for our involvement in Libya is to avert a humanitarian disaster with Gaddafi being willing to kill his own people. The same thing is happening in Syria with Assad willing to do the same. In fact, he’s done that, and killed hundreds, if not thousands of people already, particularly in a couple of different communities, and yet we hear virtually nothing out of the American government condemning those actions. In fact, this administration fought hard to put an ambassador in Syria, and I’ve not heard a peep out of him. The administration finally put a statement out to condemn the violence, and to ask Assad to meet with people and so on. But about all he’s done is to fire some of his ministers and replace them with others of his liking. So it appears to me that if you’ve got the rationale for averting humanitarian disaster in one place, that while the military complications are much greater in Syria, at least we could apply the same kind of economic and diplomatic and political pressure there, as is being done in Libya. And I don’t see that happening yet.

HH: Senator Kyl, if there was a candidate to replace Iraq in the Axis of Evil, I think it would be Syria. How do you rate a country as a menace to the United States? Where do you put Syria on that scale?

JK: Well, it’s about third behind Iran and North Korea. It’s not like they haven’t tried to get nuclear weaponry, and they haven’t tried to do other things. They of course undermined the government of Lebanon, put their own hand-picked people in there, and have been very supportive of Hezbollah and Hamas, the two terrorist organizations that bedevil Israel, and generally been a very negative actor in the region. And as I said, Assad is not above killing his own people. So the situations are quite similar. And it’s, I’m not suggesting military action against Syria, but I haven’t seen quite the commitment to take other kinds of action as we have with respect to countries like Libya.

HH: Could you figure out a rule of action from the President’s speech the other night? Was there a doctrine in there somewhere that I missed, Senator Kyl?

JK: It’s a little hard to see it, but I think if you read between the tea leaves there, basically, well, there are several strains to the Obama doctrine. But two of the key ones are an extraordinary aversion to using American power, a determination to only involve ourselves in humanitarian actions, and I think that stems from the fact there’s a real uncertainty about what is in America’s interest sufficient to justify military power. And I think in Obama’s mind, not very much ever. There’s also an aversion to use force by ourselves, a desire to get approval from international organizations like the United Nations. So those are strains. And I would say there’s one other strain, and I don’t disagree with this. Each situation is different. There is no overall doctrine that must be applied similarly in all situations. And the reason for that is that nothing, no situation is exactly the same as the next.

HH: Senator Kyl, I’d like to switch to domestic policy if I could. Your colleague, and I’m sure you are friendly with Chuck Schumer. He did one of those things, he talked into a phone that was being taped that no politician, no elected official ever wants to have happen to him. But what he said was quite revealing. It’s all up, in fact, I can play for you the cut a little bit here if we’ve got it standing by.

JK: Do that for your listeners, yeah. It’s great.

HH: Here’s Senator Schumer.

CS: The main thrust is basically that we want to negotiate, and we want to come up with a compromise. But the Tea Party is pulling Boehner too far over to the right. And so far over, that they’re not, there’s no more fruitful negotiations. And the subtext of this is the only way we can avoid a shutdown is for Boehner to come up with a reasonable compromise, and not just listen to what the Tea Party wants, because the Tea Party wants to stick to H.R. 1, with its Draconian extreme. I always use the word extreme. That’s what the caucus instructed me to do the other week, extreme cuts, and all these riders. And Boehner’s in a box.

HH: What do you think about that, Senator Kyl?

JK: Well, I mean, it simply confirms the obvious. When five Democrats walk out and all use the exact language, you know there was an agreement in their conference or caucus to use that language. I mean, Harry Reid used the word extreme, Schumer used the word extreme, they all do it, so you know that’s what they did. But it is humorous and a bit revealing that of course you catch them on tape saying that that was their plan all along. But you know, calling something extreme doesn’t make it extreme, and that’s their answer to everything. It’s all ad hominem, attack the source of the information rather than arguing the merits of the case, anything Republicans ever do is characterized as extreme. So this is not exactly a new tactic on their behalf, on their part.

HH: Now the Tea Party Patriots are rallying tomorrow at Noon at the Congress.

JK: You mean the extreme Tea Party Patriots?

HH: Exactly, the very extreme Tea Party Patriots.

JK: Right, right.

HH: And obviously, across the country, people are very concerned. I hope people if they’re in D.C. go down at Noon to the Congress, or do it virtually at www.teapartypatriots.org. But Senator Kyl, there was no evidence in that Schumer exchange that they take this seriously, that we’re at the edge of a fiscal cliff.

JK: No, and in fact, Howard Dean, the former Democrat National Chairman, was also heard to say that he hoped that the, he said if he were Democrat Chairman again, his hope would be that the government would shut down, because Democrats could then blame the Republicans for that shutdown, and it would hurt us politically. No indication of a concern for the people of the country, or the economy of the country, the well being of America, just a political advantage to a government shutdown. Republicans don’t want a government shutdown. You’ve never heard us talk about a government shutdown. It’s always been the people on the other side who are hoping for it, because then they could point the finger at us and say you’re trying to shut down the government. And as somebody said, you can’t shake hands and make a deal when you’re pointing fingers at someone.

HH: Are there solutions out there? Can…

JK: Sure. Sure. I mean, first of all, and I will say this to my Tea Party friends, we do have to reach a number that we can agree on here. And it will be less than what we want. You know, we want a total of $61 billion dollars. We’ve already gotten $10 billion of that so far. So it’ll be something less than $51 billion, more than zero, or more than $4.6 [billion], so you know, $20-30, something, maybe in that range of reductions. So there’ll have to be a compromise in there. And to some people, the word compromise is just not in their lexicon. But when you are talking about money rather than pure principle here, in order to avoid a shutdown, I think reasonable people agree there has to be some compromise there. On the other hand, there are some matters of principle involving so-called riders. And I really think that’s where the bigger fight is.

HH: Yup.

JK: And that involves policy matters that involve money, too, like funding of Planned Parenthood, funding of NPR and some other things. But there will have to be some give and take on that, too, and I think people of good faith can find a way to, can reach agreement on those matters where neither side gets everything they want. From our perspective, we’ll take what we can get, and then try to get more next time. And this is just the preliminary skirmish. We’re talking now about last year’s funding. We’re talking about a decision that the Democrats never passed a budget, never passed appropriations bills for the year that we’re currently in. They never did that last year. So we now have less than half of the fiscal year to go, and the real big fight is going to be on the budget for 2012, and the debt ceiling increase that the President has requested of us. That’s where the big fight’s going to be, so let’s get what we can in last year’s funding, and then move on to these big fights.

HH: It sounded to me, I talked to a couple of Senators this week, that the debt ceiling, though, is going to be more process and not really substantive things like the defunding of Planned Parenthood and CPB.

JK: I think it’ll be both. In other words, we are going to insist here not just alone on specific cuts, but on process constraints on the government so that we won’t have to have another debt ceiling increase, so that we can’t spend as much money. We’re talking about balanced budget amendment, Constitutional spending limits, statutory spending limits, and caps on spending and other things that would make it impossible for the Congress to continue to spend as much money as we have in the past. In the long run, that’s what’s going to be necessary, not just specific cuts here and there.

HH: For another day, that topic. Last question, Senator Kyl. I will be talking with John Harris later in the program, the Politico.com editor about the debate that’s been postponed. As he points, the field isn’t even full yet. Other people may declare, some aren’t going to come. I’ll put it to him. My question to you is a lot of people are looking for new candidates who might yet show up in this who haven’t declared. Is it possible Jon Kyl would be one of those?

JK: No, it isn’t, but I do think that there may be some candidates that we haven’t heard of yet that might show up and make it interesting, and I do think it’s a good idea to wait and see what the field looks like a little bit better before we start having the debates.

HH: Have you declared for anyone yet, Senator?

JK: No, I haven’t, and I’m going to wait and see how the field shapes up, and see how they answer the questions.

HH: Jon Kyl, always a pleasure, Senator. Thank you so much.

JK: Thanks, Hugh.

End of interview.

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