Speaker of the House Paul Ryan joined me today to discuss the House GOP’s national security agenda for the future, an agenda that defines the choices ahead in the fall:
HH: Pleased to welcome back to the program now the Speaker of the United States House of Representative, Paul Ryan. Speaker Ryan, welcome back, always good to talk to you.
PR: Hugh, how are you doing? Good to be with you.
HH: I am great, and I am better now that A Better Way is out, and beginning to roll out, especially the national security component. And I was looking at a speech you gave to the Claremont Institute when you got the Churchill award for statesmanship a few years ago, in which you said…
PR: Boy, that was a little while ago, yeah.
HH: It is. It’s four years, five…
PR: And I actually keep that Churchill bust in my office.
HH: Oh, good. Well, we’ve got one in Washington. Good.
PR: Unlike other people. That’s right.
HH: We’ve got one Churchill bust. If there is such a thing, you said, as an unforgivable sin in politics, for Churchill, that sin was the refusal to tell the people the facts they need in order to act against an impending threat. Is that what this rollout is about?
PR: It is. It is. We know that this new Obama foreign policy concept, leading from behind, can now be declared an unambiguous failure. It is making us unprepared. It is reducing our military capability and strength. It is confusing our allies and incentivizing our adversaries. And all that does is tempt fate. So we are saying we’ve got to reset our system. We’ve got to restructure and reaffirm our foreign policy, in particular our military policy if we want to prevent these problems on the horizon from getting out of control.
HH: Now I believe it was your first time behind a foreign dignitary on the dais when Prime Minister Modi addressed the Congress this week. Am I right about that, Mr. Speaker?
PR: Yeah, that is, since becoming Speaker, yes, that’s right.
HH: You see, that’s kind of a remarkable deal, because it’s the first time we’ve had an Indian prime minister do that, I believe, and it’s such an important ally to ours. Do you think that this new strategy that you’ve rolled out is consistent with developing a robust partnership with India and our allies across the world?
PR: I do. I think you need, and in particular, and specifically under Modi’s leadership, and he and I have discussed this at great length yesterday, have a great potential for the future particularly with the seas, in the Pacific and in the Indian Ocean, making sure that we help police the global commons and international order, namely China building, you know, runways on islands in contested areas. I think the Indian, the new Indian government is going to be a great ally for ours, and we have better security cooperation with them. That’s one thing that we need to nurture and grow. And those of us who are fans of Modi, you know, he’s a conservative who wants, who embraces free enterprise. He’s bringing needed reform to the country. That’s the kind of an alliance that we need to forge and build upon. That stands in stark contrast, I would argue, to the Obama foreign policy of the last eight years where we have neglected our allies, and we have basically rewarded our enemies, our adversaries.
HH: Now when former Secretary of State Clinton gave her scathing assault on Donald Trump and then laid out her foreign policy program, she included in it a demand for a robust cybersecurity program…
HH: …which I found ironic in the extreme, given her server, and the compromise it represents, of national security. What do you think about that, Speaker Ryan?
PR: It’s do as I say, not as I do. It’s the height of irony.
HH: Does the cyber program laid out here in the agenda that you’ve put forward, does it address all of the leaks that we’ve had, all of the compromises we’ve had, and what we’re going to do about that?
PR: Well, it addresses preventing cyberattacks from coming into the future, preventing cyberattacks from not only hitting government installations, but the private sector as well and our personal data so that they can’t use it against us. So it’s a forward-looking policy based upon the lessons we have learned, because we’ve had hacks on government, hacks on private businesses, hacks on people by terrorists, by other countries. Sony, I mean, I can go on and on and on. The purpose of this is to prevent that going forward.
HH: Now you’re a Constitutional officer in addition to being the leader of the party. And so I assume you take all the precautions one needs to take to protect your data. What’s that involve, Speaker Ryan?
PR: Well, I’m not going to give…number one is don’t answer that question.
HH: Generally, generally.
PR: So yes, under what we call continuity of government, I’m second in line, so I receive all of those, all of the briefings, and so I use secure communications. I receive briefings in secure facilities, and there are certain things that I have to do to secure not only my own data, but whenever I engage in foreign policy or get briefings on intelligence matters, I have to use secure communications.
HH: Now in terms of that, did your life change dramatically from going from chairman of the Budget Committee to Speaker with regards to the level of steps you have to take to maintain your communications being secure?
PR: Yes. Yeah, it does change. It does change. I won’t go into the details and specifics, but it does change.
HH: It just underscores the problem…
PR: And it is, it is a fairly sizable change.
HH: That’s it. It just underscores the problems that we are presented by Secretary Clinton and her abuse of that. Let me go back to the agenda you rolled out. I think NATO is part of this agenda in depth, including making it stronger and better. Can you expand on that?
PR: It does, and obviously, we think a strong NATO is very much in our national security interests. I think our friends in the Eastern NATO need more of our help and support. It’s also, you know, making sure that people live up to the 2% commitment. That’s part of it. But I don’t think our friends are going to lead up to, make their commitment good if they don’t think America itself is going to be leading. So I think a stronger NATO, where we’re all living up to our commitments, theirs is 2% minimum, and where we actually have a bigger presence. You know, General Breedlove just finished his tour as NATO commander. I met with General Breedlove in Germany in one of those kind of secure facilities that is described, going through the status of NATO forces, going through the status of our preparedness for threats in Eastern NATO, and we’ve got our work cut out for us. I would simply say that the administration has not done what they need to do, and we do not have the kind of military posture we had for ourselves and for our allies to keep NATO where it needs to be given the current threats that it’s facing.
HH: Now Speaker Ryan, my shorthand for reminding myself the critique of Secretary Clinton, why she can’t become commander-in-chief, is the sentence Every Liberal Really Seems So Sad. E is for Egypt, liberal L is for Libya, R really is for the Russian reset button, the three S are for Syria, the Status of Forces Agreement and the Server. Let’s go through them in turn. Egypt – is it our ally? And so we need to make it our ally? It’s so ambivalent under these eight years.
PR: It is our ally. It’s one of the reasons as the first trip as Speaker of the House, I went and met with President Sisi to explain that he is our ally. They are so worried, the Egyptians, about our ambiguity. And there are Egyptians who believe that the American government supports the Muslim Brotherhood over the current government. So you know, I met with the parliamentarians, I met with their speaker, I met with the president of Egypt, al-Sisi himself, to reaffirm our mutual interests, our mutual security interests, and that they are, in fact, our ally.
HH: Every Liberal Seems So Sad. The L in liberal is for Libya, and this is, I already talked about this with Ed Royce, it’s a sinkhole, and it’s an ISIS nest.
PR: It’s an ISIS nest, it’s a sinkhole, and it’s part and parcel of the Clinton architecture of the foreign policy of the Obama administration. It is now, really, the magnet for ISIS. It is the magnet for terrorism. And it is just as you described. Why this matters to us, I mean, people are thinking why do I care about Libya, people listening, because in Libya, ISIS is mounting. They are building, they are recruiting, they are getting money, they are getting weapons, and then they are planning to coordinate attacks out from there. That’s why it matters to us.
HH: It also matters, and in humanitarian, 130 drowned dead in the Med last week, just last week alone, because of the smuggling out of Libya trying to reach Italy and Greece. And I wonder what is the, what’s the plan, Mr. Speaker, for getting rid of that sore, that festering danger?
PR: So that is a picture into the window of the destabilization that leading from behind gave us, which is humanitarian crises where you have migrants, where you have refugees coming from Libya, coming from Syria, into Europe where Europe is now facing the greatest refugee problem since World War II. And what is that producing? That is producing people overwhelming their borders, and therefore terrorists are better able to infiltrate that refugee population to go into Europe to plan coordinated attacks. Take a look at the Paris shooting. Take a look at the fact that right now, the Europeans are playing catch up on this. So not only are you destabilizing these countries themselves, people are leaving these countries in droves. You’re creating a refugee crisis, and that kind of chaos breeds terror.
HH: Talking with Speaker Ryan about the rollout of the national security component of the agenda, A Better Way. Every Liberal Really Seems So Sad, the R in really means Russia reset. I am looking at Page 13 of your agenda. You call this out. The Obama administration’s ill-considered reset with Moscow has manifestly failed. So what do the Republicans propose to do about it, Speaker Ryan?
PR: First of all, don’t be naïve about Russia. And I think the Obama administration was chronically naïve. Number one, they gave up missile defense, undercutting our allies in the Czech Republic and Poland for what? For nothing. The week Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine after the Olympics was the same week that Barack Obama sent us a budget gutting our military. They saw America retreating. They saw America neglecting its allies, and so they decided to take territory. The Russians will keep pushing and pushing against other democracies unless they think that these democracies and their allies are standing up for themselves, and we have not shown that.
HH: And the three S’s, Seem So Sad, Syria, the Status of Forces Agreement, and the Server. Let’s take Syria and the Status of Forces Agreement at the same time. They’re inextricably connected.
PR: They are.
HH: Yeah, what are we going to do about this?
PR: So on the eastern side in Iraq, by bumbling the status of forces agreement and pulling out and not leaving any kind of residual force, which would have helped the Iraqi government maintain some cohesion, prevent sectarianism, you basically had a huge void occur. The government more or less collapsed from a capability standpoint, creating a vacuum that then ISIS filled, taking over oil fields, cities, banks, having territory, money so they can plan their attacks. Syria, the president of the United States drew a red line. The Syrian dictator clearly crossed that red line. The president of the United States therefore did nothing after that. That means our credibility was deeply eroded. Let me give you an example of why and how that affects our credibility. That time when we didn’t enforce the red line, I went over to meet with Prime Minister Abe in Japan. I met with President Park of South Korea. You know what they wanted to talk about first thing out of their mouth?
PR: It wasn’t trade, it wasn’t the Pacific Ocean. It was Syria. They were asking about Syria, because they felt that if we weren’t going to police very clear delineated red lines in Syria, what on Earth would we do to help support the security agreement we have with them in the South and East China Seas?
HH: Makes sense.
PR: So these kinds of decisions ripple through the entire world and question our allies.
HH: Last question comes to the server, and we talked about it earlier. But when we put a ticket together in Cleveland, the vice president’s going to have to prosecute the case against Secretary Clinton on this. And you know that job. You were in that job as the nominee. How, what skill sets do you have to bring to that job to prosecute this case about what the server did to the United States?
PR: I think you just have to spell it out so that people understand the kind of thinking that goes behind this ‘I can live above the law, live above everybody else.’ There are certain standards that we expect among our elected officials, not least of which is the president of the United States. And those standards are that we believe in the rule of law, and we believe in holding ourselves accountable to the rule of law, and that we should not live above the law. That, to me, is one of the cardinal sins that Secretary Clinton violated. And that is one of those things that the VP not only needs to point out. You have to have a VP who’s ready to step up and be president at any moment, but also a vice president candidate who can articulate the policy of the forthcoming administration, and can delineate the differences. And that’s something, there are a lot of capable people. I’m sure there’s a good list that’s being developed. That’s something that the VP is going to have to do.
HH: Speaker Paul Ryan, congratulations on a good rollout of this. Thanks for joining me, look forward to talking to you early and often between now and Cleveland, and thereafter.
End of interview.