A chat with Ron Johnson, pt I: foreign policy

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ron Johnson and talk about a few of the issues he's facing in the upcoming race against Russ Feingold. I wanted to get beyond the talking points about local politics that we've heard so much about, and hit on a few things that haven't come up as much yet.

The first part of our interview focused on foreign policy, the second on trade. Trade will be coming shortly is here; the first part of that discussion is posted below the fold:

LIB: I’d like to begin by talking a little bit about foreign policy, a matter on which Russ Feingold clearly prides himself. Do you feel ready to take him on on that?

RJ: Sure.

LIB: How do you feel about the new Afghan policy – as far as, should we be continuing the Counterinsurgency policy we had had under McChrystal? Should we be going some other direction? What’s your feeling on that?

RJ: I’m hoping… one of the finest generals we have in the military right now is David Petraeus. So I’m hoping General Petraeus can, you know, pull a rabbit out of a hat on this one. Obviously, I’m very concerned about President Obama, the way he even announced the strategy, the fact that he announces the surge and the next sentence after that, he says, “Oh, by the way, we’re going to pull out in 16 months.” To me, the Taliban strategy is to surge 16 months and a day. And particularly in a conflict like Afghanistan, where we need the villagers to feel confident that, you know, whoever – that we’re going to be there for victory and that we’re committed to that. Because let’s face it, we’ve got the Taliban that’ll happily move into those villages and, you know, enact some retribution on anybody that sided with the other side. So, my concern is that President Obama has set us up for failure, quite honestly; and that’s not what you do when you’re going to commit our fine young men and women into battle. So, you know, highly concerned about his particular strategy.

LIB: Did you support the surge? Do you think that should be ongoing?

RJ: I would like to achieve victory in Afghanistan. I mean, I’d like to finish off the job; I mean, I’d like to be able to say that, you know, we’ve cleaned up another nest of terrorists, quite honestly. But I’m just, again, very concerned about the direction of, you know, this policy under this president. The only thing that kind of keeps me supportive of it is the fact that we have David Petraeus. Which, by the way, Russ Feingold was one of only twenty Senators that refused to condemn the ad by Moveon.org that called him “David Betray-us.” I don’t think that’s a real way – a real shining moment in Senator Feingold’s voting record, quite honestly.

LIB: How would you have handled the McChrystal situation? Do you think that was the right decision to replace him at that juncture? It’s a pretty critical point in Afghanistan.

RJ: Well, as Commander-in-Chief, you need total loyalty. You can’t have any kind of insubordination, I mean, it just does boil down to a kind of unfortunate situation. I think President Obama had to do what he had to do in that situation.

LIB: It’s just come out now that Pakistan, while receiving a tremendous amount of American aid money, has probably been working with Al-Qaeda and supporting Al-Qaeda through its intelligence agency, the ISI. What is your feeling about how we should be treating Pakistan right now?

RJ: Well that’s obviously a concern. I’m concerned about the leak. You kind of like to make sure that these things stay classified if they’re supposed to be classified. I think there’s been – people have always been very suspicious that the intelligence services of Pakistan are not necessarily on the side of necessarily the Pakistani government, quite honestly. We’ve got separate agendas. So it’s a very difficult part of the world. There’s no doubt about it.

LIB: Would you support continuing to fund public works projects in Afghanistan as we are now, or would you change the way those are being funded, would you change the way American aid is being funneled to Afghanistan and Pakistan?

RJ: Again, you have to take a look at each individual circumstance. Again, it’s a laudable goal, you know. We can’t have these, you know, lawless nations that there are harboring terrorists. It’s just a very difficult situation.

LIB: More broadly, how do you see the use of diplomacy versus military intervention in countries – for example North Korea, for example even China – countries that we can’t really control ourselves? What’s the use of diplomacy versus the military?

RJ: Well, you always use diplomacy first. I mean, always. One point I would make: as US Senator you may have to be called upon to vote, send our troops into harm’s way. I do not like the process we’ve been doing with these war resolutions. I really do think, if we’re going to commit our fine young men and women to battle, I think Congress should step up to the plate and declare war. And that’s kind of what I would insist on, quite honestly, for future military actions, you know, significant ones. You know obviously you’ve got a commander-in-chief and there may be little skirmishes that you know, he’s got to deploy the troops on short-term notices and stuff, but when we’re – when we’re really committing ourselves to a battle, something that could last for years, I think that Congress has got to step up to the plate, declare war, and then be supportive of it. We’ve got to stop this, you know, Monday morning quarterbacking, you know, armchair general. We’ve got to make sure that, you know, our debates about foreign policy stop at the water’s edge. That’s the way it used to be. That’s a system that works. What’s happening now is not working.

LIB: In relation to our diplomatic efforts, what should our goal be? Should we be pushing, as Hillary Clinton is right now, a kind of general idea of democratization? Should we be pushing specifically support for America and supporting only those regimes that do, which entangles us with regimes like Saudi Arabia? What should be our goal with that and how do we balance, for example, our relationship with Saudi Arabia that is not a democratic country?

RJ: I think we always need to push what America stands for, and that is freedom. And I think we support people that yearn to be free. I think we support people that do want to develop their democracies. At the same time, there is a certain amount of realpolitik in this world, you got to realize that, you know. You can’t, you can’t impose your will on everybody – you have to deal with people. So you end up doing that through diplomacy and as best you possibly can. But we need to support people, at least from a moral standpoint, you know, verbally. An example would be, when the students were uprising in Iran, it took President Obama weeks to utter a word of support. And that could have made all the difference in the world, quite honestly. We have to support people that fight for their freedom.

LIB: Is your feeling similar on Georgia, when it fought with Russia in 2008?

RJ: Sure.

LIB: Regarding that, how do you feel about the Anti-Ballistic Missile shield that Obama has now pulled out of Poland and now possibly starting to move back in to Poland?

RJ: He should not have removed it. Those were very difficult decisions that the Czech Republic and Poland had to make for their internal politics. And then for President Obama to just swipe those things away with pretty much just the back of his hand: first of all, it’s very ill-advised. You know, the number one goal of the US government is the national defense. And I think it’s just – missile defense is less than one or two percent of the military budget. I think it’s a very vital part of the military budget. I would be highly supportive of advancement in missile defense, missile shield technology. I mean, that’s the way of the future, that’s how we keep ourselves safe. Particularly when you’re talking about a world now that – you’ve got rogue states like North Korea developing missile technology, Iran developing missile technology. I mean, we’ve got to have missile defense. That is what will keep us safe from those types of regimes.