Ohio Governor John Kasich is not a pushover, on Tuesday night he sat down with radio host Hugh Hewitt for a wide-ranging interview similar to what Hewitt has been conducting with all the perspective GOP candidates. It was an interesting interview not only for the content but for the dynamics. An Ohio native, Hugh is a fan of Kasich, but the Governor seemed on edge, at the very least testy at times and impatient at other times.
Below is the transcript and video of the foreign policy part of the discussion. I hadn’t realized before this that Kasich had chaired the House Armed Services Committee. The guy really knows his stuff. There was no waffling in his opinions. Kasich is not a fan of nation building, and even though he didn’t say it one could tell he wasn’t a big fan of Bush #43’s war with Iraq.
Hewitt: Now let me talk to you about Iran and the deal that is taking shape. I think that Corker-Menendez is going to pass this week. But I want to ask all the would-be candidates, if it doesn’t stop the President from doing a bad deal, would you be stopped on your first day in office from revoking that deal?
Hewitt: All right, now I’ll go from hypothetical to very specifics. I did not know, John Kasich, Governor, that you served 18 years on Armed Services. I have been asking all the candidates again about the Defense budget. Heritage says we need 13 carrier groups. We’ve got 10. We might go down to 8. That’s what Hagel said when he was SecDef. Our Ohio Class submarines are the backbone of our nuclear deterrent. They age out between 2025 and 2029. They can’t be extended, because they’ve got nuclear cores that cannot be extended. How serious do you think is the decline in American military preparedness from the years when you, with Reagan and the rest rebuilt the American military?
Kasich: Well, the threat’s changing, Hugh. You know, the threat has changed. I mean, we no longer worry about this invasion over the Fulda Gap over in Europe You probably didn’t even know that there was such a place.
Hewitt: Oh, you bet. It’s Germany. It’s where all the tanks come.
Kasich: And here’s the thing. The military, we have to build a Pentagon that is based on the threat, not based on relics of the past that are connected to some parochial interest by a senator or a congressman. And that is extremely difficult to do. The procurement reform that’s needed inside the Pentagon, it’s been a constant, I mean, I’m now, you know, I served in Congress for 18 years. I’ve been out for, what is it, 15 years. That’s, what is that, 33 years, okay? They’ve been complaining about Pentagon reform. I was engaged in the reform of procurement, Hugh. I was one of the guys that was involved in finding the hammers and the screwdrivers and the toilet seats that cost all that money. Procurement reform is difficult. It should be ongoing. Secondly, the systems that we build and the systems that we need should fit the threat that America faces in the world. And if in fact we need to rebuild some of the vital activities that we have in the air, on the land and in the sea, to meet the threat, we have to do, because if we don’t have a strong military, we’re not taking care of one of the most important things of the federal government, which is the common defense. Because Heritage says X, so what? I mean, other people say, what, our former Secretary of Defense said 8. I mean, this is just not something you decide on the back of an envelope. You study it, you try to figure out how America can project power. And when it gets to where it needs to be, to project it power, it can project it in a lethal manner that in fact can accomplish our goals. And secondly, we should not be involved in trying to change, you know, try to convert everybody to our kind of way of life and democracy. Where it works, great. But we should not be engaged in all this nation building. It doesn’t work. We should be able to go places quickly, we should be able to deliver a lethal blow, accomplish our purposes, and then get out.
Hewitt: Before I go to that nation building…
Kasich: But except this, except this, Hugh. I think it was a terrible tragedy that we left basing rights in Iraq. That is just a huge mistake. No way we should have ever left our bases over there. We should have said we’re going to keep a base here. If you don’t like it, that’s your problem. That was our right, and we walked away from it, a terrible mistake.
Hewitt: Okay, let me come back to the status of forces, because you said relics of the past. I don’t think carrier groups, and I definitely don’t think the Ohio…
Kasich: No, no, no. I’m saying you’ve got to look at everything across the board, Hugh. You know, there’s always debates about do we need this advanced aircraft or do we not, and you know, do we need this new, this Marine landing vehicle. We just have to look at that, and of course, carrier groups are very important, because they help us to project power.
Hewitt: But that goes…
Kasich: Now how many we exactly need today, I can’t tell you that.
Hewitt: But when you run for president…
Kasich: But I will tell you this. You don’t skimp on America’s ability to project power and to be effective when it does.
Hewitt: And so…
Kasich: And that of course would involve things like carrier groups.
Hewitt: And so when we get down to brass tacks and you’re standing on the stage at the Reagan Library and I’m asking questions, and I ask how many carrier groups do we have, is that legit to require our presidential candidates to be prepared to answer that with specificity?
Kasich: You mean whether we should have 11 or 12 or…probably…
Hewitt: Yeah, and mix of forces?
Kasich: Probably, you know what? I don’t know. I don’t know. I have to think about it. I mean, is that, you know, you could ask a million questions about different parts of the Pentagon budget. My, I would tell you this. We need to project power. Now if you go down to 8, it sounds to me like it’s too few. Maybe we should have an answer like that. I’ll try to, I’ll tell you what. I’ll try to get you one.
Hewitt: All right. All right, and Ohio Class subs. Those are the two I ask about. Now let me ask you about Libya. We broke Libya. And yesterday, 900 people died fleeing that country. Did we owe that country more than a wave goodbye after Hillary’s handoff from Qaddafi to the jihadists?
Kasich: Well, I mean, what you do mean by that? Should we have been there nation building? I mean, should we have landed troops over there? I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, I think that you know, the problem has been that we have not been consistent in the Middle East and assertive. And that’s been a problem for us. And when we went out of Iraq and didn’t keep our base and didn’t mind the store and didn’t arm in the early stages the opposition to Assad, all these things have left us in a position of where see things falling apart. And you know, at this point in time, I can’t tell you what I think we should do in Libya. I wouldn’t tell you that I think we need to be putting troops in Libya. I wouldn’t be for that. But you know, it’s a result of some of the big miscalculations, and frankly, I guess you’ve got to start where you are. But I wouldn’t be telling you we should put troops there.
Hewitt: Now terrorists were arrested in Columbus within the last week. did the feds alert you to that, by the way, before their…
Kasich: No. No.
Hewitt: They didn’t?
Kasich: No, and I don’t think they should.
Hewitt: Tell me why.
Kasich: Well, it’s a federal issue. I’m the governor of the state, and you know, what they need to do is make sure that they carry out their mission. I was, didn’t even think that they would, and wasn’t concerned about it.
Hewitt: Okay, are you surprised to find terrorists, you know, in the shadow of the Horseshoe?
Kasich: Well, you know, look, these lone actors is one of the great threats we have in our country. And I’ve always known that Ohio was a state that was at risk. We are doing everything we can on homeland security to beef it up, to get more, better people in there. Our public safety department, they work, you know, our homeland security works with of course all the intelligence agencies to make sure that we’re on top of things. Am I shocked? No. I’m not. But this lone wolf theory is something that has me extremely concerned. And that kind of goes back in an indirect way, Hugh, to what you asked about Iran and the ability of these non-state actors to acquire material…
Kasich: …to get it to people who could, you know, they’re not going to explode a nuke if they just have the material. But they have the capability to release a dirty bomb. And I mean, those kinds of things are, you know, they’re beyond just being a terror weapon. They’re going to wreak a lot of death, and it’s dangerous. So we just have to be cognizant of the problem of the lone wolf, of course, and better monitor those who travel in and out to these countries that are, that you know, that where we think there is a risk of terrorism.
Hewitt: Governor Kasich, let me wrap up with one foreign affairs, one domestic question. On foreign affairs, Republicans for a long time have wanted a Bolton-like foreign policy. I admire Condi Rice, Colin Powell a lot, but I kind of think the party wants more Bolton, less Powell this time, more Schultz and Kirkpatrick, less Powell. What does John Kasich think about where the Republican Party and the conservative electorate is about America’s attitude towards the world, and how would you put together a Kasich foreign policy to? Who would do that?
Kasich: I’m more concerned about the American view than I am, you know, the political side of this. You know, it was not, I guess it was about two months ago, maybe a little longer. I think I was the first Republican to say in regard, you know, leading, major Republican, if I could call myself that, to argue that a coalition between Europe and our friends in the Middle East ought to go after ISIS, and that we, America, including America, ought to have boots on the ground. I mean, there are actions that we need to take. Now I have a long record on this. I did not support U.S. troops in Lebanon in the middle of the Civil War. I was never in favor of the kind of activity we did in any civil wars, including Bosnia. But I supported the Gulf War, obviously. I support the war in Afghanistan. So I think we have to be very careful to stay away from civil wars. I think we have to be very careful that when we see something that is in our direct interest that we can go and take care of business and not involve ourselves in this whole process of nation building.
Hewitt: Does that…
Kasich: That’s what I, and I think we should have the most modern weapons, great technology to do the kind of things that we need to do to carry out our purpose.
Hewitt: Now we speak in shorthand in this world, and that sounds Powell-Weinbergerish as opposed to Boltonish. And is that fair?
Kasich: Well, I don’t know what you’re saying with that. I don’t know what that shorthand means.
Hewitt: Much more interventionist, John Bolton is more interventionist than Colin Powell.
Kasich: Like where? It depends where.
Hewitt: Like Bosnia. You mentioned Kosovo and a lot…
Kasich: Yeah, well, I mean, look, they still don’t have, what we were able to do there, the good that came out of it is obviously, they were able to simmer things down. But there’s no, it’s not great over there. But what I will tell you is in places like the First Gulf War, Afghanistan, I’m 100% for it. I think it made total sense.
Hewitt: Interesting, you’re avoiding…
Kasich: I don’t think we should, I don’t think we should run out of Afghanistan. But you know, getting in the middle of civil wars, I don’t think is a good idea.
Hewitt: You’re not saying Iraq when you say the first Gulf War and Afghanistan. Did President Bush make a mistake in invading Iraq?
Kasich: I don’t want to go back and redo that. I mean, it was there, and I don’t want to disparage anybody who served our country. I’m just going to reserve my comment on that.