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A View from the Hill: U.S. National Security

Speaker: John M. McHugh, Member, U.S. House of Representatives (R-NY); Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee
Presider: Thom Shanker, Pentagon Correspondent, The New York Times
May 21, 2009, Washington D.C.
Council on Foreign Relations

THOM SHANKER: Good evening, and welcome to this evening's Council on Foreign Relations meeting.

Before we start, may I please ask everyone to turn off your cell phones and Blackberries and pagers, not just silence them because the radio communication system sort of jams. And one of the reasons that the Council asked me to do these sessions is, having lived five years in Moscow, I run them with Stalinist efficiency. So please turn off all of your electronic devices.

As a reminder, especially for those of us in the media, this meeting is completely on-the-record. Everything tonight is for public discussion and printing and talk about town, and I guess I really want to salute the Council for its prescience because before an evening debate on U.S. national security policy, they had the president and the former vice president as the warm-up act. (Laughter.)

It gives me great pleasure this evening to introduce Congressman John McHugh of New York. His biography is in the materials. I know you all know him and know what he has done. He's here this evening mostly as the Ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. One of my great joys is to be able to cover the committee and its work.

And with that, Congressman McHugh. (Applause.)

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN M. MCCHUGH (R-NY): Thanks. Thank you all very much.

I've never warmed up for anybody and I'm not tonight either. It'll become obvious. And let me underscore that in the opening. I'm an older man, I've lived quite a while and there are two things in life I'm absolutely certain no one of moderate intelligence has ever paid for. The first is Sweet 'N Lo and if you think about it, you know, you get your coffee, you get your dessert, you put one pack in the coffee and you put 10 packs in your pocket and you head out the restaurant door. (Laughter.) Probably half of you tonight have Sweet 'N Lo in your pocket. Nobody pays for Sweet 'N Lo.

The other thing no one has ever paid for is my opinion. That's why I'm so honored to be here tonight, not that you've paid, but you agreed to come and join us for what I hope is an interesting discussion.

And I want to take the opportunity at the open, of course, to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for their gracious invitation this evening, particular with thanks to Thom Shanker, a distinguished writer for the -- I almost said Watertown Times; I'm from Watertown -- The New York Times and I know we're going to have an interesting time, indeed.

Last week as I walking through the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building, a colleague walked up and handed me what I guess was the faxed invitation for this event; I uess, he thought I didn't know it was happening. But I noticed it said A View From the Hill, so that's where I want to start tonight. And I will tell you it may or may not be true, the old political adage that where you stand depends on where you sit. But I can tell you it's absolutely true, at least in the House of Representatives at this moment, the view you have outside the House of Representatives is absolutely affected by where you sit.

I've seen it over there on their side -- you look out the window and the birds are chirping, the sun is shining, children are frolicking. Our side not so much -- a good day is mostly cloudy and -- well, just to kind of put it bluntly, we've been hitched up in the dog team behind the lead dog, the scenery never changes and it's not very pretty to begin with.

So I think that explains why in the newspapers and on radio and television, there's a great deal of discussion about the struggle, the agonizing discussion in the eyes of some that the Republican Party is engaged in to try to make some decisions about its future. Do we march ahead to some undisclosed location behind some yet to be determined leader, or do we pack up our bags and go back to the future and embody virtually everything that Ronald Reagan espoused and stood for?

I'm going to leave that larger debate to everyone else, but I would start off tonight by telling you I do think that the Reagan era on matters of national defense policy hold some lessons for us as Republicans as we look to become, once again, the party that Americans trust and turn to for leadership and guidance on national security measures.

Now, there's another reality out there. The fact of the matter is the discussion about the Republican vision for national security -- just after President Obama's what I think can be fairly categorized as a rather successful crossing of his 100-day mark --probably seems to some as beside the point, premature or totally irrelevant the fact.

Seven years after President Bush's post-9/11 national security policies, combined with Barack Obama's significant and impressive victory over, remember, what was the Republican Party's national security candidate, can lead reasonable people to, I think, conclude that the country rejected what many viewed and described with some cause as the go-it-alone policies of the Bush administration. It gave President Obama what they viewed as a total mandate to reverse all of the Bush 43 era policies of military engagement.

But -- look, mandates are like beauty, they're in the eye of the beholder. But the reality is the minority party's never particularly potent in our form of government, but it is especially impotent at a time when we don't hold the White House. And, yes, I'm conversant, our Constitution distributes power between the House and the Senate and the executive, the executive branch, the legislative branch on domestic affairs. But the often reality -- valid reality is that the executive wields, at least in my judgment, the preponderance of power in matters of foreign affairs and especially those in national security.

The power of the purse, yes, can influence and shape executive conduct, but I don't think there's a whole lot of question out there as to which branch is truly in control. Every executive since FDR has done a fairly credible job to maximize their authority over foreign affairs. And if you couple that with George W. Bush's effective policies as well of the unitary executive theory, I think we can assume at least for the near future that that tradition is going to continue. And I'll give you an example. In 2006, my Democrat friends unloaded a kit bag of congressional tools to try to shape and, ultimately, to try to change President Bush's Iraq policy, and what it did prove at the end of the day, if you want to change a presidential policy, the best way is to change a president.

That's a depressing reality as a Republican, but it's something we have to deal with. And we have to recognize that based on that history, our policies may really never see the light of day, but we're optimists. We say it a lot. And in that accordance, we're really seeing at this early point some rays of hope, some opportunities and openings that both challenge and progress. And I want to give you a couple of examples.

As a matter of policy, I think the Obama administration has really put together a national security team that, at least at first glance, appears a team that has a record of operating pretty well near the center -- obviously, Secretary Gates at the helm of Defense and is a Bush holdover and General Jim Jones as the national security adviser who was commandant of the Marine Corps and supreme allied commander during President Bush's first term, I think, very amply illustrates.

Now, that's a rather thin beam and a broad beamed boat, and we have to make sure that as we go forward that history and political inertia speak to us and inform us.

And so in the months ahead as we look at ourselves on the Armed Services Committee, we have to, most importantly, recognize we've got a whole heck of a lot of things to overcome if we're going to assume anything more than the most modest role in the crafting of foreign policy as we go forward.

And here on May 21st, I want to suggest to you our first challenge as Republicans is to begin to effectively establish our Republican role and who we are on these matters. I don't think we've done that very well yet, and there's a number of questions we have to answer and ask ourselves. First of all, what do we believe in? What do we think is important? What are we going to define as those key touch points that as Republicans we're going to advance?

Second of all, once we've done that, where will we stand? What policies will we develop to try to associate with those beliefs and make a coherent way forward?

Thirdly, and it's important, where can we work together? You know, the House of Representatives today passed an acquisition reform bill 411 to 0. And that happened for a variety of reasons, but one, we recognize as Republicans there's commonality of challenge, and commonality of challenge well met can help your public perceptions, and honestly, we need significant help for public perception on matters of national security.

And lastly, we have to understand and decide amongst ourselves what policy hills are we willing to die for -- that's another way of saying, what are we going to fight over? What do we care enough about?

I would say that the House Armed Services Committee has a long record of bipartisanship, and we want to continue that. I don't happen to believe we garner any kind of public favor by just picking a fight for fight sake. For example, on matters that involve the welfare of the men and women in uniform of this country, we're not going to engage in partisanship. We're not going to engage in grandstanding that really comes with domestic policy debate in recent times.

And I want to give you a point of reference on that. The Earl of Derby, who I almost genetically love because the Earl of Derby is the hereditary title of the Stanley family who started the Stanley Cup, which is the NHL's equivalent of the Lombardi Trophy -- and where I come from, you grew up on skates and I speak fluent Canadian, by the way. (Scattered laughter.) But the Earl stated, quote, "The duty of an opposition party is to oppose everything and propose nothing."

As much admiration as I have of the Stanley Cup and the Stanley family, when it comes to matters of national security, that's not just inappropriate in my judgment, it's wrong. And in the minority, we need another model.

I talked about are we going to drag back to Reagan or march forward somewhere else. In this matter, I don't think Reagan goes back far enough. I think we need to go back further and I'm thinking Wendell Willkie.

Now, Wendell is a much maligned soul -- he's remembered for little and forgotten by many -- but it was Wendell who coined the phrase in American politics "the loyal opposition," and he did it in a broader framework. He was following his -- something he is remembered for is his defeat in 1940 to FDR in the presidential election.

In a national radio address -- and he offered the counterweight of the Earl of Derby's minority prescription and he said it in this way with respect to how is a Republican at that time going to face and deal with FDR's administration, particularly in a time of war. And he noted, it's a fundamental principle of the democratic system that the majority rules. The function of the minority, however, is equally fundamental, a vital element, balanced operation of democracy is a strong, alert and watchful opposition. You know what? Wendell got that right.

And that's our task as Republicans for the next four years. We have to constitute ourselves as the vigorous, loyal and public, spirited opposition party. In other words, we look to work to support the president where he's right and where we agree, uncover those compromises and those policies that we fear might fail and talk about them and draw lines in the sand where we believe there should not be policy crossings and if it happens, stand ready to hold the administration accountable.

And if you consider the rancor, the tumult of the last eight years, we believe that, as the loyal opposition party, we've got to set the right tone. It's not enough to go out and fight day in and day out. You have to convince the American people that, above all else, you want to produce in cooperative effort with a majority good policy. And we're going to do that and in short, the credibility of our policies should trump political expediency at virtually every instance.

Now, Wendell had its limits. We're still going to be challenged to accomplish what he did not -- actually, implementing an effective loyal opposition; in other words, Willkie coined the term, but he did not succeed in generating legislative policies that have to follow. So what are we going to do about that?

During my second term in the House of Representatives, Republicans were carried in the majority by a variety of factors, but the main banner that most everyone associates with it is the Contract With America. And for all of the talk about the Contract, it's interesting to note of the 10 points contained therein only one dealt directly with national security. But I think that contract has some value. It has some lessons relative to our side -- careful review. And let me just review the three themes within that one point the contract stressed, support for defense spending, support for emerging democracies in post-Soviet states and the growth of NATO, skepticism of subordinating U.S. forces to multinational organizations, particularly the United Nations.

Those policies, those core principles, really form the foundational beliefs to the conservatives in the 1990s, but more than that, virtually -- the vast majority of Americans in this country as well. And 15 years after the Contract led the Republicans to the first congressional majority at that time since 1955, we need today to chart a similar course. And I'm not looking to recapture the happy memory of days gone by that came with Speaker Newt Gingrich and all that accompany it because it wasn't always that happy, but it can serve, it can serve as a guide for how to address the challenges before us.

And here is where I think we need to direct ourselves on the Armed Services Committee and as the Republican Party. I think there's three areas where we have an essential role to play. And I believe as well, and I hope I'm not delusional, that if we do it effectively, if we do our job as well as we can, there are three areas as I said that are highly likely that President Obama may well come to us and depend upon Republicans in Congress to carry out his defense policies into the future.

Now, I call them the three pillars of national security -- we tested it and we polled it and spent a lot of time on it -- but they really do have to give us whatever we call them, the foundational beliefs of Republican national security policies and help us chart that way forward. And I just want to recount them for you. The first pillar, promote policies that ensure -- and I'm going to be politically incorrect here, I understand that -- ensure the global war on terror remains, in fact, global in a war in which we are fully engaged.

Secondly, ensure that as we engage with our adversaries, both former and current, those actions don't breed collective insecurity amongst our friends and allies.

And the last, take steps to build capacity for both near-term conflicts and long-term challenges by promoting our best commitment to defense spending. And let me just expand on those for a moment. A lot of ink has been spilled on the T of the global war on terror and it focuses on the debate, can we defeat terrorism truly or can we not? But I don't think that's a valid debate right now. The reality, at least in my mind, is that the inter-agency, particularly the military, has made enormous progress in understanding how to defeat terrorist cells by focusing on their structure, nodes of support and key enablers.

In practice, the debate really has been pretty well settled. Where I fear there is greater challenge and greater risk is in the degrading of the G and the W of the global war on terror. It seems -- and it's troubling -- there may already be signs that certain elements within the administration may not agree with the view that the ongoing threat should, in fact, I would argue must be confronted globally, and equally important within the paradigm of armed conflict where the military, for all the importance of tools of soft power, where the military is on the front line from our view. Fighting terrorists and prosecuting them under the laws of war remains a core principle of post-9/11 Republican policies.

It seems to me that there are a growing number of my Democratic friends in Congress who look back to the early '90s, who see the view today and now advocate that a law enforcement paradigm is more appropriate for preventing terrorism and prosecuting those who engage in those acts.

Now, it's important to note, particularly given the president's comments today at the National Archives, we really don't have the full picture on how the administration might adopt this view or not, but two key decision points may help us reveal some of their thinking. The first is with detainees -- and as I mentioned in a reversal from what many viewed as his campaign position, the president addressed this today and he rejected that. But nevertheless, President Obama is now supporting military commissions in the framework to prosecute detainees at Guantanamo, albeit in a somewhat modified form.

The question for us as congressional Republicans is what will congressional Democrats do to support or not support this policy shift and embrace the Law of War paradigm with respect to prosecuting terrorists?

Let me give you a second example. The military's role in preventing al Qaeda franchises from emerging in ungoverned space. Innovative tools like DOD's building partnership capacity programs, which are key for enabling combatant commanders and helping them engage the threat risk being swept into traditional State Department security assistance programs. My view is that may be something that is high-minded, but it is largely wrongheaded.

My friends in the Democrat Party and Congress have already shown perhaps an unwitting, but nevertheless, a pretty well undeniable tendency to marginalize the military. The case in Pakistan clearly comes to mind. That position is rooted in the view that Congress needs to roll back the Bush administration's so-called militarization of foreign assistance. And broadly speaking, Pakistan serves as an example that there is uncertainty whether, again, not the administration, but the Democrats in Congress will support the prosecution of the war globally and militarily.

Now, fortunately, there seems at least to be broader agreement about the military's role in the established front in the fight against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In my judgment, President Obama rightfully reassessed the strategy, increased troop levels and put our military's foremost experts on counterinsurgency in the lead of the mission. The question is how long will, how long can the president stay committed to this troop and time intensive mission, particularly in the face of growing opposition from congressional Democrats? We don't know.

I would say to you Republicans should provide the political support to see this strategy through and vigorously resist employment of what we would view as a minimalist policy in Afghanistan.

Iraq, of course, is the other war in the front (sic) against terrorism. The president's objective to withdraw U.S. troops on a somewhat accelerated timeline from Iraq is -- I have said repeatedly, it's one we should pray for, plan for and work towards. But I remain concerned that the security situation in Iraq remains fragile, and we've seen some suicide bombings this week that would underscore the need to be vigilant on this matter. But we have to work to mitigate any risk to our troops and, equally important, their mission and what they have achieved.

The president should stay committed to that mission and he should stay committed to revisiting the plan as he assured me he would during a meeting before this plan was announced in the White House if the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate.

Second pillar deals with how we're going to engage our adversaries. Whether it's a former adversary like Russia or a present day adversary like Iran, engagement cannot translate into weakness or result in strategies that employ multinationalism that subordinates our national interests and compromises our commitment to our friends and to our allies.

I want to tell you, engagement with Russia, I believe, is fully appropriate. The so-called reset policies can't signal a willingness to reset our commitments to transatlantic security, however. This country should not have to make the false choice between bilateral engagement with Russia and continued support for NATO allies and partners. And -- quite the contrary, I would argue and maintain the opposite is true. While Russia may seek a veto power over the foreign policy of its neighbors, particularly those it defines as its near-abroad, efforts to accommodate Russia cannot come at a cost of forfeiting the democratic integrity and security of our partners and allies.

The moment when we engage with Russia is precisely the time for the United States to demonstrate renewed commitment to transatlantic security. At the same token, whether we'll be negotiating with Russia our strategic arms or engaging with Iran and North Korea diplomatically, we have to do it in a way that takes into account the more than 30 nations that have for decades relied upon the national security and nuclear umbrella of the United States.

If our allies, for example, Japan, lose confidence in that extended deterrence and the reliability of the United States to be there for them, that doesn't make the world safer. We inadvertently open the way not to decreased proliferation, but more. And similarly, whatever steps the Obama administration might take to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the approach has to be credible enough to calm Arab worries over Iranian hegemony, that prevent Arab concerns of a Persian bomb from triggering Arab proliferation.

Secretary Gates' recent trip to the Middle East, I think, was an absolutely appropriate and right step in that direction, but we have more things that need to be done. And I want to put it very bluntly, the Obama administration's predisposition thus far to engage with adversaries past or present, if not done in a careful way, risks creating a wedge between the United States and our allies.

For Republicans, engagement is not an end in itself. And while the presidential townhalls are important, public relations and -- renders of goodwill with our European and global partners are absolutely appropriate. The utility of the diplomatic effort must be measured by its ability to generate collective security, the third thing.

In that area, building collective security among allies and friends as well as deterring adversaries from taking actions that counter our interests are going to require a robust commitment to Defense spending. We have to do everything we can to prevent the return of hollow Defense strategy, peace dividends and the regrettable procurement holiday that really marked Defense policy during the 1990s.

And we have to remember too, budget is simply policy and without proper funding, a policy will never be much more than words on a PowerPoint slide.

We Republicans truly, sincerely, welcome the administration's efforts to make the Department of Defense a more effective partner in fighting the wars our troops are engaged in today, but we remain as well concerned about the tradeoffs involved in the so-called rebalancing of the Pentagon. Longstanding assumptions about the need to hedge against the risks we face with change in this year's budget proposal on the basis of new and at least for those of us in Congress -- and I've made this point on several occasions with Secretary Gates -- underscores assessments of the security environment.

I don't know the answers to these questions, but they're important. The questions are are we willing to assume that the world has changed so much since 2006, the year of the last Quadrennial Defense Review, that we are somehow at less risk and require less capability? Are we so so confident in our diplomatic efforts with Iran and North Korea that we can afford a nearly 90 percent cut in European missile defense and a 35 percent cut in those defenses in Alaska and California? Some, to say the least, are dubious.

Even with Secretary Gates at the helm of Defense, we are concerned the message hidden between the lines of the 2010 Defense budget, therefore, is that Defense spending might well decline in the coming years. We can't make that judgment as yet because we don't have the future years' Defense plan. But we fear the military may be forced to do more with less. As we've done in the past, we've been down this road before and we can't afford the same mistakes.

Now let me conclude by returning to where I started. If we as Republicans are going to become, once again, the party that the American people trust to be the stewards of their security interests, we can't devolve into the party of no. We have to adopt a tone of a truly loyal opposition, carving out clear policies that effectively protect Americans and advance both America's and our allies' security interests.

Lastly, political messaging has to be more subordinate to meaningful alternatives. It's not going to be a register of trusts that will emerge overnight. We need to be a persistent voice of reason and integrity and it's going to take some time. But it's worth recalling that President Ronald Reagan spent decades building a record of anti-Communist, pro-Defense policies largely from the position of the minority party, and he did pretty well.

As the talking heads on TV debate, whether it's Cheney or Rush running the party, we Republicans in Congress need to roll up our sleeves and conduct oversight and craft legislation rooted in principled party and policy positions, integrity and a tone that builds trust.

The very famous American humorist Ken Hubbard once noted, the human alimentary canal is some 32 feet long, and yet, he said, we only control the last three inches of it. So, his advice? Control those last three inches well.

As we look out as Republicans over the horizon of national defense interests and the struggle to regain our footing on public trust, our opportunities are probably going to be measured in inches, but we need to work real hard, as hard as we possibly can, to control those three inches well.

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

(Applause.)

SHANKER: Congressman, thank you for a very thought-provoking speech.

Before I turn to the questions of the audience, I will execute the power of the chair to sort of ask you to drill a little bit more deeply into a couple of issues that you raised. First of all, to your strategic point, the voters have spoken; there's a Democrat in the White House. Both parts of Congress are controlled by Democrats.

How will you be the loyal opposition? How will you move forward your agenda? Are there a couple of legislative priorities or -- how exactly are you going to do this?

MCHUGH: Well, as I noted, Thom, the first thing we have to do is be supportive where we can. I mentioned the acquisition reform bill. It was not just a remarkable instance of bipartisan cooperation, neither house -- either through the committee, on the floors, in the conference committee and back on final passage -- had a single vote in opposition to it. We need to retain or rebuild our credibility through those kinds of actions.

As to where we disagree or where we have challenges presented by the Democrats, we have to in very measured tones and very, I hope, informed words show where those differences agree. And whether, as -- I've spoken about through the development of this budget proposal the need for analysis, the need for background, the reality that we're making not just budget choices but changes in requirements and assessments, longstanding on the national security environment. If we're going to do that, then it's our duty to make sure the analysis is there and these are the appropriate choices.

It -- as I've said, there are questions we have to first answer as a party and as the House Armed Services Committee, including where we'll stand, what policies we believe in. I think we've made some strides in that area, but we've got a long ways to go, and I don't think it behooves us -- and maybe I'm wrong here -- I don't think it behooves us just for the sake of political currency to come out at 100-and-whatever many days it is and oppose this administration and fight against our Democrat colleagues on the other side of the aisle just because it gives us a political opportunity to make hay.

SHANKER: On the question of the budget, the Gates Pentagon is describing its proposal as historic in the attempt to rebalance from future conflict to the present, from high-end conflict to counterinsurgency. During five hours of hearings before your committee a week ago, the best moment was when you went toe-to-toe with the Secretary and you challenged him by saying, "You don't have a QDR, you don't have a strategy. How can we vote on a budget without a strategy?"

What is going on right now? Is the budget a strategy document? Or are they going to have to write a strategy to fit the budget and what should be done?

MCHUGH: Well, that's the core question, and I have enormous respect for Bob Gates and I think he was pretty frank because during that exchange, he finally said, look, I didn't want to miss the budget cycle. As you may recall, Thom, I said, well, I'd rather have a QDR with true assessments of national security requirements and a budget that didn't fit than the other way around, our national security requirements kind of fudged and crammed in to fit a top line that seems to work in the overall sense of the budget.

But it does again bring us back to what were the bases of those -- and I agree, it is a monumental budget proposal. The Secretary has not made any secret of the boldness of his decisions and I have tried not to oppose any one of those platform cuts or amendments on their individual basis, but rather let's see the data, let's talk about the data. And at the end of the day as well, of course, I'd prefer to do it in cycle with those things required by law including prominently the Quadrennial Defense Review. But I don't get to make that choice.

SHANKER: All right. Thank you so much. I would now like to invite questions from the audience. I ask only that you wait for a microphone, identify yourself and as they say on "Jeopardy," make sure your question is in the form of a question. We have only one speaker today.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Gail -- (last name inaudible). Earlier this week, the Center for Naval Analysis put out a new report that specifically linked national security, climate change and energy dependence as three core challenges that are interrelated and that are faced by the Pentagon. And they recommended that the Department of Defense take a leadership role in changing the way that DOD uses energy, not to undermine DOD capabilities, but, in fact, to enhance them because, in fact, energy independence and climate change pose national security challenges.

It seems to me -- what I wanted to ask whether that might be an area where you could actually find common cause with the Democrat administration?

MCHUGH: Well, right now, the House is agonizing over the issue of carbon caps and climate change legislation, and I can't tell you how Chairman Henry Waxman and others are going to color whatever we are able on the Armed Services Committee to take and to imbue into our way forward.

This wasn't your direct point, but I was on the Intelligence Committee when the Democrats came forward and offered some proposals on doing security and threat analysis on climate change. I don't think they were very artful in how they defined that -- they talked about migration of turtles and such. But if you think about it very carefully, whether it is an emergence of drought situations in Central Africa or some other very significant change in climate that is going to cause a resulting change in peoples' migration and refugee situations and all of that ilk, the security inclinations are not insignificant and I think we have to be very mindful of them. And in fact, most of the services and the Defense Intelligence Agency and others are beginning to look at that.

I would not be surprised if there were opportunities to work together, but it is so young and not yet a mature approach that we really don't have a product to kind of saddle up and see what we can do.

I would tell you, particularly based on the procurement bill that was passed today; I have a wonderful working relationship with Ike Skelton. He's a true gentleman, but more than that, he's a caring individual. And he and I are working very hard together to try to identify areas of common cause, not to say that makes me any less vigilant to the kinds of things I spoke about over the last 25 minutes or so, but rather I do think if you as a Republican are going to reassert your validity, you've got to do it in ways that build public trust, and screaming, no, no, no doesn't do that.

SHANKER: Thank you. Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Charlie Stevenson, SAIS.

Congressman, you're not only a member of one of the least partisan committees on the Hill, but it's a committee that's done a commendable job of trying to bridge the gap between Defense and foreign policy. You've had at least two hearings with both the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State. You've done -- the committee has done work examining PRTs.

My question is how do you think the Congress needs to change itself to deal with it, to do proper oversight of interagency activities that don't fall neatly into the Defense or the State Department jurisdiction? And how do you do oversight of all these czars? I mean, the Obama administration has probably made more czars than the Romanov family produced in 300 years and none of them required Senate confirmation.

MCHUGH: Well, I'll let President Obama define which part of history he drew from to do this, but I take your point. And I think the answer is follow our lead.

From our minority position when I -- and this sounds self-serving but I don't know how else to frame it -- when I entered the campaign -- and it was a campaign right after November's election to become the ranking member -- I spoke to my leadership and to the steering committee about the need to, in fact, begin to work across jurisdictions. If you think about the Armed Services Committee, we have overlap on any number of issues, whether it's with the Veterans' Affairs Committee, whether it's the Foreign Relations Committee. Oftentimes, given the war paradigm I spoke about and the prosecutorial issues out there, the Judiciary Committee and we have begun to do that.

We've talked to Ike Skelton about it, and he gets it. I mean, no one, I think, who has an opportunity to contemplate the challenges, whether it be in Afghanistan or some emerging theater believes this can totally be a military initiative, that the tools of soft power that I mentioned and you very accurately referred to -- and be they PRTs or be they humanitarian assistance, have to be a part of the broader sense.

I do want to see -- where we are truly in contact -- the military is unfettered as possible, the commanders associated directly with the tools that we need to provide for them. But having been now to Iraq 10 times and Afghanistan four times, the civilian -- civil part of that equation is equally important, and I think Ike and I and the members of the committee on both sides understand that we're trying to bring it in and it's not always easy because the agencies aren't accustomed to it. But to bring them in and talk, it's one of the phrases of the moment, holistic way.

I hope that answers your question.

SHANKER: Yes. Along the aisle here.

QUESTIONER: John Hewko from the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Congressman, you, alluded to this a bit in your remarks, but I'm wondering if you could expand on your thoughts as to what role soft power should play in any new Republican Defense or foreign policy paradigm?

MCHUGH: An important part. Again, I don't want to see that subordinate the absolute imperative of military action. The best way to win a war is to kill your enemy, to put it very bluntly. But if we are going to engage ourselves in these challenge theaters like Iraq, we have to ensure that we are giving the people a stake in the future.

I spoke just -- I think, it was last week, it may have been the week before when President Karzai and Zardari were in town and I had an opportunity to sit down with President Karzai and talk about that reality. And it really did affirm what I saw, what I heard from our commanders in my most recent visit, particularly in the south in Helmand Province and Kandahar.

The Afghan people don't look for a whole lot from their central government, but what they do look for is a certain level of public services, certain level of public assurance and security that those tools of soft power are absolutely essential in developing because we can defeat the enemy militarily, but if the government that we want these people to at least in loose ways affiliate with and stay out of the rest of the category aren't provided, we've got a real problem. And if you talk to David Petraeus --and I'm sure some of you in this room have done that -- he really does emphasize that.

Everybody talks about the surge in Iraq as just an influx of troops and that was a critical part of it, but it was far more than that. I mean, it was engagement with civilian authorities, be they tribal sheiks or otherwise, it is trying to restore electricity generation and water, et cetera, et cetera. And if we're going to win in these very different and asymmetrical theaters, we've got to bring all those tools in.

Again, however, I say, it is a war first.

SHANKER: Yeah. The gentleman on the aisle here.

QUESTIONER: Jeff Price, Steptoe & Johnson.

On the same theme, our military commanders have, as you say, emphasized the critical nature of civilian capacity in succeeding in a counterinsurgency environment. The problem is that we have not done a very good job at resourcing our U.S. civilian capability. And my question is how do we fill that gap?

MCHUGH: I think as you look at the totality of President Obama's plan with 1.5 billion (dollars) in aid to Pakistan, for example, and I know that's not tactically the direct war theater, but it's the thing that I lose more sleep over than most everything else, and about $700 million with PCCF, which is, of course, the military component of it that that's been recognized.

The problem we've got and we've got a pretty broad depth of experience on that is that you just can't throw money at the government institutions in places like Pakistan. You've got to have what we would bill as a tight partnership, what we really need is a careful oversight to make sure that we're not just lining the pockets of a careful few. But one of the -- it has been criticized by people that I respect and admire, but I think one of the important pieces of the new Obama approach there is that civilian capacity building and that civil-based program that's pretty robustly funded and I can't tell you it's the right figure, but it's better than we've been doing in the past.

SHANKER: I need to follow up on that. As someone who votes on the Pentagon budget, when the president and the State Department announce a civilian surge to Afghanistan of up to 500 people, yet the State Department comes back to DOD and says, we don't have the people, we can't compel them, we need at least 200 of them to come out of the DOD personnel. Does that anger you, and what should be done about that?

MCHUGH: I wouldn't say anger. It troubles me. I mean, it -- and it -- if I were in the State Department, I would suspect this is exactly the result of the militarization of the foreign policy under the Bush years. I'm not saying I agree with that, but I think it has to be well considered.

We need to do more to get qualified personnel in the State Department out, and one of the striking things I found time and time again when we went to Iraq is the total lack of State Department personnel, and frankly, other agency personnel even where the security environment would suggest it could occur. That wasn't for a lack of courage, it was for lack of focus. And Secretary Rumsfeld, I think, cut a pretty wide swath. He marked out his territory, and perhaps one of the shortfalls of that path was that we weren't able to resource those soft power tools.

I think Secretary Clinton understands that -- in fact, I know she does, I've talked to her and I'm quite sure the president does as well -- but you don't reverse that overnight, but we definitely need to provide those agencies that will go, look, you're now a meaningful tool of soft power and we want you to inject your programs in an area we actually have people to send. And to the capacity that's probably required in places like Pakistan, particularly Afghanistan, we're not there yet, but I think we're on the right path. I hope I'm right on that.

SHANKER: Thank you. You've been very patient, sir. Yes.

QUESTIONER: Vin Weber. Thank you for coming tonight. I'm going to ask a long, complicated question very simplistically.

MCHUGH: Good.

QUESTIONER: Necessarily. In terms of the pursuit of American military objectives in the world, is NATO an asset to the United States?

MCHUGH: Yes, but it needs to be much better if it is going to continue to be so. Clearly, NATO has demonstrated its shortcomings and challenges in Afghanistan particularly. Too many nations place limits on the rules of engagement. Too many nations prohibit their forces from being instruments of military power. And that's derived from a variety of reasons, not the least of which is capability and probably not more the least of which is the political reality.

I think we are at a very critical point in NATO whereas the United States and our interests occur, we have to do some pretty significant things to put NATO first and rebuild confidence and viability in that structure.

My staff -- and I'm not going to name them because they'll get all nervous, but -- have been working for over two months to develop what we're calling -- which, when we coined it, wasn't totally unique, it's pretty common now -- NATO first policy to at least provide resources and training and capabilities to build these NATO partners to levels whereas if they don't participate, they don't have an excuse that they're unable, and do it in a way that, I think, allows NATO to re-serve its viability.

NATO in Afghanistan is important. The last time I was there I visited with General McKiernan -- I remember him -- and he said he would much rather ask our NATO partners to do those things they can rather than to ask them to do those things they should but they won't. And I agree with that. Any contribution we get from a NATO partner country, which may not be to the extent we'd like, but anything they're able to achieve in that theater or any other theater is something the United States doesn't have to do.

So I think they are an absolutely critical part of this. I wish they were better, but I think it's our responsibility, as it has always been, to take the lead and to be innovative and very proactive in reestablishing the viability of NATO. And we've got a challenge to do that. We need those collective systems, the security, and NATO clearly provides the opportunity, but there's challenges there. I don't know if that answers your question.

SHANKER: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: You've spoken a lot about the need to increase civilian resources and capabilities and as someone during the first part of the Bush administration who was doing Afghan and Iraq police training --

SHANKER: Identify yourself please.

QUESTIONER: -- Steven Schrage, I'm with CSIS -- was doing, you know, Afghan and Iraq police training and basically had to kind of beg, threaten and cajole to even get off the embassy compound to kind of get in the field where you needed to do things and then heard recent reports from Petraeus from lessons learned where they were still tasking military officials to go out and fill the civilian roles in these areas.

Do you think any amount of money funneled into the State Department would enable them to do this role? Or is it a cultural issue? Do you need a different kind of capacity either in DOD or in other agencies to be able to operate in kind of these unsecure areas?

MCHUGH: Well, look, I'd like to see DOD -- or, excuse me, the Department of State do it because under the rubric of government structure, they should be doing it. I tend to agree with you that that has not been always the case and I think it's a combination of resourcing, as Thom and I were talking, but there is a cultural issue there. They've not been called upon to do this. They're traditionally a diplomatic front with whichever government and whichever region we are in and I think they have grown very good at it and very comfortable.

The last thing I want to see is this tendency that I mentioned -- and perhaps I was a little obtuse about it -- but the tendency that I mentioned in my speech about some in Congress wanting to direct what are traditionally combatant commander tools -- you know, the counterinsurgency fund for Pakistan through the State Department. I view that as not just an unnecessary, but a very problematic hurdle. And by the way, as the language is currently constructed, there isn't even a mandate to pass it through. It just says may.

So I want the State Department to build its capacity, and I think Secretary Clinton understands that and sees it as an opportunity. I mean, virtually every federal agency wants to expand its reach and make it more important unto others. But, you know, we're 100-plus days in, I can't tell you how that's going to go. But I agree with your observation and part of the failure of the implementation of soft tools of power were at least equal to, you know, the fact that the commanders and chiefs in the COCOMs didn't have those tools that they could call in from the non-military agencies.

So we've learned a lot of lessons. The question is: Have we gotten smart by those lessons and will we change? I don't have a crystal ball on that quite yet. Check back with me in a week or two.

SHANKER: We have time for one last question. Before I close though, a reminder that this session is on the record.

Special thanks, of course, to the Council on Foreign Relations for continually hosting the kind of important dialogues and thought-provoking discussions we've had tonight, and to Congressman McHugh for laying out some very important thoughts. even though we may argue on where the emphasis should be on the G and the W and the O and the T, there is no doubt that the emphasis is equal on the loyal opposition, and I thank you for your role on that.

MCHUGH: Thank you.

SHANKER: And now for the last question. Sir?

MCHUGH: Softball, please. (Laughter.)

SHANKER: Make it a doozy.

QUESTIONER: Bill Courtney, retired diplomat from the State Department.

In rebuilding the Republican strategic vision in the Defense and national security area, are the Republicans going to need to do and want to do a strategic reassessment of the last eight years -- for example, looking at whether Iraq was the right thing to do, the wrong thing to do, whether the amount of attention given to North Korea, Iran, the Pakistani nuclear things was right or wrong? Whether the policy toward Russia, which is becoming more resurgent now and posing more threats to its neighbors, whether that policy was right or wrong?

Is there going to be a new vision?

MCHUGH: Well, I don't know if simply the act of reassessing results in a new vision. I mean, reassessment can find you did the right things as well. I'm not a big believer in beating yourself over the head for decisions that you've made in the light of day and the reality of information that you had, whether it's Iraq or North Korea or anywhere else. But I am a believer in learning lessons. When I spoke as I did in my comments about taking the outlines and tools of Reagan and applying them to today, I meant implicit in that to be recognizing the lessons that we had.

Look, the failures in Iraq, if someone like -- well, I won't name names -- if someone wants to judge that as an error in decision and shouldn't have done it was really an intelligence failure. Now that's kind of outside my lane. I have to look at the military aspects of it and it was done pretty well for three weeks and then the wheels fell off the bus. And there's a lot of lessons to be learned there and we need to do that.

Every time you engage the military as someone who is charged with voting on and developing defense policy, there are lessons. We'd be foolish not to try to revisit those and learn them, but just as an exercise to say, well, mea culpa. Even though I'm Irish Catholic and I believe in a lot of phrases and most of them end in the phrase, you'll go to hell -- (laughter) -- but just to say, gee, we're sorry, I think we have bigger fish to fry. But yeah, of course, lessons to be learned and reassess. Absolutely.

SHANKER: And as the military likes to remind us, there is no lesson learned until it's incorporated into how you act.

With that, thank you all for coming this evening. Safe journey home. (Applause.)

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