A Conversation With John Kasich

Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Brian Snyder/Reuters
John Micklethwait

Editor-in-Chief, Bloomberg LP

John Micklethwait

Editor-in-Chief, Bloomberg News

John Kasich discusses U.S. foreign policy.

HAASS: Well, good afternoon I’m Richard Haass, and I want to welcome everyone to the Council on Foreign Relations.

For those of you either in the room or watching who may not know us, we’re an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher. We’re dedicated to being a resource for our nearly 5,000 members, for government officials, business executives, journalists, educators, and students, civic and religious leaders, and others to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing this and other countries.

Consistent with this mission, we are making ourselves a resource—available as a resource for presidential candidates and their staffs, as well as for the American people, in the run-up to the 2016 election. Toward that end, I’ve written to the Democratic and Republican candidates offering briefings from our experts, as well as the opportunity for them to come here and speak and take questions from our members. And so far in either New York or Washington we have heard from Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida; Jim Webb, the former senator from Virginia; Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state; and Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey.

And today we’re pleased and honored to host the governor of Ohio, John Kasich. Governor Kasich has been governor of Ohio since 2011, and he previously served for 18 years as a member of Congress from Ohio.

And today’s conversation will be conducted by John Micklethwait. John is the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News and formerly was the editor-in-chief of The Economist.

The scenario will be first the governor will give us his prepared remarks. Afterwards, he will take a question from Mr. Micklethwait. And then the governor has agreed to take questions from you, Council on Foreign Relations members.

With that, Governor, let me welcome you to the podium and to the Council on Foreign Relations. (Applause.)

KASICH: Thank you.

Well, normally I’d go off the cuff, but it’s too of a(n) extinguished group for me to do that. Just kidding. It’s great to be here at the Council, and it’s great to have a forum like this. And so I want to give you a pretty comprehensive view of my—of my view of the world, and then we can take some questions and it will be great. So I’m really honored and pleased to be with you today.

You know, this kind of a—of a forum is really terrific because it’s something more than a seven- or eight-minute comment on a stage in the middle of the debate. It’s actually a chance to express yourself over a period of time. And with this in mind, I’d like to take a few minutes to describe my vision of what I consider to be the right way forward to preserve our way of life and to secure our nation’s future.

I do so with the fundamental recognition that national security policy encompasses several broad areas: a strong economy, the necessary defense resources to secure our vital interests, coherent and well-oiled strategies, all of which must be supported by a new commitment both to our allies and to revitalizing our public diplomacy. But first, an important point: in my view, it will take broad bipartisan support to achieve our national security objectives. It is really the same approach that was pursued by President Ronald Reagan from the very onset of his administration.

November’s suicide bombings in Beirut, the attacks at Charlie Hebdo and in Paris, the bombing of a Russian passenger aircraft over the Sinai, as well as the recent events in Syria, Turkey, and San Bernardino, have once again made it stunningly clear that the challenges of organized international terrorism has to remain front and center on our national agenda. I’m running for president because I believe I’m qualified to lead and to govern in an exceptionally challenging time.

In the first instance, the most pressing part of our current challenge is the rising threat of global terror in the name of its distorted view—a distorted view of Islam, not just against Western civilization but against all of humanity. It is an ideology informing a movement that daily uses all the tools of modern communication to spread lies and to kill the innocent.

It’s worth pointing out that this challenge thrives by leveraging the communication technology that is a product of Western societies’ huge advances in science. The communication revolution has created the interconnectedness that we enjoy today. And it’s ironic, isn’t it, to consider that it’s part of the inherent contradiction of extremism. But the ultimate success of groups like ISIS would kill the very spirit of freedom, of innovation, invention that created the communication technologies that they need to exist.

Patient negotiations played a central role in ending the Cold War, and it led to a long period of international stability. And I was there through much of it. The reason is that both the Soviet Union and the Western alliance wanted to stay alive. Our enemies today, they really don’t care if they or anybody else lives or dies. And of course, this is new and different for the civilized world.

These opponents, therefore, pose a challenge that does not lend itself to resolution by negotiation. They don’t want to occupy a couple cities. They don’t want to occupy some territory. They want to defeat the West. My view is it can be—there can be no further delay in the concerted, coordinated effort that is required to defend ourselves and our allies, and to defeat the terrorist threat.

I don’t think that we will disagree when I say that our present policies and military posture are not adequate to meet, much less defeat, the real threat that we face. Extremist groups like ISIS and the Syrian crisis are among the most pressing problems currently confronting us. Diplomatic negotiations to try to solve the Syrian crisis are underway. Yet, I’m not convinced that the agreement being negotiated in Vienna will be implemented on an announced schedule, or frankly, on any realistic schedule. Frankly, I think that what is happening in Vienna in regard to Syria really are empty and unrealistic promises.

What is more, with ISIS having threatened to attack the U.S. homeland, either we or our allies engage now with our full capacity and with determination, or we will continue to be engaged at times and places—and at extreme levels of violence—when we least expect it. We can’t wait, folks. Instead of signaling that we will not become more deeply involved, as President Obama has done, we must stand ready to support France, as I have called for initially, to invoke Article 5, the mutual defense clause of NATO, which would bring us together to help our ally, France.

France didn’t go in that direction. I think they chose to invoke the EU’s mutual defense pact instead of NATO, because frankly our position was made clear. And it’s disappointing.

I agree with President Hollande that the November 17th attacks were an act of war by ISIS on France, and therefore were an attack on America and every other NATO member state. NATO came to our aid after 9/11. NATO must now be ready to do so again for France.

I also believe that we should significantly tighten the security checks that applicants for U.S. visas undergo, and Congress has begun actually to work together to think about that.

Since we are a nation of laws, efforts to counter terrorists, criminals, and spies can and must be done in a way that protects privacy and civil liberties. But in fulfilling its duty to protect our nation, the government must be able to monitor individuals it has reasonable cause to believe mean us harm. The San Bernardino attacks show that sometimes, especially with individuals who are off the radar, enabling intelligence agencies to analyze telephone calling data quickly could play an essential role in uncovering terrorist planning and networks.

I do believe the American people would support the capture and storage of this information for defense purposes, provided that access to it will not be abused. We may, therefore, need to reexamine the period of time for which telephone metadata should be required to be held in storage specifically for counterterrorism purposes. That review should look into tightening the criteria for access to the data, and strong sanctions should follow if there is an abuse.

We need to intensify international intelligence cooperation by identifying, exchanging information, tracking, and then helping to arrest the thousands of foreign volunteers currently fighting with ISIS, a number of whom return to their home countries to commit atrocities such as those witnessed in Paris. We also need to ensure that our Joint Terrorism Task Forces have the personnel and the resources they need to track potential domestic terrorists. We need to understand the effectiveness of our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, run by FBI and comprised of local law enforcement.

We should provide far more support to the Kurds, both in Syria and Iraq. The Kurds are fighting to defend their homeland, and they’re one of the few groups friendly to us that really has demonstrated that the know how to take the fight to ISIS. We must arm them much more effectively than we have done so far.

Turkey, of course, has legitimate concerns about arming the Kurds. And we’re going to have to work to address President Erdogan’s concerns, even as we insist on addressing a threat to the vital interests of America and to the rest of the world. In other words, we’ve got come to terms with Erdogan when it comes to the ultimate resolution of the Kurdish issue.

We must create safe havens protected by no-fly zones in Syria. I first called for no-fly zones early last month to relieve the suffering of Syrian refuges and reduce their need to travel to Europe. The sanctuary should be located on the Turkish and Jordanian borders. And our Jordanian and Kurdish allies could provide protection for them on the ground, while the United States provides protection from the air. Somebody asked me in regard to Russia if they were to fly into a no-fly zone. I guess an amateur would answer it one way: If they flew in the first time, I’d probably let them fly out. If they flew in the second time, there wouldn’t be any plane leaving the no-fly zone.

Thanks to my 18 years—18 years—on the House Armed Services Committee, I knew many months ago that the only way to solve this problem is to call for an international coalition to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. We have to join with our NATO allies, and importantly with allies in the region—Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf States, and Saudi Arabia—to organize an international coalition to defeat ISIS on the ground and to deny them the territory that they need to survive.

Those with long experience know that an air campaign on its own is simply not enough. And the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be. And the more difficult it will be and the more costly it will be, in many different ways. Mark my words, we will all be on the ground sooner or later. Sooner is better than later. The loss of life, the delay—the loss of life if we delay will be greater and the mission will be more difficult. And we need to make it clear to our European allies that just sending some people to drop bombs is not going to solve their problem in their homeland or our ability as the civilized world to defeat ISIS.

To sustain the gains that such a coalition makes by defeating ISIS on the ground we also have to win the war of ideas. U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting have lost their focus on making the case for the ideas of the civilized world, and that means the value of human life, the equality of all people, respect for the rights of women, and for the rule of law. These ideas are far more powerful than our opponents’ propaganda and disinformation. And our public diplomacy efforts must be consolidated, refocused, and reorganized fundamentally in order to defeat their extremist ideology.

I am not recommending a new department or expanding government. I am recommending we take institutions like Voice of America, Radio Liberty, so many of those communication tools that we used in the middle of the Cold War to tell the truth. And of course today, in the 21st century, it’s not just about a radio broadcast. It’s about everything. It’s about a social media effort. All designed to tell the world that life is greater than just your own life, that there is respect for women, and equality for women, and the right to protest, and the right to free speech. These are things that I believe rest in the hearts of all human beings, but sometimes they’re overwhelmed by the propaganda of those who are intent on killing us, and get broadcast to those who are confused or who have been propagandized throughout their life.

We have to win the war of ideas at the same time we win the battle of bullets. The challenge, as posed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, is a symptom of a broader weakness in American national security policy. Failing to advance what we believe, and our basic national interests. I believe this. We seem almost afraid to do so today for fear of possibly offending someone. A great nation that walks with fear is a nation that cannot lead, particularly when that leadership is indispensable to the world. Others, and some who may harbor unfriendly views towards us, interpret our failure to act against a threat such as ISIS or in places such as Syria and Iraq, and let me add Ukraine, as weaknesses.

The administration’s desire for a nuclear agreement with Iran at almost any other cost is another example. We now have the report of the IAEA, which did not receive full cooperation and information, on the, quote, “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program. It states that the military-related work continued in Iran as late as 2009. And Iran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA does not bode well for the future of the nuclear agreement. A new administration should review and reassess the agreement upon assuming office. We should remain vigilant and should be prepared to act immediately in concert with our allies in the event that Iran violates the agreement.

And let me just suggest, the president of the United States ought to be preparing with our allies in Europe the possibility that if Iran violates these agreements, we will not delay in imposing sanctions. Without that spadework being done now, I’ll tell you what I fear. Money will be the order of the day. And we would be forced to act almost unilaterally, which would not allow us to be as effective as if we act in concert with our—with our allies.

I believe that weakness invites challenge, and the kind of opposition that we’ve seen from nations that do not share our values such as China, and Russia, and many others. But invading Georgia, annexing Crimea, sponsoring the deadly insurgency in eastern Ukraine, propping up Assad, mounting provocative air and sea patrols, and, of course, building out its air defenses with the recent establishment of the S-400, and the Syrian and Belarusian-based structure, Russia once again becomes a meaningful threat to European security. Russia’s leadership today does not respect the basic tenets of the international order, namely territorial integrity and the rule of law.

Those are basic norms of international relations. And Russia’s failure to respect them is not compatible with constructive relations with the West. We should work together with our European allies to defend a free Ukraine. That includes training and arming Ukrainian forces with the weapons that they have requested repeatedly, which Congress has already approved, and ensuring that what is provided is actually in working condition, not our heavily-used cast-offs.

It also means focusing on the defense of new NATO member states on the frontlines with Russia, such as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. We must focus on supplying and equipping them, and achieving interoperability, jointly committing to higher defense spending targets, repositioning existing U.S. forces in Europe near their eastern borders, increasing cooperation with non-NATO Finland and Sweden, and building a new, strong, integrated air defense system to cover NATO’s eastern edge.

In this context, I welcome the fact that Montenegro will soon join NATO as its 29th member state. Learning the lessons of the Crimean invasion to develop and exercise contingency plans for dealing with future Russian provocations, of course, would also be a prudent step. We all know there is no such things as little green men or volunteers. In the future, any such combatants must be treated as what they are, and that is an attacking Russian army. If they reappear, I would strengthen U.S. forces in Europe and around the world to heightened alert status to enable timely intervention in support of our friends and our allies.

And even while Russia’s actions forces us to take tough measure to achieve peace through strength and safeguard our friends and allies, I would make it clear that the door to negotiations—that the door to negotiations remains open. Achieving peace through strength has rightly become our touchstone, ever since Bernard Baruch uttered those words as a warning after World War I, and, of course, our president and great general, Eisenhower, adopting them as a central message of his presidential campaign. And of course, it was a central part of President Reagan’s campaign in 1980. And he acted on it once in office. I’m confident that talking with our allies, Russia and America can create the conditions to build a new European security architecture that accommodates the security interests of all. To achieve this, we don’t need another failed reset, but rather a clear and credible statement of how we will respond to any further Russian aggression.

And all this should apply to our relationship with China as well. The lack of clarity that we have shown toward Russia is essentially no different from that we have demonstrated towards China. China’s efforts to stake an outrageous claim to control the entire South China Sea and its seabed resources, of which it’s clearly not entitled, those are stark violations of international rules and norms. These are efforts by China to bully its neighbors. Because of those efforts, we now must stand firm in support of our Pacific basin allies, who may be threatened by China’s moves. This requires working closely with our regional allies significantly to increase our military presence in the region, if only to ensure the freedom of navigation for the $5.3 trillion in annual trade that currently passes through those sea lanes.

To assist in this effort, one initiative would be to deploy our Pacific commander to Guam and to station additional Air Force and Marine Corps units in the Western Pacific. And then we should increase joint allied Western Pacific freedom-of-navigation patrols, submarine patrols, and amphibious landing exercises.

The strong relationship between U.S. and Japan, which has a considerable defensive military posture of its own, is essential to safeguarding the vast Pacific waters. We should support our Japanese allies as they defend their territorial waters. There are a number of things we can do—anti-ship missiles, rocket-launched torpedoes, mine-laying equipment, enhanced seabed acoustic sensor systems. And to deal with the ever-present conventional nuclear threats posed by North Korea, I would work with the Republic of Korea, Japan, and other regional allies to revitalize joint allied counter-proliferation activities and to build ballistic-missile defenses.

We don’t seek confrontation with China. But then why would we? Just as we have worked with China since President Nixon’s historic initiative of 45 years ago, together we should forge innovative solutions and institutions that respect and accommodate the national security interests of every Pacific nation.

Because leadership from the front has not been a priority for the Obama administration, the tools of leadership, our military and our alliance relationships, have grown weak and frayed. We have even hesitated to advocate and live by the universal rules at the core of what we stand for.

As we rebuild our nation’s sorely neglected military from the bottom up, I don’t mean that we should fulfill every military service’s so-called wish list. The threats that we face require that we build corresponding capabilities and never become inferior militarily.

Folks, what it really means is that we build what we need based on the threat that we have. There’s no room for pork. There’s no room for log-rolling. There’s no room for using the defense budget as just a jobs program. Build what we need to meet the threat that we have here in the 21st century.

We have to be careful about how we spend our military dollars, especially on weapon systems. We need to reward on-target cost estimates, insist on extensive prototyping, provide incentives for contractors to come in ahead of schedule and under budget. Commercial off-the-shelf technology needs to be used, and establish tough criteria for costly design changes.

Folks, I served on the defense committee for 18 years and I was involved in many massive reforms—procurement reform, Goldwater-Nichols to get the services to work together, empowering combatant commanders to be able to have a say.

The Pentagon has to be reformed. We must have somebody who runs that building and brings a team in that’s not too tough, because the bureaucracy will run the other way, and not too easy so that they can be run over; somebody that can just get it done right with a president, with a president who constantly looks over at that building, because any of the dollars that we waste are dollars that are not going to support our men and women in the military.

Can we ever fix it? I don’t think so. But can we improve that building? No question. And we need to do it at a time when we need to have a significant increase in the amount of dollars that we put into national defense.

Reagan came into office with a clear understanding of our challenges, and he instituted a program of national defense and military vitalization that continues to provide for our defenses even now. As I’ve noted, we need to build a strong bipartisan team to implement his innovative policies. We’ve got to do that again, and we’ve got to think about what the future is.

Folks, I’ve also proposed an economic revival plan that will provide the growth we need to be strong—strong economically, but also strong militarily. My plan will balance our budget, because I have balanced the federal budget of the United States, working with some of my colleagues. And I’ve balanced the budget in Ohio for the last five years.

We can’t keep adding to our national debt, particularly when other countries who we have to deal with own—are paying our bills. We lose our leverage. And let me just suggest to you the dysfunction that we see in Washington, the inability to solve problems, what kind of message do you think that sends to the world? It sends a message at home that we don’t think we can get anything done. And to the world it says what’s happened to America? They can’t chew gum and walk at the same time? That is not the United States of America.

Blatant partisanship and self-interest has to be overcome. Can it be? Absolutely. With the right leader—leaders communicate a message. It’s about you know what you have to do even though you don’t want to do it, but we’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it together to solve our problems, rebuild our economy, and strengthen the United States of America.

Unfortunately, there are also new dimensions that has been added to the threats to our national security. And one on our doorstep today as we meet is a large and growing threat to our information security called the cyber threat.

Look, $20 billion in estimated cost of cybercrime to the U.S. economy in ’13. They’re hacking everything, from our companies to our banks to our government. The actual scope and industrial scale of this problem now poses a significant threat to individual privacy and security, to our international competitiveness, and to our national security.

We need to make cyberdefense an integral component of our national security strategy. We must strengthen our defenses, deter cyberattacks, prepare to recover nimbly from such attacks when they occur, and to respond swiftly and decisively to identified attackers.

I’m told that we do have the technology located in the NSA. We just don’t have a policy. We just don’t have a direction. We not only need to defend against these attacks, but we need to make it clear that we have the counter-capability to identify and destroy those systems that are attacking the United States.

The encryption technology that is increasingly available for everyday communications poses a growing challenge to our nation’s defense. Furthermore, the next generation of easy-to-use strong encryption is rapidly approaching.

Let me—let me just explain. We knew of four or more individuals who our security people had been watching. The couple in San Bernardino, it appears, were communicating with those people. But yet, because of strong encryption, we didn’t detect it.

Let me also say, in the case of San Bernardino, there were some red flags—people building an arsenal, neighbors who might have suspected something. We need to watch. We need to report. But encryption technology, when people can hide in a PlayStation 4 or when they can use the encryption that’s on our own phones to avoid detection, has to be solved. But it isn’t easy, because the minute you begin to solve the encryption problem by giving our security officials an ability to get in a back door, it opens the possibility for criminals to be able to use that same back door—those who want to harm us to use that same back door to exploit access to the encrypted technology.

So what do you do? You sit down with people in the technology community, in the intelligence community, in the legislative community, and you fix it. There is not a single problem that we see that cannot be fixed. If we get smart people in a room with good intentions, you can fix it. I’ve seen things fixed in Washington of which I’ve been a part—balancing budgets, changing welfare, reforming entitlements—and in Ohio, a move from a loss of 350,000 jobs and a $8 billion hole to a $2 billion surplus and the growth of 400,000 jobs. And how does it get done? Smart people solving problems. You get in a room and you get the best people you can to fix it.

After 9/11, I was invited to a meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld, and had suggested at that point because of our lag in technology we bring people from the Silicon Valley to help some of our technical problems. And for a number of years I was able to be a person to lead a group of the best and the brightest from the Silicon Valley to deal with our problems, and they were there to help.

But, you know, as Congress moves to put more rules and regulations, then our smartest and best in our society say I don’t want to be involved anymore. Let’s use some common sense to try to figure out how to solve our most vexing problems in the world of technology and basically in restructuring government.

Intelligence agencies must continue to have the authority to monitor—to monitor foreigners who we reasonably believe to be potential security threats, and we must intensify international intelligence cooperation. We have to.

Relationship with our allies will be critical to all we do. Friends in Europe have been ignored. And after Charlie, with a million people standing in the town square in Paris, the United States did not see fit to send a major official to mourn with the people of France. It’s inexplicable.

And allies like Israel. The prime minister of Israel comes to the United States and I’m president, he will have a meeting. Maybe we won’t have 50 cameras there, but we’re not going to disrespect our ally.

Our most meaningful alliance relationships are not just based on common interests, but they’re rooted as well in shared universal values: respect for human life; freedom of thought, expression, and religion; and the right of every person—every person—to have a chance to learn, grow, and achieve. These values have guided our civilization for centuries. They’re enshrined in the Magna Carta, in our Constitution, and in the constitution of so many other nations around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some—some consider that it’s somehow insulting or politically incorrect to call America exceptional. (Chuckles.) Well, I’ve got tell you, along with most Americans in the political mainstream, I don’t believe; I know America’s exceptional. And I won’t equivocate on the matter. It is, rather, simply a statement of the obvious.

We are exceptional because of our uniqueness. America is not a language or an ethnic group or a religion. It’s a melting pot of every people in the world. And so when France hurts, we hurt. De Tocqueville recognized this uniqueness as he wrote in “Democracy in America” in 1831.

Throughout our history, America has never been afraid to fight for its values and ideas. And sometimes we argue—oh yeah, we can argue—but that’s part of the normal give and take, perhaps even demanded for every vibrant democracy. That we have internal disagreements is part of how our system is designed to work, but disagreement is a hallmark of freedom.

But, you know, at all times throughout our history we unite as a nation and we’ve come together in common cause. Oh, we’re so much stronger when we’re together—Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives and independents, together. We stand together. And with unity, we have power and confidence. I believe we’re in such a time today.

A lot of the changes I’m talking are—some of them are large: unleashing the economy, strengthening our military and alliances, engaging our adversaries, and if all else fails being more willing to project force decisively. But I’m confident we can do it. I know we can do it because America’s national security transcends partisanship, and we’ve done it before.

Our power’s in our people, so we should use that power to keep our people safe. Our willingness to strive together, to sacrifice together, to serve one another—(chuckles)—those are our essential strengths, aren’t they? To keep us safe, and restore America’s standing and leadership, we’ll come together again and forge a new consensus around a realistic and sustainable vision for our future national security and the tools with which to implement it.

Thanks for your attention, and I’ll stand for a few questions. Thank you. (Applause.)

MICKLETHWAIT: Thank you, Governor, for a very detailed look at foreign policy. I’m going to ask you one question in the beginning to do with news at the moment, the—you didn’t mention Donald Trump’s answer to national security, to ban all Muslim immigrants. Was that because you saw it as beneath contempt, or is it something that moderate, pragmatic Republicans like you should take on head on?

KASICH: I have been attacking not Donald Trump, but Donald Trump’s ideas that divide this country for a very long time. And I’m glad to provide a little bit of cover for those who are beginning to wake up who are running for president.

Whether in his plans to attack Hispanics, Muslims, databases, insults to women, insofar as to make fun of a reporter with a disability, this is not what leads to a strong America. I mean, and now this latest declaration.

Look, people don’t buy this. Oh, there may be a few, but this doesn’t represent what we are. But you know, when you’re an American—

MICKLETHWAIT: Do you think it is an un-American—

KASICH: When you’re in an “American Idol” primary, all kinds of crazy things happen, to be honest with you.

MICKLETHWAIT: Do you think it’s an un-American—

KASICH: It’s certainly not the way we function as a country. We have never been strong by focusing on things that are designed to divide us.

And, look, I’ve been encouraged here by the number of moderate Muslims who have come out. They said that their religion has been hijacked. They have said—they have condemned aggressively the attacks all over the world. And you know, Bernard Lewis wrote a great book, I think, called “What Went Wrong,” where he talked about the need for Islam to reclaim itself. And I see signs of people wanting to fight for what their religion is really all about.

MICKLETHWAIT: Can I push you a bit on Syria? You came up with a very passionate, and actually very detailed, reason to put boots on the ground in Syria. But I wonder if you could explain to me—

KASICH: And Iraq.

MICKLETHWAIT: —how you would persuade Europeans to back that, who generally have been very reluctant. And what would happen when you—when you came up against Russian boots on the ground in that area?

KASICH: Well, look, if Russia wanted to help us to fight ISIS, I’d welcome that. But it doesn’t change my view on Ukraine or Eastern Europe. I mean, there can be—there can be times in which we can work together for a common purpose, but it doesn’t let somebody off the hook when they invade another country or threaten invading our friends in Eastern Europe.

We actually spent a little time before we came out here talking about this. If you take a look at the number of attacks—ISIS-inspired attacks throughout Europe, we hear about some of them. There are so many of them that have happened that we don’t really see, because some are larger than others. But this is—this is an attack on all of them. These are not going to go away. I mean, whether it’s in all the countries—I mean, who would have ever dreamt that we would have seen what we were seeing in Brussels. It’s everywhere.

So there’s two ways to deal with it. You got to go to where the problem is. And my view is, you don’t have to lecture, but you got to talk to prime ministers, and leaders in countries. You got to talk to them privately. We all have to be part of it. And America needs to lead. When we’re not leading, they’re not going. And when we’re leading, we can convince them.

I remember in the first Gulf War, and think about this, the first Gulf War was nothing more—and a big deal—but nothing more than Saddam invading Kuwait. And I remember when the Egyptian ambassador to the United States stood in the Rose Garden and pledged Arab support for our coalition. We’re now talking about an existential threat on everybody.

What do you think that Hussein thinks in Jordan? What do you think the family thinks in Saudi Arabia? What do you think they think in the Gulf states? What do you think they think in Egypt, after—for a while there, we almost had a Muslim Brotherhood government. You know, they’re next. And so I think it is possible to put a coalition together if we lead and if people can count on us. You know, the red line was devastating to us. So, air power, important. But if you’re not on the ground, it isn’t going to work.

Now, in Syria, I believe we should have been—you know, again, a lot of this is what should we have been doing. We should have been supporting rebel forces early on. I believe we ought to continue to support rebel forces. And I believe Assad has to go. But at the same time, I just think we’ve got to have a coalition and we’ve got to go. But it clearly isn’t going to happen now, because the president thinks his policies are working.

MICKLETHWAIT: And do you think you could sell that policy in Toledo, as well as in Riyadh?

KASICH: Oh, I have no doubt. You know, I have been talking about this since last February. This is nothing new. And I just say—I don’t—polls. You know, polls—leaders that run on the basis of polls, they’re not leaders. I mean, don’t want have enough of focus groups and I’ll put my finger in the air. And, you know, I was governor of Ohio. I went in, in the first year we were devastated. And at the end of my first year, I was the most unpopular governor in the country. But I won 86 out of 88 counties when people saw the results.

Lead. That’s what we want out of our political leaders. We want leadership, not people—but you got to be smart about it. You got to have the right tone. You got to know how to encourage people. You need to know how you put your arm around them. And you need to be the one out there doing the leading. And across the country I am told that more and more people understand this threat. People want this dealt with.

MICKLETHWAIT: Is there any—is there any—we’ll go straight to questions from the audience after this—but is there any part of the president’s, Barack Obama’s, current foreign policy that you admire and you’d want to keep?

KASICH: Well, I think he—I think that he has done a few things in sending some naval forces into the Pacific to send a message to the Chinese. Clearly, not enough. I would—I would say that that would be one thing that would stand out, that he recognizes that problem there. I don’t spend all my time adding up all the things that I disagree with the president on, except he has a completely different view of the world than I do. I mean, he really believes that we ought to—he says—I don’t think he said it, but maybe he did—but lead from behind. I’ve never saw—that’s a new way in the 21st century to define leadership, you have to lead from behind.

But he has a different view. And he thinks that America leading is a negative. And I think that American leadership is, frankly, indispensable to world peace and our ability to deal with these—with this problem as it—you know, as it’s been accelerating.

MICKLETHWAIT: Let’s go to questions. Let’s turn over the mic.

Q: Two brief, pointed questions—two brief, pointed questions. You mentioned Donald Trump. Yesterday, former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said: If Trump was nominated he would not support or vote for him. How about you? If nominated, will you support and vote for him or not? Question two, the defense establishment has said widely recently that climate change is a national security problem. Do you believe in it? Do you take it seriously? And do you think it’s a national security problem? And if so, what would you do about it?

KASICH: Well, I’d say, first of all, on climate change, when right after the attacks in Paris the president says we’re going to fight terrorism by doing climate change—I never understood that at all. Secondly, do I believe that human beings affect the climate? I do. The degree to which, I’m not sure, and neither is anybody else quite sure. Just imposing willy-nilly goals and rules that may not even be able to be achieved while displacing people in the workplace is not my idea of how you would handle this issue. I’m a believer in the renewables, but I believe in the whole series of energy resources, and I think they need to be exploited.

Secondly, in terms of Trump, I signed a pledge—it’s why you have to be careful what pledges you sign—that I would support the Republican nominee. (Laughter.) Now, look, is it possible that you change your mind? Yeah. It takes something extreme to do it. But I will tell you, sir, there’s no way that Donald Trump’s going to be president. I’ve been saying that for weeks. I have—I don’t even take it seriously because he isn’t going to win. It’s not going to happen. And maybe we can all learn a little lesson from all of this.

MICKLETHWAIT: Another question? Gentleman there.

Q: Thank you. Alan Blinken, The Washington Center.

In the last 10 years, over 300 Americans have been killed by terrorism. But in the same period, over 300,000 Americans have died from gun violence. Would you support a ban on assault weapons? Would you support closing the loophole on gun shows? And would you support a ban on weapons availability to those who are on the no-fly list?

KASICH: Yeah. Let me say one thing about the no-fly list. I mean, one thing you have to be careful of is we stop people in Ohio who are on the no-fly list—or, I’m sorry—the terrorism watch list. And the one thing we don’t want to do with people who are on the terrorism watch list, we want to make sure we know what they’re doing. We want to follow them and understand it. And I mean, and then when you look at the no-fly list, my concern with the no-fly list is you could be on the no-fly list. And we got to make sure that the people who are on that no-fly list are people who shouldn’t be on—you know, who shouldn’t fly on airplanes.

And if we determine that they shouldn’t be on airplanes, then I think, if they have some due process, I don’t think they should be able to purchase firearms. But let me also tell you that I don’t think—you can take guns away from all the law abiding people, like the bumper sticker says, bad people will still have guns, and we won’t. And you know, I have two 16-year old daughters and a beautiful wife. And I want to be able to defend myself if somebody’s going to do me harm.

But let me suggest something. Forget about the terrorism side. Talk about the mass shooting side. If you’ve noticed—if you have noticed that most of the mass shooters come from broken families, from neighborhoods that have fallen apart, you wonder, where’s the siblings? Where are the parents? Where is the father? What are we doing on mental illness? You know, I have an extensive program in Ohio on emergency beds and treating the mentally ill. But we need to look deeper as to some of the causes of what happens here. When people are isolated, mentally ill, feel as though their lives have no meaning, they can do really crazy things to harm others.

So I think we need to go deeper on the gun debate than just the gun, and we need to get to the very root cause of what’s happening in our society, and what it is that we’re not doing to strengthen families, to strengthen neighborhoods, to be in a position of dealing with the real serious problems of mental illness, so.

MICKLETHWAIT: Another question. Yes, sir. Sorry, the man with the white—holding it up. Can you identify yourself, please, as well?

Q: Herbert Levin, Council member.

Governor, if Mr. Trump invites you to join the ticket as vice president, will you refuse?

KASICH: I wouldn’t run for vice president on any ticket, OK? I’m not running for vice president. I got the second-best job in America, governor of Ohio. And so don’t be thinking about vice president for Kasich. Ain’t going to happen. Mark my words.

MICKLETHWAIT: We might limit—

Q: (Off mic.)

KASICH: Oh, I’m—because I think I can win. Now, you know, New Hampshire is going to be important to us. And just keep your eyes on the ball. And then we will see what happens here.

MICKLETHWAIT: Can I—can I ask you a question on that? In terms of the way that you look at foreign policy, what sort of people would you want to bring in? Who are—who are the people you see as the gurus of foreign policy for you?

KASICH: Look, when you—when you go—

MICKLETHWAIT: Apart from Richard Haass. (Laughter.)

KASICH: What I have learned—what I’ve learned for the many years dealing with the national security issues is you want two kind of groups of people. You want your traditional military people and those who think differently. You know, there’s always been a struggle, a war, between those who believe in sort of the traditional military operations and those who have spent more time in things like Special Forces. You want to have a divergence of opinion between your traditionalists and those who are not your traditionalists. And the same should hold true in civilian advisers, those who are your traditionalists and those who are not.

My chief adviser is Richard Allen, the former national security adviser of President Reagan. He’s just terrific. But I have other people that I listen to. And I’m going to just give you one example of what I say when I talk about non-traditionalists. I asked one person with a long record in the CIA if they thought the CIA was capable of targeting. And you remember when we launched a drone strike and we hit the wrong target.

This person, who served a long time in the CIA, said I don’t think the CIA is great at targeting. I think this is something that ought to be done inside of the Pentagon. I like that guy, because I like to hear divergent opinions about how to do things. So you want a variety of opinions.

The same is true when it comes to people say how many forces on the ground? That’s not the job of a—well, if you don’t know anything, you might think you should answer that. But it’s not the job of the president to determine troop levels. It’s the job of the commander in chief to decide, we’re going to go. Give me a program. Give me two programs or three programs, and let’s sit down and aggressively discuss the alternatives.

So much of what we do in a presidential campaign today is I’ve got to give you a slick little answer. Things don’t get solved with slick little answers. You know, when we talk about the problems of the no-fly list or we talk about the problem of encryption or we talk about the problem of cyber warfare, these things don’t lend themselves to some little, tiny little sound bite. It requires smart people with good intentions, intellectually honest in solving problems.

If I find somebody that I work with that doesn’t operate that way, I don’t keep them involved. But you know what? Most people want to contribute to something greater than themselves. And that’s kind of the way I would do it.

MICKLETHWAIT: Right there.

Q: Governor, Adam Blum from Austin, Texas. I’m an investor.

With all that’s going on in the region, could you expound further on how you’d work with Israel?

KASICH: Well, you know, sometimes, you know, in life, isn’t it true that sometimes we’re tougher on our families than we are on people we barely know? The same is true, it seems sometimes, in international relations. We’re tougher on our friends than we are on our enemies. It’s kind of human nature to think that way.

Israel is our great ally. If I have anything to say to them as president that I don’t like that they’re doing, I’m going to do it in a back room somewhere where no one else can hear me. I’m not going to do it with a bank of television cameras to embarrass our friend. And frankly, I don’t know what all the big discussion is about Israel. They are a great ally.

You know, their existence is in question almost every day when we can’t even—I was somewhere. Somebody said, well, what are you going to do about, you know, the peace process? I said, look, when you have to go from Saudi Arabia and fly to Egypt in order to get to Israel, and if you’re in Saudi Arabia you can’t even find Israel on a map—why don’t we have the world recognize their right to exist? And until that happens, and until some of the radicals change their way, why do we undermine them? Let’s work with them. And we have things that we think we can do that contribute to a solution. Let’s do it.

The other thing is, in regard to Israel vis-à-vis the problems there, there are no final answers. The approach to me in the Middle East in regard to Israel is how do we achieve stability? How do we get through the day and be stable? Because there is no single, simple, little resolution to the challenge that we have there. But we can’t forget that they are our great friend.

MICKLETHWAIT: Can I ask you one quick thing on that? You—a lot of your earlier plans in Syria really brought Turkey in. Turkey has—its relationship with Israel has deteriorated significantly. Do you think you could use Turkey and still retain Israel as an ally?

KASICH: Look, I believe that Turkey is a critical country. We had a conversation in the back about Erdogan. You know, I look at that and I wonder, where is he? I mean, I watch his interviews and I don’t think about politics. I think about sitting in a chair across from him.

I think that the EU made a very big mistake when they refused to allow Turkey being part of their economic program. Turkey needs to be pulled to the West. They don’t need to be let go to the East. They could be a bridge to the Middle East. Now, people have told me that Erdogan, who I guess spoke here—I think I saw his picture on the wall out there—you know, he’s a tough character, clearly.

One thing I would tell you is I don’t understand when the Russians—and some people have said, look, the Russian plane went in briefly and they shouldn’t have shot it down. I don’t know what the truth is there for sure. But what I know is when somebody invades your airspace and you take action, you don’t apologize to the country that invaded the airspace. It seemed to me as though we should have been saying to the Turks, you’re NATO. You did this. They entered your airspace, and we support you.

I think the economics of Turkey may be a way to be able to get there. We’re going to have to deal with Turkey when it comes to a long-term resolution of the Kurdish issue. You know—as you all know, the Turks live in total fear of an independent Kurdistan. But the reality is that the Kurds are going to have to have someplace, maybe a confederation. I don’t know. But we have to think about it. And we’re going to have to work with Erdogan. And frankly, we’re going to have to spend a lot of time with him and understand what we can do to move them our way. I think it’s vital.

Now, there was, you know, a long history of Turkish and Israeli good, positive relationships. I don’t think one precludes the other, and I don’t think—I think we need to work on this. I think public diplomacy has been at an all-time low. And I kind of believe around the world not only should we have a military presence—and General Jones, a former commander of NATO and former head of the Marine Corps, has said that, look, we need military. We need diplomatic. And let me tell you—you’re an investor from Texas—we need to—we need to have our business friends and partners around the world having something to say also.

You know, I know somebody that runs a major oil company that I think knows more about Putin than the entire State Department. So we need to be able to listen to—and we understand they have a bias. They have a self—we know that. But they’re also Americans, and they have a lot to say. So public diplomacy—I just have friends in Columbus, Ohio who actually have opened a company in Turkey; be interesting to hear what they have to say. But we don’t want to lose the Turks. We want to bring them towards the West, in my opinion. And I would work aggressively to try to do that.

MICKLETHWAIT: Gentleman in the yellow shirt.

Q: Jeff Laurenti.

Governor, you made your mark in Washington on the federal budget, as somebody who knows it inside and out. So I would like to ask if you could explore a bit with us the financial implications of your foreign policy vision on the non-military hardware side.


Q: Do you see the investments that we make in diplomacy in the State Department, in international development aid, in things like President—the younger President Bush’s health care initiatives, AIDS, et cetera—


Q: —or U.N. peacekeeping in Africa as an important contributor to our role in the world? Is this something that we need to expand along with the defense spending for the future? Or is this where we have to economize—


Q: —in order to keep our budgets in balance?

KASICH: Well, look, here’s—in a nutshell; I can do this very quickly. I get a budget that gets us to balance in eight years. But I’m not promising you flat taxes and no IRS. Come on, folks. Let’s grow up, OK? Let’s be real about what’s going to happen.

But I would bring the top rate down to 28, like Reagan did. I’d have three rates; be a simplified system; capital gains at 15. Now, in addition to that—and an increase in the earned-income tax credit so people at the bottom have an incentive to work.

In the corporate world, I’d bring the corporate rate down to 25, have expensing in one year, accelerated depreciation. And at the same time I would bring all your money back from Europe, 5 or 6 percent tax, and then after that no more double taxation. That would provide about a point in economic growth.

I also would restrain government spending. I’d freeze all non-defense discretionary for that period of time. But I would move welfare, job training, transportation, and Medicaid out of—out of Washington into the states, with greater flexibility, with some guardrails. And then I would increase defense spending by $100 billion and I would freeze all federal regulations for one year except for health and safety, and make a real effort to try to reduce our overregulated society. And all that adds up to about 3.9 percent growth, which would get us to a balanced budget. I think it would probably happen much sooner than what we project, but I’m going to be realistic with you.

Now, in terms of international diplomacy, the—I haven’t checked this lately, but the Agency for International Development was supposed to take people from developing to developed. And in the history of their existence, no one has ever gone from developing to developed.

I think our foreign aid leaves a lot to be desired. However, in 1998 or 1999, I was the guy that took Bono to Capitol Hill and worked with, believe it or not, Ted Kennedy and Jesse Helms—(scattered laughter)—and Ronald—or Bill Clinton and Pat Robertson to pass the first debt-relief measure. Why? Because when our bombers fly over an African village and the men are shaking their fists, I want the woman to say—the women to say the United States vaccinated my children.

So the deal is that foreign aid is important. Diplomacy is critically important. And the foreign aid that actually goes to help people—and I think what President Bush did, never got any credit for it, was really a follow-on on what Bono had started. So it’s things like clean water. It’s things like vaccinations. It’s things like mosquito nets. Absolutely they’re important. But you can’t come in there and create a big dam project that puts money in somebody’s pocket and then you displace all the people in the village, and all you do is create—you create anger and antipathy towards the United States.

So of course there’s a big role there. But I hope you will also listen to what I said or suggested about the war of ideas. I believe that the Western ethic has to be defended. You’ve got to realize that when—who are these people to join ISIS? How do people from Starkville, Mississippi try to make their way to Syria? Who are they?

Whenever people lose meaning in their lives, whenever they think their lives do not matter, whenever they become hopeless and frustrated, bad things happen—drug addiction, a turn to radicalization. We need to tell people that their lives do matter, that they can change the world, that, in fact, we have to live lives bigger than ourselves, and that we are for equality of women and science and progress and civilization. We have to communicate that in every mean we can to those people out there who sit on the fence and hear the propaganda from ISIS and their ilk. And foreign aid and diplomacy, it’s all part of it. OK?

MICKLETHWAIT: The lady in red at the back.

Q: So my question is, if you were forced to live somewhere outside of the United States for maybe, say, five years, where could you see yourself living, like a society that you think does it well? And then my second question is, how would you fix the problem that is the Cleveland Browns?

KASICH: Well, those are two great questions. (Scattered laughter.) (Laughs.) Fix the Cleveland Browns. Probably start all over again. (Laughter.)

You know, I have a hard time imagining living outside of Westerville, Ohio, let alone outside of America. You know, obviously I couldn’t imagine living in another country. What a—let me tell you, I mean, aside from all the rhetoric, my father—his father was a coal miner. He’d go down in the mine all day and he’d come up and they’d—he would say look at the coal I brought up. And the guy would say, well, that’s not coal; that’s peat. They would rip him off day after day.

He had—there were eight kids in the family. I’m told by my Uncle George that my dad and my uncle at times went to school in clothes that were made out of flour sacks. My Uncle George can’t even believe what’s happened to his nephew. My mother’s mother was a Croatian. She couldn’t speak English. I never met my grandfather on my father’s side. I’m at the Council of Foreign Relations today. Now, I mean, I’m not—this is no suck-up. This is like a big deal. (Laughter.) I’m at the Council of Foreign Relations. I can’t even believe it. I’m with the guy that used to be the head of The Economist. I mean, this is really amazing.

MICKLETHWAIT: I’m sure that’s what your grandmother dreamed of. (Laughter.)

KASICH: She would have been very enthralled with your accent. I can tell you that. (Laughter.) But—


KASICH: So where would I want to go? I mean, this is where I want to be. Now, there’s—I love to travel around. I took my wife to—I’m going on here. I want to tell you this. I took my wife to Prague. We went there for her 50th birthday a couple of years ago. She’s much younger than I am. And it was unbelievable to go to Prague, to think about Vaclav Havel and to think about Vaclav Klaus and their struggles, and the beauty of that city that was spared the bombings of World War II.

I then took her to Berlin. And we were standing at one of the last pieces where the wall is. My wife had never seen it. I had been there before the wall came down. I had visited the Soviet Union as a member of the committee. And standing at that wall, there was a woman in a carriage. She was on one side—this is just recently—standing on this side of the wall. And her son, who was kicking a little ball around, probably no more than six or seven, was on the other side.

And I became emotional. And my wife is—and the guide that was with us said what the heck is wrong with you? I said just think about this. Before that wall came down, if you lived over here, you had a life. And if you lived over here, you lived in a big prison. We brought that wall down. We freed people. And we don’t often think about what we were able to achieve.

And what I’m saying is we went to Paris. I mean, what’s better than Versailles? I mean, you know, I kind of like Louis XIV in a way. (Laughter.) He knew how to use executive authority. (Laughter.) And, you know, I love to travel. But I’m not leaving America. OK, I’m not. Even if the Browns win, I’m not leaving America. (Laughter.)

MICKLETHWAIT: Sadly, we have run out of time. We’ve gone all the way from Donald—

KASICH: This one lady’s been so patient.

MICKLETHWAIT: We’ve gone all the way from Donald—I’m afraid we were told there was a—

KASICH: Yeah, we’re out, OK. Good.

MICKLETHWAIT: We’ve gone all the way from Donald Trump to science progress and Louis XIV. (Laughter.) Thank you very much.

KASICH: Thank you. (Applause.)


This is an uncorrected transcript.


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