Representative Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, discusses the evolving situation in the Middle East and North Africa.
ELISE LABOTT: Hello. I'm Elise Labott from CNN. Thank you so much for joining us for this special session of the Council on Foreign Relations.
I'm going to ask you to turn off your phones and BlackBerrys, not just on vibrate but off. I know I never do it, but I'm asking you to do it today -- (laughter) -- because it does interfere with the mics. And as a reminder, this meeting today is on the record, and I'm sure the congressman will be making a lot of quotable remarks.
So we're going to talk with Congressman Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. By the amount of people that are here today, I think we can tell that the Arab Spring has really mesmerized all of us. Even for those of us that, you know, live in Washington and are jaded and even read the Arab development report all these years ago, I think we can say that this year has been a really wild ride for everybody on the Arab Spring.
And you have Congressman Smith's bio. I don't need to tell you about his long experience, but just to say that between the House Armed Services Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, all of which he's served on, he has a lot of experience and depth on the issue and also has traveled to the Middle East. We're really looking forward to hearing his remarks today.
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, thank you very much. It's a great opportunity to be here.
As you were introducing me, I was thinking that there had to be a time in American politics when having quotable remarks was viewed as a good thing. I don't think we're there at the moment, but I will try to have the positive quotable remarks and not the negative ones.
Well, thank you. It's a great opportunity to be here. This is a very important topic. And I think it fits within some of the broader challenges that we have in our foreign policy, national security establishment as we all try to figure out how to live, frankly, with less money. This is a particularly top conversation at the Department of Defense, not just that we're facing the cuts that have already been passed, but also the specter of sequestration as we wait to see what the supercommittee comes up with over the weekend.
And part of that, obviously, is a huge challenge that folks are very worried about. Part of it's also an opportunity. It's an opportunity to strategically look at our broad national security, foreign policy spending and actions and say, as the world has changed so dramatically, certainly in the last 20 years but even in the last 10 and even in the last two, what should be our foreign policy, what should be our strategy, where should we spend those scarce resources, and how can we do it better and smarter.
I've always found that, you know, sometimes when you have too much money, you make a lot of bad decisions. It's when you're forced into that, every single penny is going to count, then you start to realize that, you know, you have to make every decision absolutely right. I think about that from my first campaign for the state senate, when I planned on having a lot of money and then I didn't. I ran a much better campaign that way. You had no choice but to be focused.
And in doing that, my staff and I have worked together and we've talked -- gave a speech about Asia a little while ago and then talked specifically about the budget, trying to look at the portions of the world and the areas that are of most concern when we try to figure out how to spend that money, and that certainly bring us to North Africa and the Middle East and the Arab Spring.
It's an incredibly exciting opportunity to look and see what is going on there. As we were talking beforehand, the great thing about it is, every time you talk about it, you obviously learn something new because it is so evolving, so fresh, so many different countries, that it is a great opportunity, I think, to have a conversation and talk about where we're going and what we should be doing.
Well, the number-one most important thing about the movement to me is that we have to recognize that it is a clearly democratic, people-driven movement. I've looked at a number of polling data, most recently from the Office of Naval Research, and it really is astonishing to look at countries in this part of the world over the course of the last 10 years and see how the attitudes have evolved much more towards democratic government and the idea of having a voice in their government.
And that's what is unique about this movement. In every single country where this has happened -- in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya, in Syria, and on and on -- it's because the people quite simply want a greater voice in their government. They're not satisfied with their governance, they want something better, but most specifically they want a greater voice in it. Because there have been, you know, many revolutionary movements that have been driven more by ideology, whether it's communism or some al-Qaida-inspired vision of Islamism, or nationalism, but these movements, when you look at the data, are clearly and unequivocally democratic and people-driven.
And number one, we need to embrace that and understand that that is a very, very good thing for us. It is the moving forward of our ideals and our values, the number-one most important one, that people should have a say in their government. And as importantly, it's a major, major blow to al-Qaida and similar ideologies. And this is something that we've been struggling with, you know, for the last six or seven years when we look at that broader fight against al-Qaida and their violent extremist ideology.
Within the Department of Defense -- and I spent three years as the chairman of the subcommittee that had jurisdiction over SOCOM, so I did a lot of particular work on the -- on the counterterrorism side -- you can identify the bad guys and go out and take them out. And we've actually done a very, very good job of that, of containing these networks that are trying to attack us.
But how do you win the broader ideological war? How do you stop people from wanting to sign up for that ideology in the first place? Because if you don't do that, you're just running on a treadmill that's never going to stop. And someday you're not going to be able to succeed. As the cliche goes, you know, when you're fighting terrorism, you have to be right 100 percent of the time; they only have to get there once.
The way to defeat is defeat the ideology. And this is a tremendous step forward in that regard. It is a specific rejection of a totalitarian Islamic approach to government and an embrace of the idea of having a voice in your government. That's part of the reason why al-Qaida, you know, really didn't have much response to this for months and months and months because ironically -- (chuckles) -- the very thing that they wanted, an overthrow of the existing governments in this part of the world, was still problematic because it was people-driven and democratic-driven, and they didn't, frankly, know what to do with that. So there's an enormous opportunity there.
And also, as we think about this, as we do our foreign policy now, we have an added layer of confusion that we've actually had for some time even if we hadn't -- haven't necessarily embraced it, and that is our actions have to be viewed as much state-to-people as state-to-state. Now, inconveniently, we can't just forget about the state-to-state. That still matters. You know, certainly our relationship with whatever governments emerge from Egypt, Tunisia and Libya is going to matter; our relationship with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and other governments are going to matter.
But even was we try to figure out how to build a positive relationship with an existing state, we must always think about how those actions impact the broader people: What do the people in North Africa and the Middle East think of our actions? How can we build greater support with them? Because ultimately, if we're going to have influence -- and that is a huge part of what our foreign policy is supposed to be about: positive relationships, influence, particularly in those parts of the world that are most important to our interests -- it's not just going to be about whether a given government happens to like us; it's going to be about whether or not their people embrace us, because their people are going to increasingly have a greater say in the direction of that government. And we will not be able to long succeed simply having a positive relationship with some particular government if the people are against that government and against us. So it has to be people-to-people, not -- sorry, state-to-people, not just state-to-state.
And there's one other tiny little problem in this whole scenario in North Africa and the Middle East, and that is that the people there do not trust us. And that is a great understatement. They do not trust our motives, and they do not trust our actions. So any American involvement in that region at least initially is going to be viewed with extreme skepticism. I won't get into the reasons for that or whether or not they're just or not. We can have that discussion in Q&A if you want, but I think we all know that it's absolutely true. And that certainly complicates things. It complicates our ability to dive in and be involved because whatever action we take is going to be viewed with skepticism.
Now, even within that realm, obviously, we have to be involved. We have to try to help. So we got to look and see how can we do that. In a situation where it really matters what the people, broadly speaking, think about our actions, and also in a situation where we are not trusted, how do we begin to rebuild that trust and stay actively engaged? And there's a number of different places to look at this.
The example that I'm going to cite as the example of the right way to do it is Libya. To my mind, the Libyan policy is one of the greatest foreign policy successes certainly of my time in Congress. For odd reasons, it hasn't quite been recognized as such. But when we're thinking about how to go forward with policy, I think we really need to think about just how successful it was and why.
First of all, the action we took was with multilateral, broad support, because, you know, one of the criticisms typically is we just sort of up like a bull in the china shop, force other people to do what we think is right. And in that scenario, even if you are right, even this -- even if it is what is best for the people in question, they're still not going to like it. But here it was clearly multilateral. The Arab League, the U.N., NATO, the people of North Africa and the Middle East in general were clearly supportive of ousting Gadhafi and supporting the people who wanted to replace him. And they passed resolutions of support, and we joined with them in a multilateral effort. And that's the way we're going to have to look at our actions in many of these countries: Do we have broader-based support to do that?
And then we did it in a cooperative fashion even when we implemented the policy, and we did it clearly in support of the people against an autocratic state. Now, it helped that nobody liked Moammar Gadhafi and hadn't for a very long period of time. But nonetheless, we were clearly supporting the aspirations of the people.
And that is another reason that many folks in that part of the world don't trust us, is because they consistently have seen us as supporting the autocratic state for our own purposes against the interests of the people -- supporting states that don't provide for their people, just because it served our interests. And here, we clearly did the exact opposite, and I believe that was a huge positive step forward.
Now, I also want to sort of put a little parameter around this, because the question we get repeatedly is, well, why did you go into Libya and not -- fill in your blank; any number of other different countries. The other thing that was really smart about this was it had a militarily achievable objective, and that's the part that a lot of people leave out. Syria is, I think, the current best example: If you did it in Libya, why don't you do it in Syria? How are they different? To me, it's obvious how they're different.
First, reference back the multilateral piece. Now, that piece is slowly changing. There is nowhere near the consensus for, militarily anyway, removing the Assad regime that there was the consensus for removing the Gadhafi regime by any means necessary. Absent that consensus, number one, we'd be acting in a way that would undermine our interests and, number two, it's difficult to achieve; because without that broad support, you are not in a strong enough position to achieve your military objective. The fact that there was no country on Earth that was willing to fund and support Moammar Gadhafi was a big part of the reason why we could successfully isolate him and defeat them.
And the second piece of it is the simple, you know, facts on the ground. In Libya, they had conveniently taken over roughly half of the country -- you know, half of the country where you could see, OK, these were the forces that we wanted to support; Gadhafi's regime was rolling in to stop them. There was a clear, militarily achievable objective to first stop him and then ultimately defeat him by isolating him. There's no such clarity in Syria. If you're going to engage in a military action, you have to have a reasonable expectation that you're going to succeed, and a clear plan to do that. In Libya, we did; in Syria, we don't. And we cannot underestimate that difference.
But overall, the number-one most important thing about it, to my mind, is we supported the people, we did it in a multilateral fashion, and we also didn't act like we had to do it absolutely our way -- all things that were, frankly, very confusing to a lot of folks in the Middle East, who had come to expect us to act differently, and which I believe helps raise our standing in that particular part of the world.
Now -- and that's great. The biggest thing we need to focus on going forward, however, is -- the biggest factors here are the economy, the fact that this is youthful -- a youth-driven movement, and governance. Now, the youth part of it, there really isn't anything we can do about. A lot of young people in that part of the world; any time you have huge youth bubbles, you tend to have a certain amount of unrest, and you simply have to deal with it and get through it. But we can't also underestimate the importance of governance and economics.
There was a pretty good article that Fareed Zakaria wrote a little while back about the economic situation in this part of the world. That's driving a whole lot of this as well. Yes, it is about having a greater say in your government, but a big part of what's motivating the desire to have a greater say in the government is the notion that the government is not providing for its people. The economies are terrible. And when we look and see is this -- are these movements going to lead to a better government, getting the economy right and moving in the right direction is going to be a critical piece of that.
That's an area where we can be helpful. And I think trade is an excellent idea: basically trying to figure out where we can reduce trade barriers for these countries, give them access to markets -- our market, other markets -- in order to help grow. We're going to have to show some measurable economic progress. This is an area where I think we can help.
Then of course there's governance, because as positive as all this is, there's unquestionably risk, and the risk is that they won't get the governance right, it will fall apart either into a chaotic state or it will fall back to some of these other, less purely driven movements like nationalism or extremism, to form a government. We, I think, are in a position to be helpful with governance. We have a number of institutions and organizations that do democratic development. We can work in a cooperative way to help all of these countries develop that.
But again, in all of those steps, we have to be very careful. We have to take the "less is more" approach, and it has to be cooperative and in the direction they want to go; not us showing up, to extend this cliche out, "we're from the government and we're here to help" -- you know, we're from the United States and we're here to help. We have to be careful about that kind of approach. But we do have skills in this area, not just in the NGO community, but State Department, USAID; a lot of folks out there who understand the basic steps of governance -- frankly, a lot of the stuff that we, belatedly, are doing in Afghanistan. I was very pleased the last time I was in Afghanistan -- yes, I ran into a lot of Marines and a lot of soldiers, but I also ran into a lot of USAID people, a lot of Department of Justice people, a lot of Ag people who were trying to build the basic building blocks of governance. That's where I think we can be enormously helpful in this region and actively engaged.
There are two other foreign policy issues in this area that have to be touched upon because they impact it, even if we prefer they didn't, and that's the peace process between Israel and Palestine, and that's how does Iran figure into all of this.
Well, the first thing I want to say about Israel and Palestine is it is an aggravating factor. There is no question that part of the reason that this region has such a distrust for the West is their belief that we simply support Israel, and their legitimate concern about the Palestinian people and the state, particularly in Gaza -- the lack of opportunity, the oppression, the difficulties that they have there.
But don't make the mistake of thinking that that is what's driving this, that's the reason they don't trust us, that's the reason they're not satisfied with their government. There are those who have said that if we solve that problem, all of a sudden everything would be fine. I don't believe that for a second.
What's really driving it, put simply, is bad governance. The people throughout North Africa and the Middle East do not feel like they have the say in their government, the opportunity, the lives they want because they think their governments aren't doing the job. That's what is driving it. If we improve the economy, if we improve the governance, then all of that stuff will move forward, almost regardless of what happens in Israel and Palestine, even though it is important.
I mean, you can simply look to the West Bank -- great idea four or five years ago, with the idea to do basic counterinsurgency development in the West Bank; to look at the economy, to work with Israel, to use the U.S. to go in there and develop greater economic opportunity.
I've been in Ramallah twice in my life, 2005 and then last summer. The difference is unbelievable. It is -- you know, in 2005 it looked like a place that was just about to drop off the end of the earth. Now there is development. There's jobs. There's opportunity. And there's been a noticeable change in the attitude about how people in the West Bank feel about things as a result. The same can happen throughout the Middle East. Economics is going to matter.
Now we still have to be engaged and involved in the peace process. I think it would be a big huge problem if the perception was that the U.S. was stepping away, that we didn't care anymore. We have to be actively engaged to try to make that work, but nor can we send a signal that somehow, you know, we're going to abandon Israel. Israel is a critically important ally. They are a democratic state, which, again, is what we are trying to promote as broadly as possible. So we're going to have to walk a very fine line there.
But remember, the economics and the governance are really what is mattering and what is going to drive, you know, the satisfaction level in these new emerging states in North Africa and the Middle East.
As far as Iran is concerned, if someone has a great easy answer for how to deal with that, I will look forward to the question and comment that tells me that. It is a very difficult situation. I think what we have to do is we have to really think about how the various relationships that Iran has with countries in the region can play to our advantage. Certainly I think containing them and reducing their influence should be our overall goal.
One big positive in that is, again, the people-driven nature of these movements in North Africa and the Middle East. Iran, at the same time that they were criticizing Moammar Gadhafi for brutally repressing his regime -- his -- sorry -- brutally repressing his people, Iran was brutally repressing their people. And in North Africa and the Middle -- they noticed, OK? Iran would like to have -- think that they could do some big magic trick and make them not see that, but they noticed.
Iran's credibility broadly in the region is damaged by that. They are not the model of government that the people of North Africa and the Middle East want. They're not, and that becomes obvious every day.
How can we use that to our advantage? How can we build relationships with different states to contain them? That's something that I think we're going to need to be very smart about, and it's going to be state by state, situation by situation. But that should be our overall approach -- to contain them.
Now, the last thing I'll say about Iran, with their nuclear program and our desire to contain it, is while we certainly have to keep the military option on the table -- it's one way to discourage them from thinking they can simply build a nuclear weapon and get away from it -- get away with it -- the focus, I think, has to be economic sanctions. Military action in Iran would be very, very problematic for the region, and I'm worried a little bit in the last couple of weeks or two that there's been an escalating rhetoric -- and not just in Republican presidential debates, though certainly there -- that drives us on a path towards thinking that military -- the military option is better than it actually is. I think we need to be very cautious about that, cautious about our rhetoric and ultimately cautious about our ultimate decision.
I do believe that economic sanctions can be successful. Iran is hurting economically.
That is putting an enormous amount of pressure on the regime, and people are aware of the fact that that's driven by the fact that they're insisting on building a nuclear weapon instead of providing a decent economy for the people of Iran. I think we need to continue to ramp up that economic pressure as the best way to get them to change their behavior. But again, I also believe that there are opportunities in these rising new governments and in the complex set of relationships that Iran has with countries in the region to play countries off against Iran, to show why our interests, U.S. interests, are better for that region than Iran and that we will be there to work with them to contain the threat from Iran that it poses to the region.
But overall, the thing to remember about this part of the world and what's happening is it is very good. It is a people-driven movement. It is the values that we have espoused. There is one significant group of people in that region that the reason they don't trust the U.S. is they've always felt that they like our values; they like the idea of, you know, democracy and freedom and opportunity, but they've always felt that we did not as aggressively push that for them as we wanted it for us, as though if it was something that was good enough for us, but not good enough for them. This is a huge opportunity to turn that around and show them that we do believe that this region of the world can have freedom, democracy and opportunity; we support it; we're enthusiastic about it; we want to work with them to make it happen where we can, but we're not going to be the ones driving it, and we're going to be cooperative and a positive force to move them in a direction that the polling data shows the overwhelming majority of people in North Africa and the Middle East want to go.
Lots of challenges, lots of uncertainty. As I said at the outset, this is a constantly evolving process. No two countries are the same. But I believe this is a great opportunity for us to build positive relationships in a way that are going to help us continue to have influence in the region and, most importantly, improve the lives of tens, hundreds of millions of people. So I think it's a great opportunity.
And I look forward to your questions, and I thank you for the opportunity to have this discussion this morning. (Applause.)
LABOTT: Thank you, Congressman. I think that's a lot of food for thought and great jumping-off point for the questions.
I want to start by -- you mentioned that this is a democratic and people-driven movement, and you said it's, by and large, good. But I think what we've found is while the first phase of these revolutions were very euphoric, I think now the second phase is -- as many of us can see, is becoming a lot more messy. If you look in Egypt, for instance, there's questions about the goals of the military that's in power right now, whether they're going to give up power. In Libya, I think the future is far from certain. And we've seen that in places like Syria, Yemen, it's dragging on. So given that these are -- initially were a people-driven movement and we supported it, how do you square U.S. support for this second phase if it goes in a way that we don't necessarily think is a good thing?
SMITH: I'll say two things about it. First of all, these movements are different. And again, the polling data is what really brings this out. You certainly have other examples in history where, you know, revolutions started out as, you know, seeming like they were more democratic, whether Iran or go all the way back to Russia, Cuba, other places, and then moved in a different direction. But you didn't have a situation where you -- like you have now, where so many of the people are motivated by that desire to have a greater voice in their government.
As I said, many of these other movements had a particular ideology that they were pushing. They had nationalism that they were pushing. I really do think that we can't underestimate the uniqueness of the fact that this is primarily driven by a desire for better governance and a greater voice. So I think in that sense, it's going to have more legs.
But then the second piece of it is, you know, stability and some measure of success is going to be critical. If it continues to spin out and the governance isn't even better, the economies aren't any better, then you start to get into a dangerous position. I don't think we're there yet. The fact that -- you know, in Libya that some of the groups are, you know, having some infighting and some actual fighting, the fact that, you know, Egypt is still trying to figure out, you know, when the military is going to step aside and how -- all of that I don't think is necessarily disastrous or even terribly unexpected. They're moving right now, I believe, still in the right direction.
And what we can do is encourage that, first of all. And second of all, I do believe that we can help on the governance and on the economics. We need to be very clever about, you know, where can we be helpful. And I don't believe this is about aid. This is not about just giving money. I think this is about working with them to develop them own governance ability, their own economic ability. There's a lot of different things that we can do in that area.
I wanted -- one thing I meant to say and I didn't get to is I'm also very concerned about the conditionality approach. One of the points that I neglected to mention was we have to be very careful about not being condescending in this approach. Certainly, I think it's condescending to run around and say: Oh, you know, al-Qaida's right around the corner; there was this one guy who's now involved in this Libya thing, so this is really just an Islamist front. That is very condescending. And it's also condescending to say: We'll give you money, but only if you do this and this and this.
LABOTT: Well, that being said, though, on Egypt, for instance, I mean, the U.S. has had a long-standing relationship with the military, one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid. Will the U.S. continue to aid the military if the military does not relinquish power and support the aims that we said in the first place that -- the people?
SMITH: Let me say that I think it is -- it would be better to reach a point and say: You're at a place where we don't want to give you -- and just cut it off. And that -- and that could happen. I mean, if the military, you know --
LABOTT: You see a point where we could cut off aid to the Egyptian military?
SMITH: I don't see it happening, OK, I don't think that's where it's headed. But what I'm saying is we would be better served to reach that conclusion, I think with all of these countries, and say: OK, we don't think it's in our interest any more; we're not going to do it. It's better to do that than to treat them like a child and say: Well, as long as you're good, we'll give you this much. If you're this good, we'll give you this much; if you're a little bit better, we'll give you this much. That sends a message that really undermines that trust issue that I was talking about.
Look, if we want to reach a conclusion that it is no longer in our national security interest to give money to the Egyptian military, certainly I can conceive of that -- who couldn't -- somewhere off into the future. But I think that's better than the conditionality approach.
LABOTT: Let's move on to Libya. You spoke in very favorable terms about what happened. And clearly, the Libyan people are on a new course. But there are a lot of people that say that there was a bit of a "bait and switch" with the U.N. mission, and that while, yes, it was originally to protect civilians, what we did was we used that mission to forge regime change in Libya. Do you believe that that was the case? SMITH: I don't know that it's really -- I don't think it's the most important thing, by any stretch of the imagination. And you could go back and construct the record. I mean, there was a call for a no-fly zone for quite some time. There was a lot of different discussion, and people were in a different place. I think that's a fascinating historical debate to have --
LABOTT: Well, actually, I mean, if you look at Syria and what's happening there --
LABOTT: -- I mean, I think one of the reasons that Russia and China and some Arab countries are reluctant to send this to the U.N. Security --
SMITH: I know where you're going and I don't agree with it, but go ahead. (Chuckles, laughter.)
LABOTT: Well -- well, I mean, certainly, a lot of countries are reluctant --
LABOTT: -- to send this to the U.N Security Council because if the goal is to protect civilians, then that mission shouldn't be hijacked, if you will, to get rid of him. And, yes, while you say it is a(n) interesting historical observation, it does have real-world implications for Syria right now.
SMITH: Russia and China are not interested in pushing this because of their relationship with Assad and Syria. They may mutter about how "bait and switch" happened before, but that's all just not accurate, to my mind. They have a relationship with Assad; they have a relationship with Syria. And even if Libya had never happened, I challenge anyone to tell me that Russia and China would not be doing the exact same thing in the U.N. that they're doing right now.
And I also say, we can go back and look at the record, but I think there was -- pretty well split between people who were saying, let's just protect the civilians and other people -- who were clearly looking towards regime change. When the U.N. passed that resolution, I think it was, at best, a 50-50 call, you know, if you were trying to analyze whether or not Gadhafi was sticking around. Anyone who looked at that and said, oh, there's no way they're ever going to try to remove Gadhafi, was kidding themselves.
And again, Syria is about the pre-existing relationships that China and Russia have with that region, not about some "You fooled us before, so we won't go with you again." My opinion, but -- LABOTT: Well, we're looking at Syria right now, and we're trying to -- you know, obviously, it's apples and oranges with Libya, but there are some similarities --
SMITH: Apples and oranges comparisons are gone, after the Herman Cain use of that. (Laughter.)
SMITH: You know, we'll never be able -- (inaudible) -- we've got to come up with limes and lemons maybe, I don't know.
LABOTT: Well, let's --
SMITH: Yes. Go ahead, sorry.
LABOTT: -- we'll stay away from "Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan." (Laughter.)
Let's talk about Syria and what's going on right now. It's very interesting. You said that, for instance, there was like a large military contingent of rebels in Libya that was very active, and we were able to support that. We see now that the Syrian Free Army has been making attacks -- some defected members of the military. What do you think would be the tipping point for the U.S. to look at this and say, yes, we have a shot of getting rid of Assad; we need to start supporting the opposition?
Is -- what's the tipping point? Is it the amount of people, the amount of violence and the humanitarian implications, or is it that we see that the opposition has a certain amount of strength and we could help push this in the right direction?
SMITH: It's all those things, but one that you didn't mention, which is, you know, multilateral international support.
LABOTT: Well, as you said, that seems to be moving in the right direction. The Arab League suspended Libya, and some people think it could be a pretext for a referral to the Security Council. So where do you see this going?
SMITH: I'm not sure. I would be surprised, for the reasons we said earlier, if Russia and China ever got to the point on Syria where they got on Libya, to be basically sort of passive and at least allow it to happen. And I think that's a pretty significant block to being able to argue that you have the type of multilateral support necessary. I think in Syria it's far more likely to be localized pressure from the Arab League and others that could cause that change.
And really it's internal within the Syrian government. And this is a lesson that has been learned in all of these countries. The regimes that stand maintain the support of their military. The regimes that don't --
LABOTT: Well, do you see a military coup in Syria?
SMITH: Gosh --
LABOTT: Some people think -- some people think that's what --
SMITH: -- I left my magic 8-ball at home.
LABOTT: Well, you do follow military issues. And some people, some people -- even in this audience, that we were talking before the meeting -- some people think that's what it's going to take.
SMITH: Could be. I mean, I would not want to predict that. I will say this; that now, as opposed to two or three months ago, much more likely. Two or three months ago, it seemed like Assad was pretty solid in terms of having the support of the military, the support of the top, you know, business people in the area. That's definitely cracking in the last month. How far does it go? Does he actually start to have the type of high-level defections that happened in Libya? That's anybody's guess.
LABOTT: Should we be -- should we be encouraging members of the military? Should we be working a little bit more closely with the opposition right now?
SMITH: I think we should be working with the Arab League and other multilateral institutions, because again, we have to be careful. If Assad is able to, you know, credibly say, oh, it's the U.S. that's coming in and trying to -- that, you know, will solidify him because of the lack of credibility we have. So, no, I don't think we should be doing more and be, you know, more out front so that he can sort of credibly claim that it's a U.S. plot. That claim has a lot of resonance in that part of the world.
LABOTT: Let's talk about Bahrain. Clearly, again, a lot of different U.S. interests at stake. And things have improved somewhat, but seriously there is still a lot of challenges in the country. The government hasn't made all the reforms that it promised, and there are still concerns about human rights in the country.
If you believe that U.S., you know, interests are at stake -- and also some people do say that, you know, Saudi Arabia's really the key to all this -- how do we move the Saudis? how do we put pressure on the government of Bahrain? Should we think about moving the 5th Fleet? I mean, where can the U.S. effectively move this instead of saying, you know, we're going to leave it to the regime?
SMITH: I think broadly speaking, as I said in my remarks, we need to start thinking about how our polices affect the way the people of the region look at things more than just how the states look at it. But we got to do both, and we got to balance that. And I think we should be looking for opportunities to push for reform, and push for reform in a direction that moves more towards the -- well, we don't have to say until you have a perfect democracy we're going to be upset and we're going to be pressuring you -- (need to say ?) to say -- push towards -- more towards the consent of the governed. You know, make a greater step.
In Bahrain there are certainly things they could do to empower the parliament there, to actually give a voice. There are steps. And I think we should be, you know, actively talking with them, actually talking with Saudi Arabia about how they can do things that move more towards the consent of the governed.
And I would say, you know, it's case by case, specific instances are always going to be different, but given what we've done in the past, I think in the future we're going to have to be a little bit more forceful -- LABOTT: 5th Fleet?
REP. ADAMS: -- in speaking in favor --
LABOTT: Should we be reconsidering that?
REP. ADAMS: No. -- speaking in favor of improvements in government. It's not about -- I'm not talking about the 5th Fleet, what we're doing there. I'm talking about at least openly encouraging Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to be more open, to think of ways to get greater consent of their people.
LABOTT: Last question -- and then I'm going to open it up to the audience, I'm sure we have a lot of questions -- on the Palestinians. You spoke about going there and seeing the benefits of all the economic development.
LABOTT: At the same time, Congress is suspending some aid to the Palestinians because of their moves towards statehood. And you also talk about the fact that these people have had poor governance. So given the fact that the economic development and what Salam Fayyad, the prime minister -- is really one of the best things that they have going, should the Palestinian people be suffering with the suspension of aid if you don't approve of the bad governance, let's say, of President Abbas, for instance?
SMITH: No, they shouldn't. I don't believe we should be cutting off the aid to the Palestinians. I think that's the exact wrong move at this point.
LABOTT: Then how do you think we should -- are you going to be pushing to reinstate?
SMITH: Yes. No, I don't think we should be cutting off aid to the Palestinians. There's a lot of challenges there. Certainly don't support them unilaterally going to the U.N. I think that causes more problems than it solves. But I think cutting off the aid at this point would also cause more problems than it solves.
Let's open it up to the audience to join in. Please wait for the microphone. Speak directly into it. Please stand, state your name and affiliation, and let's keep the comments short and concise. And one question, please, because we have a very large audience. We want to get as many people as possible. You want to raise your hand, and I'll call on some people.
Let's go to Jon Alterman, and then we'll go to Barbara.
QUESTIONER: Jon Alterman, CSIS. Thanks very much for your talk. I wanted to ask another question about Palestinians, and that is whether it should be the policy of the United States government to try to encourage Palestinian reconciliation, bringing Hamas and Fatah together as a single negotiating party, as an ultimate goal, or whether the U.S. should encourage the continued isolation of Gaza, making a separate deal with Fatah. Some people see the Israeli deal to free Gilad Shalit as an effort to help Hamas, to weaken Fatah, to punish Mahmoud Abbas for pursuing Palestinian statehood and keep the Palestinians divided. If the goal of U.S. policy is to push for negotiation, should the goal of U.S. policy be to have a single Palestinian negotiating partner, or should it be to work with the partner we can work with and ignore the partner we can't?
SMITH: Well, I -- ultimately -- and it's interesting that a lot of those steps that you laid out are sort of pushing us in the wrong direction on what I'm going to say -- I think we should push towards some sort of reconciliation, but we obviously want Fatah to be at the top of that reconciliation. And if you -- if Israel -- if, in fact -- and I don't know if it's true or not if that was, you know,part of a punishment of Fatah. And you know, to the extent you push that reconciliation in a way that has Hamas more at the top, that's bad. So I guess --
LABOTT: Shouldn't this be a people-driven movement, then? We just were talking about all these people-driven movements. What if the people want Hamas?
SMITH: Well, I don't think it's clear that they do, so I don't think I -- I don't think that's -- I don't think that point matters in this conversation at this point. If it becomes absolutely clear that the Palestinian people overwhelmingly support Hamas -- I don't believe that is true. I mean, even in the election that they won in Gaza, there were a whole lot of extenuating circumstances, and there's a whole lot of concern. I don't accept your premise. If that premise proves to be true, then that's a whole different set of questions.
But anyway, what I was going to say is, you know, if we have a -- I think a reconciliation between Gaza and the West Bank is obviously -- has to happen. You know, you don't -- you don't get there simply saying we're going to isolate 1.5 million people and try to cut a deal with the others. Nobody will stand for that. But in moving towards that, Hamas is still an enormous problem. You know, they are still primarily a terrorist organization with a horrible, horrible record that they have shown no inclination whatsoever to back away from and that has not met the basic conditionality of, you know, accepting the previous agreements, accepting Israel's right to exist, renouncing violence. They haven't done those things. And as such, any steps we take that would jeopardize Fatah in favor of Hamas -- not something we should be doing.
LABOTT: Barbara Slavin.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council. Thank you for your remarks, Congressman. This is a little bit off the topic, but it's something that's come up recently in talking about strategy toward Iran. Should Israel end its policy of opacity about its nuclear program, admit that it's a nuclear power and engage seriously in discussions about a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East? Would that help our case against the Iranian nuclear program?
SMITH: I don't believe so. Iran is going down the path they're going down no matter, what and I don't think it has -- you know, or not no matter what. They're going down the path they're going down based on their own personal calculations, number one. Number two, Israel would never stand for that, would never do that, would never -- would never unilaterally disarm or open up the public. So I don't think that's a path worth pursuing.
LABOTT: (Inaudible) -- right here.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Rust Deming at SAIS. How should the U.S. relate to the -- to the Islamic parties that are participating in the democratic process and -- not in Tunisia -- the Brotherhood in Egypt. Should we take them at their word they're democratic, or should we remain skeptical?
SMITH: This is a development, I think, that we're going to have to come to terms with. There is going to be an Islamic part of most of these governments. You know, that part of the world is not going to accept, you know, the Ataturk model, all right, is not going to accept a straightforward secularism. It's not where they're at right now, and if we insist upon it and if we, you know, try to push them away from having any sort of religious part of their government, it will not be successful.
So I think what we should do is focus on making sure that there is, you know, freedom, the opportunity to vote, people to have a voice in their government. And if there are other aspects of it that are going to have an Islamic tent, that's going to be part of the deal. I think that's the way these governments are going to evolve.
Now, as I said, the polling data shows a greater desire for more democratic, more secular government, moving away from where they were 10 years ago with an insistence on a straight Shariah law Islamic state. But they haven't completely abandoned it. And I think it would be a mistake to imagine that they will anytime soon. And it can work. I mean, there are governments that function and function reasonably well: Turkey, which can be a bad example right now because we certainly have their -- some differences over, you know, their relationship with Israel and a few other issues. But by and large, Turkey is -- has not -- well, I think it was 2002 when Erdogan was elected, and there were a lot of people who were like, oh my goodness, you know, they're going to, you know, go -- you know, be sort of like Iran or something. They're not. I mean, they still have elections; they still -- they still go in a direction that I think we can live with.
So that's the balance that I think we should strike, not imagine that we're going to be able to drive this in some purely secular route and, you know, focus on whether or not they're actually setting up elected governments.
LABOTT: But Congressman, what happens if all this happens and you move towards secular and you -- and it's a democratic movement, and it -- and the street is not that friendly, as you mentioned, towards the United States, doesn't trust the United States? What if the -- if this region, while democratic and secular, is anti- West and anti-United States?
SMITH: Well, that's, you know, sort of where they're at right now -- (laughter) -- and they're not democratic and secular. So if what you just described happened, yay! (Laughter.) That's a huge step in the right direction.
QUESTIONER: I'm Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School. I was really interested by two words you chose: change behavior. That's very different than winning and success. And -- struck me that so much of the discussion in this city for the last 50 years has really been about the power of politics rather than thinking about the power of ideas. And I -- my own feeling is you need to have some cultural anthropologists and psychologists a part of the discussion so it moves beyond just winning.
QUESTIONER: That's a comment.
SMITH: Yeah, well, I -- and it raises a couple issues that I wanted to raise earlier. If I had said everything I wanted to say in my opening remarks, I'd still be talking. So it was good to stop. And also, I love the Navy Postgraduate School. I was out there a few weeks ago; doing amazing work out there. Appreciate that.
QUESTIONER: It's getting even better.
SMITH: Yes, yes, that's what I noticed. I'm sorry. Refresh my memory on what you had -- your comment was. Oh, winning. Back with you now.
QUESTIONER: Well, it was about changing behavior as an objective, as opposed -- winning.
SMITH: Yeah, no, yeah -- right. And this is something, actually, you know, on the DOD side, you know, in terms of our mil-to- mil relationship, as I -- as I said, this is a constantly evolving process. No two countries are the same. So one of the biggest things we need is we really need to understand the people on a very granular level. Anthropologists is one way to go, certainly. You know, I think we need to use the relationship and get an understanding of, you know, who exactly are these people, where are they going, where are they headed. And I think that understanding will serve us well.
I mean, this is basic politics. You know, you -- if you're trying to gain influence with the constituency, as the cliche goes, selling is listening. Once you understand the people -- best thing I ever did was doorbelled my entire district twice the first time I ran,because you -- I developed a certain -- that was -- back again because I didn't have any money -- (laughter) -- and I just sort of intuitively began to understand, though I'd grown up there, which helped, but even that isn't enough unless you're out there in the neighborhoods listening to people. You intuitively begin to have an understanding of what they care about and how they work.
And then, on the whole changed behavior thing, I think this is something that -- you know, and Americans -- but people would say, you know, can we say that we "won" in Afghanistan or we "won" in Iraq? Really, outside of a basketball game, that's not the way the world works. And I love basketball. I love campaigns, too, for the same reason: At the end of the day, you won or you lost. There you are; that's great.
And there's a lot of things in life that are like that. Politics, broadly speaking, isn't one of them. It's about moving influence, you know, moving in a more positive direction, heading to a better overall outcome
It's not we won or we lost. And I think our insistence in so many of our foreign policy directions that -- you know, what have you won, what -- it's like -- more broadly speaking, it's we've moved the ball forward here, here, here and here, and as a result, we have a better relationship with these 15 people. That's the way we're going to have to approach this region.
LABOTT: Right here.
QUESTIONER: Thanks. I'm Frances Brown. I'm a fellow with CFR this year, but I just wrapped up two years with USAID Afghanistan, working on good governance at the local level.
SMITH: Thank you.
QUESTIONER: (Chuckles.) Thank you. And I really applaud your point about the need for good governance as -- at a priority in Libya. But one thing we really experienced in Kandahar is that to instate good governance at the local level is very resource-intensive, and it's very labor-intensive, and it depends on developing relationships and situational awareness. So I'm curious how that prescription for Libya will correspond to a resource-constrained foreign environment -- foreign aid environment. Thank you.
SMITH: There's three positive things about it. First of all, for the moment nobody is actually shooting at us in any of those places, which does make it easier, considerably easier, which I think people underestimate in Afghanistan -- security is so difficult. Second of all -- how can I put this exactly -- Afghanistan is at the high end of the difficulty range in terms of accomplishing this, higher than any of the other countries that we're dealing with. I'll just leave it at that.
Third -- and I think this actually is true in Afghanistan as well -- we have many different sources to work with. And it's not just going to fall on the U.S. to do the governance piece in Libya and Tunisia and Egypt and other places. There are a lot of folks in Africa and in the Arab League. I think the EU is going to be a critical, critical piece of this, working with some of their countries that have relationships in the area and could be helpful. So it's going to be a broadly cooperative process, and again, also primarily driven by the countries themselves. So I think the -- that's a long-winded way of saying I can say with confidence that it's going to be easier in these countries than it was in Afghanistan. (Chuckles.)
Now, that sort of ducks the issue of, well, how much easier, because there certainly will still be challenges. But I don't think this is something -- we're not going to be pouring $80 billion a year into any of these countries. It's going to be a very, very small, strategic amount of money.
LABOTT: Right here.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Emily Cadei with Congressional Quarterly. I wanted to take you back to your comments about Iran and economic sanctions because one of the pushes going on right now in Congress seems to be sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran. But there's also some concerns about that becoming a de facto oil embargo, how much that would anger our allies, et cetera. And so it brings up the broader question of how we balance our multilateral allies and a multilateral pressure with some toughening our own economic sanctions and trying to really put the screws on Iran right now.
SMITH: Yeah, well, the first thing to keep in mind about Iran is there are three basic options at this point, and I list them in no particular order. One, just let them do what they're going to do. If they develop a nuclear weapon, there you are. Two, massive economic sanctions in an effort to try to influence them away from developing that nuclear weapon, to basically make it clear that, you know, their economic interests are not served by pursuing that. Three, some sort of military option. And the -- and that's it. And if anyone has a fourth one, please speak up at some point.
None of those three are good. They're all very problematic. So of those three -- I'm sorry, you have one?
QUESTIONER: Yeah. Talk to them. Negotiate. (Chuckles.)
SMITH: We've tried that over the course of the year. I suppose -- well, I guess that's true. You're absolutely true. That is -- that is a fourth one.
LABOTT: Do you think we should be trying to redesign the engagement approach?
SMITH: It is -- we could, in fact, lift the economic sanctions and simply talk to them. I don't think that would work. Or we could strike some balance between those four. That's fine.
None of those options are good, and I would include that one as not being good either because I think the general reaction from most people would be, you know, if you reduce the pressure on them, they will simply go merrily along, and they will have the bomb. There are those who will disagree with that, like the woman shaking her head, but I think that it is nonetheless widely thought of as not something that would be successful. And to some degree, the Obama administration, when they started, said that and took that approach for a certain period of time. Number one, they had a devil of a time getting anyone to even be willing to talk to them, but number two, it didn't get there.
So against that backdrop is what you have to do. Now, against that backdrop, my belief that I don't think the negotiations would work, I don't think Iran would simply do it if we started talking to them; I don't think the military option is great; I don't think Iran having a nuclear weapon is acceptable. So I think sanctions are the logical direction to go in, and we have to figure out how to work with our -- with international partners to make those sanctions as multilateral as possible, so that they can be potentially successful.
But it's not a good situation, no matter which option you pick. And there is no guaranteed positive outcome here. I just think that economic sanctions are the wisest one of those four options.
LABOTT: OK. Susan, and then right here -- Barbara, as a very quick --
QUESTIONER: Very quick -- (off mic) --
LABOTT: -- very -- and I'm -- very quick.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic) -- lift the economic sanctions, the question is whether you can -- (off mic).
SMITH: Yeah, no, that's fine. I mean, I -- you know, I'm skeptical about crafting a better (negotiation ?), but if you want to keep the sanctions in place as part of forcing that, then that certainly is a balance that you have to try and strike.
LABOTT: OK, maybe we could take this up afterwards, after the Q&A.
QUESTIONER: Yeah, on this subject -- I'm Susan Cornwell with Reuters -- I just wondered what you thought about the idea of deterrence, and the idea that, you know -- and maybe this goes to your option number one, which was let them develop the bomb and then they would know that if they used it, you know, they might get something by return of post, as it were, and so this would deter them from using it.
SMITH: I'm not in favor of it, because I don't trust the regime in Iran -- even more than normal don't trust certain regimes.I believe Iran, like North Korea, has a certain ideology that can occasionally be nihilistic, and I'm not sure that the normal rules of deterrence would apply to them. Part of the reason why it's such a problem that North Korea has a nuclear weapon is they are unstable and unpredictable in ways that the Soviet -- in ways that none of the other countries that currently have a nuclear weapon are. So, no, I don't think that would be an acceptable approach -- or I don't think it would be the best approach, let's put it that way.
LABOTT: OK, we're going to go to the woman on the corner here, and then in the -- in the front row.
QUESTIONER: Hi, thanks, Elisa Massimino, with Human Rights First. You talked about the relationship between our government and the people in the region, which I think is so incredibly important. You know, last year, we brought a group of human rights and democracy activists from around the world, including many from the region, here to talk about the struggles that they were facing. This was before the Arab Spring. And we met with President Obama. And one of the top items on the list of these democracy activists to ask the president and the United States was to stay true to our values in our counterterrorism fight, and in particular to make sure that we did not go down the road of trying civilians in military trials and indefinite detention.
And I noticed that yesterday the president issued a veto threat on portions of the defense authorization bill in the Senate that would have done some of these things --
QUESTIONER: -- made it hard to close Guantanamo, and pushed more cases into military commissions. Do you think there's a relationship here between our counterterrorism policies and the way people in the region are viewing the United States?
SMITH: Up to a point. I don't think it's the most important thing. I think the most important thing is what actually happens in their countries. You know, when we are seen as supporting autocratic, undemocratic governments, that is much more damaging than what we're doing on that side of it. I mean, it is an issue, but I think the bigger issue is the governance, economic opportunities, in their own countries.
But, no, I'm a very strong advocate of closing Guantanamo, of using our current court system as much as possible. Now, I'm also -- I agree with the president. You know, we are, you know, to a certain degree, at war. I mean, al-Qaida declared war on us back in 1996, and have continued to carry out that war -- and as capable as they are or are not. And there will be people that we need to capture, to be successful in defending ourselves against that war, who are going to be law-of-war detainees. And I think setting up clear laws and when to do that, you know, are important. And I also think that wherever possible, we should treat them as criminals and try them as criminals, convict them and lock them up as criminals. You know, one of the biggest false choices that's been thrown out there in this whole war against al-Qaida is the idea that, well, this either a war or it's a, you know, law enforcement issue. It's both. It's obviously both. And you have to have all those tools on the table.
And what the Republicans in the House and what the Republicans and a few Democrats in the Senate are trying to do is they're trying to shove us towards it simply being a war and taking out the criminal justice side of it in a way that is not only wrong in terms of our values, it hamstrings us in terms of our ability to successfully win what we're -- win, sorry -- (laughter) -- successfully -- succeed and move the ball forward in what we're trying to do in this conflict. Hey, I am an American; it's just -- you know, it's the way I look at things. (Laughter.) But to succeed in stopping them from attacking us. It's undermining the president's ability to do what he needs to do to protect us. So it is a problem, and one that I've been working on very, very hard.
LABOTT: So no Charlie Sheen "winning" here.
SMITH: Nah. That didn't work out too well for him, so I think --
LABOTT: We just have a few minutes left, so I'm going to do a quick lightning round. We're going to ask all three questions together. Sir, right here; Jeff; and then the woman with her hand raised right here, please.
QUESTIONER: Roger Parkinson. I have a whole different kind of question.
QUESTIONER: You talked about campaigns and elections, and you've been involved for a number of years now in all kinds of defense and foreign policy. Have you ever had -- thought there were policies that you thought we should change or actions you thought we should take or not take, that you felt strongly about but never articulated or worked for them, because of a fear of what might happen at the polls?
LABOTT: That's a whole 'nother subject. (Laughs.)
LABOTT: Jeff, just real quick. We'll take all three.
QUESTIONER: Jeff Pryce. I wonder if you could say a little more about Libya as a model for military and diplomatic action; not just that we succeeded with no casualties, no continuing presence on the ground, and limited cost, but the speed with which we organized the contact group, the NATO coalition. Something that took us years in Bosnia, months in Kosovo, we did in days in Libya with a leveraged use of American capabilities and assets. I wonder if you could say whether we have -- your thoughts on what lessons that has for us using our military and diplomacy going forward.
LABOTT: OK. And then right here and then we'll have to cut the questions.
QUESTIONER: (Name inaudible) -- with Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. Congressman, thank you for your thorough comments and discussion.
With the anticipated withdrawal of U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan at the end of this year and 2014 respectively, could you briefly discuss what expectations the U.S. might have of the relatively few stable countries that are currently left in the region, including the UAE and others? Thank you.
SMITH: I think that is a critical point. We need to build partnerships wherever we can build them, and I think there are a number of opportunities. Certainly the UAE is one. And I think we need to take that approach. This was more central to the speech I gave about Asia, the notion that wherever we can build a relationship, we need to try to build that relationship. And that's -- you know, we've seen it sort of play out during the president's, you know, trip to Asia, that we wish to maintain our presence and our influence and our connection, and the way you do that is you build relationships.
And, you know, we've talked mostly about the countries that are most disrupted at the moment and how we deal with them, but we can't forget also countries, you know, like the UAE and others in the region where we can build a positive relationship wherever possible. So, certainly I think you can't have enough friends, so we should definitely look for those opportunities.
On the question of -- I think you summed it up fairly well. We have an extraordinarily capable military, and that's a very good thing. And I think what Libya also showed is that it can be a good thing in small amounts. If you have a very capable military, you don't necessarily have to drop a hundred thousand troops down in a country and spend $100 billion a year in order to accomplish something. With the technological know-how we have, with the incredible experience we have, you know, for a relatively small amount of money, relatively small -- we can cooperate and work with other countries in the world and have a huge impact.
And I'll sort of pivot that over to part of, you know, the North Africa, Middle East region. I think mil-to-mil relationships are still going to be important. We have to be cautious. They have to be at the direction of the state. But that's part of the way we maintain a positive relationship. And some of it is security training, but some of it also is simply having a presence there, and you build relationships as a result of that presence. If we have, you know, military officers from these countries that are being trained at the Navy postgraduate school or elsewhere, you know, you build relationships, and in those relationships you're able to then have greater friendships and understand each other better. And I think we should look for those opportunities to use our military.
And think about the question you asked. (Laughter.) I mean, just think about it. Am I going to answer that? (Laughter.)
LABOTT: That's for the memoirs. (Laughs.)
SMITH: But no, but -- let me answer it this way, because one of my great overarching concerns is the fact that there is an increasing distance between the public and an understanding of what it means to be a representative member of government, you know. Basically anything that a representative member of government does is by definition wrong; we'll just figure out why later.
(Laughter). And that makes it very, very difficult.
And you asked the question of have there been, you know, foreign policy positions that I would have taken but for where my constituents are at. And that sort of puts us into the ultimate trap, because there are two things that you can always say about any decision a representative makes, both of which are sort of universally condemned in this country.
And no matter what a given politician does, one of the two of them is always going to be true: Either A, you're simply doing what you want and not paying attention to your constituents; and are we not representatives? Why did you simply ignore public opinion and do this, you know? Or B, you're not showing courage; you're just doing what's popular, all right?
And both of those things are sort of universally reviled, but every vote you take has to be one or the other: either you're with the majority of the public or you're not. And it is -- done properly within a representative government, the way I always try to do it, it is a balance, all right?
I don't believe that it is my job to do whatever the hell I want regardless of what my constituents desire. I don't think that's my responsibility. I think I have to think about where my constituents are coming from. They elected me, I represent them, and that is an important piece of it.
But nor do I think, that no matter what they say and no matter what they want, I simply blindly follow. We have to have conversations about this, and I will disagree frequently with my constituents. As they try to educate me, I like to think, every once in a while, I'm capable of educating them as well, and we have that conversation.
And if they tell me, here's why I think you should do this, this and this, and like, well, that fact is wrong, that fact is wrong and that fact is wrong, I will explain it; and on occasion, I will say, look, this is way, way, way too important; I can't just do what you want, because I know that this is the better decision.
Now, if I'm doing it right, I communicate that. You know, no one likes to be surprised, particularly when it's not something that they want. You know, so you try to communicate. Here's what I feel. So at least when they vote, they know.And I'm proud of the fact that I've had a number of people who have supported me, you know, consistently, who say, I disagree with you about 80 percent of the time, but at least I know why and at least I know where you're coming from. And that is what we attempt to do, done properly.
LABOTT: Well, here at the council we have one piece of legislation, and that's that we have to end on time. So I want to thank the congressman for his remarks. (Applause.)
I want to remind you that this meeting -- this meeting was on the record, and thank you, Congressman. I think in an era of shrinking budget dollars, not just here, but around the world, how we use our money and our leverage around the world is ever more important, and I'd like to thank you for your insightful comments. Thank you. (Applause.)
SMITH: Yes. Thank you.
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