Thompson on War and the '08 Campaign

FT: Hey, Jed: Fred Thompson

JB: Hey, senator. Thanks very much for taking the time. We know a little about what your schedule looks like. If you’re not careful, you’re gonna get the reputation of being a real hard working guy

FT: Well don’t let it out

JB: Oh no, no. Wouldn’t think of it. I know we only have a few minutes, so forgive me for not spending a lot of time on other pleasantries. But right now, let’s get to the heart of it.

In the June 5 Republican debate, your competitor, Mr. Giuliani, said among other things: “We need a hybrid army, we need to look at nation-building as part of what we have to teach our military.” Nation-building? Do you agree with that? If so, why? If not, why not?

FT: Well I wouldn’t call it nation-building. I think that when we’re in a situation like the one in Iraq, we’ve got to prevail, number one. We’ve got to leave that place on its feet so that it can govern itself and so that it can have freedom. I wouldn’t call that nation building, I would call that assisting people to enjoy democracy and be our ally and our friend in the future. But I don’t like that phrase. You don’t build other nations. Sometimes if the ingredients are there you can assist other nations in doing some good things.

JB: Well that gets to the heart of the difference between some of us conservatives and the neo-cons. We want to just win this war and get it done soonest. Can you do something I think President Bush never really has? Can you define for us, who really or what really is the enemy and what is this war? And then, how as president would you go about winning it?

FT: The enemy is radical Islamic fundamentalism. Iraq is a part of a much broader conflict. It is a global conflict that’s been going on for some time. We’ve been suffering attacks around the world at various times from various terrorist groups. They are not all under one umbrella but many of them are.

And much of it emanates from Iran and with the support of Iran, with regard to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. We’ve had our people killed from time to time for a long time. So I think we need to understand that as we go forward. We can’t just pull out precipitously and think this thing is going away. In fact we would be sending a signal that we as a nation are weak, and divided and that is the most dangerous thing we can do for the long term security of our country.

You know I quote Andrew Roberts once in awhile, his “History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900.” In it, he said words to the effect that in a conflict a peoples’ will to prevail is at least as important as their military might. And we need to keep that in mind as we go forward.

Now as far as Iraq is concerned, we’ve had better indicators coming out of there recently than we’ve ever had. This is a discussion we’ve been having in the US ever since this conflict began…and rightfully so. But this would be the worst time to concentrate on pulling out instead of concentrating on victory. And I think victory means pacifying the country to the extent that the average person can go worship without fear of being blown up and politicians can meet together without fear of being assassinated. I think good things are going on in the provinces now …a lot of people have decided they’ve got to put to the side their differences — at least to extent to defeat al-Qaeda and not have Iran come in and take over their country. Those are all good signs. We need to capitalize on that and the sooner that we can, the sooner we can leave there for the most part.

JB: Is it over when we leave Iraq one way or the other or is there a bigger war we have to win?

FT: It’s not over, unfortunately, when we leave Iraq. The problem with radical Islam will be with us when Iraq is in our rearview mirror. That’s not to say it will be, for awhile to come. But I think that you know we can look forward to substantially getting out of there in the not too distant future if things continue the present course.

But you have the desire on the part of radical Islam to bring western civilization to its knees. Iran for example has labeled us as the Great Satan with Israel being the Little Satan. We know what their plans are for Israel. So all indications are that its going to be long and drawn out and protracted and we’re going to have to do a lot of things better.

We’re going to have to deal with conventional type threats to our country as we have faced in times past. We’ve got to be prepared to deal with issues such as Taiwan which could bubble up at any time. That’s off our radar screen now. We’re going to have to decide as a nation how to handle that and ultimately how far we’re willing to go there.

But mostly we have unconventional threats from unconventional types of people. It’s based on a religious zealotry, it is suicidal and it’s relentless and they have access to weaponry that can be devastating. It’s a different kind of enemy, a different kind of threat. We can be under biological attack for a substantial period of time without even knowing we’ve been attacked. Then you have the issue of tracing the attacker. When you have outlaw nations and then you have terrorist groups and then you have the potential for interrelationship between the two. It’s a very complex dangerous world we live in and its not gonna be solved by Iraq one way or the other.

JB: Back in 1977, then-President Carter said “We’ve reaffirmed America’s commitment to human rights as a fundamental tenant of our foreign policy.” Ms. Clinton said in an article she wrote in Foreign Affairs just a couple weeks ago, she seemed to be channeling Jimmy Carter. She said, “We must once again make human rights a centerpiece of US foreign policy and a core element of our conception of democracy.” Would you disagree with that? Are you going to have a foreign policy under a Thompson administration that basically puts human rights over everything?

FT: First of all, I have no idea what she’s saying

JB: Most people don’t

FT: What does that mean? I mean, we’ve seen how she reacts when she gets that second, thrice and fourth question. She accuses people of ganging up on her and ‘gotcha politics.’

JB: As someone who grew up in the Bronx, I can tell you, she ain’t no New Yorker.

FT: You know, we have got to do whatever we can for the cause of human rights but most important thing that we can do is remain the beacon for hope and freedom that we’ve always been in this country for other people and be an inspiration for other people. To say that we’re going to put that as number one on our agenda is being simply disingenuous. We don’t. Look at our relationship with China. We are becoming more and more economically interdependent with China in terms of their being once our major creditors. You know we’ve got our trade situation with them and we’re important to each other in that regard and they are still lacking in basic rights for their citizens in most important respects. And they support tyrants around the world who are engaged in terrible activities against their own citizens and so forth. So we’ve got to be honest about what we’re doing. We’ve got to push where we can, when we can. And be an example to people around the world. But we are dealing everyday with people who are violators of human rights and we might as well acknowledge it.

JB: We did a little poll amongst conservatives. You came out 6 points ahead of your nearest competitor. I think there’s a hunger for conservatism in a Presidential candidate. How are you going to close the deal with American conservatives?

FT: First of all I appreciate that very much from your readers. As far as going forward is concerned, I’m simply going to talk about what I believe in. I’m not going around and trying to particularly focus on anybody. I know that’s not a politician’s way of going about doing things but I said it from the very beginning, this is gonna be a little different.

The fact of the matter is, I have been a proud conservative ever since the first day I stepped into political activity when I picked up Barry Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative” in college. I’ve had the opportunity to put my beliefs into action and years in the US Senate, when I participated in cutting taxes and passing welfare reform and passing a balanced budget and fighting for conservative common sense judges who would apply the law and not make up and social policy as they went along. And a strong national defense.

And my record speaks for itself. And I put that up against anybody else’s record. I hear all this invoking of the name Ronald Reagan. And it makes me think , you know you can almost make a direct correlation between the number of times a fella invokes the Reagan name and the distance that he’s put between himself and Reagan in times past. So people are smart enough to figure that out. I don’t have any magic words for ‘em. I’m just gonna talk about the same way I’ve been talkin’ my whole career and I think that will appeal to conservatives. And I think that will appeal to the moderate cross-section of American and that’s the way we win.

JB: I take it you think you’re the best guy to beat Hillary. Can you, will you, be tough enough to go at her like maybe Tim Russert did?

FT: Of course the answer to that is yes. Now I’m not fixated on Hillary. Now that may be against the gospel for a lot of Republicans. But we’d better keep our eye on the ball.

Our issue is our relationship with the American people. Our fortunes do not rise and fall based on the personality of one person over on the Democratic side. We need to worry about sticking to our principles. And I would invite the American people to do this. Of course a Hillary Clinton Administration would be bad for America.

But they also need to think about this: when our worst enemy is sittin’ down at the table trying to figure out if our leadership is tough, if our leadership is serious or our leadership is credible when they tell them what they are going to do, when they are trying to figure out how much they can get away with in terms of endangering our country for their own purposes. Who do Americans want sitting on the other side of the table? Now that’s the question, that’s the grownup question that Republicans and Democrats alike need to ask themselves. And that’s the one that I want them to think about. You know we’ll deal with Hillary when the times comes, if that’s what fate has in store. But let’s keep our eye on the ball.

JB: Senator, I appreciate your call. I’m hoping we can get together for a full interview soon. Thanks again and thanks for you hard work.