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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

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BLITZER: You'd have a hard time finding two lawmakers here in Washington farther apart on the political spectrum than Democratic Congressman Barney Frank and Republican Congressman Ron Paul, but now they are teaming up big time to call for substantial cuts in U.S. military spending.

They write this in a joint article. "We may not agree on what to do with the estimated $1 trillion in savings, but we do agree that nothing either of us cares deeply about will be possible if we do not begin to face this issue now." Representatives Frank and Paul are joining us together from their respective states.

Congressmen, thanks very much for coming in. How did you guys team up to call for this massive cut in U.S. military spending, Congressman Paul?

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Well, the two of us have talked about this over the years, but actually Barney was motivated to come to me and ask me about this, about setting up a commission to do the study and set out a program. And it is not going to happen tomorrow. It is a 10-year program. And he asked me if I'd be interested in doing a little bit more work.

And I obviously agreed to do that and I think it is a great idea, because that is what I have been arguing for a long time. And I'm always looking for an opportunity to bring progressive Democrats together with some conservative libertarian types, because there are places where we can agree. And I think this is a very important place to start.

BLITZER: And let's talk about some of the specifics that you have in mind, Congressman Frank. For example, you want the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, out of Iraq, but you also want U.S. troops out of Germany, out of Japan, out of South Korea, and you think if you start doing this, together with eliminating some expensive military systems, you can save $1 trillion in U.S. tax-payer money over the next 10 years, is that right?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Absolutely. What Ron Paul and I are saying, and we have worked together on some other issues, we've both been defenders of people's right to make their own choices without the government dictating to them in a number of areas, whether we think the choices are wise or not.

Leaving aside both Iraq and Afghanistan -- now both Ron and I opposed the war in Iraq and it seems to me that the argument for us staying in Iraq solely to mediate the electoral disputes among the various political parties and religious groups in Iraq has no value.

But over and above Iraq and Afghanistan, you know, NATO was a wonderful accomplishment in 1949. In the years since, Western Europe has gotten strong, the military threat to Western Europe, the Soviet Union, has disappeared. We continue to subsidize the budgets of Western Europe.

There was a degree of interventionism in American foreign policy, the notion that we must be the superpower and we have to intervene everywhere, that Ron Paul and I both think makes no sense. We are committed to defending America's legitimate strategic interests, but we have got a military establishment that has been -- it's not their fault, it's the fault of the political leadership, projected into the worldwide situation far beyond our legitimate military needs.

BLITZER: Here is what the president of the United States said the other day, Congressman Paul, in justifying why the United States right now has nearly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. I will read it to you. We don't have the clip.

PAUL: OK.

BLITZER: "Our nation is at war, we face a very tough fight in Afghanistan, but Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks, we persist, and preserve. We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan society from within and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world."

You don't buy that, do you?

PAUL: No. As a matter of fact, I did a speech last week -- a five-minute speech on the House floor, it was called "The War that Is not a War." And I made the point, it was not a war, it wasn't declared. How can it be a war, we are not fighting against a government? We are fighting against a group of people that don't have planes or tanks or ships or missiles or anything.

It is an insurgency. And the insurgency is all because we are over there. They don't like foreigners, and we were part of their insurgency when the Russians were there and the Soviets were there. We joined Osama bin Laden and we joined them in trying to get rid of them. At that time they were called the mujahedeen and now they are called the Taliban.

No. It makes no sense whatsoever, it's not in the interest of our national security. Even our CIA now says there are very few if any al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They've chased them all over to Pakistan. Where are you going to chase them to? Take over Pakistan? Then Yemen and then Somalia? We just don't need to be the world's policeman. I think we are digging a hole for ourselves.

BLITZER: But, Congressman Frank, the argument is that if the U.S. pulls out 100,000 troops or whatever the U.S. has right now from Afghanistan, the Taliban will almost certainly take over and recreate the situation that existed before 9/11, allowing al Qaeda to come back in and train and...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... their plans against the United States.

FRANK: I have two responses, Wolf. First of all, you are focusing much too much on Afghanistan. And if you read our letter, we say we are talking about making reductions on a worldwide basis in wealthy nations, Marines in Japan, troops in Germany, other than Afghanistan. That is a separate but legitimate debate.

My own view is that the ability that we might have had to win in Afghanistan -- and I voted for it originally, was dissipated when we then made a major effort in Iraq.

And Ron Paul makes a very important point. If we are to be told that, well, we have to do this to keep this from being a base for terrorism, well, Sudan will be a base for terrorism, Somalia, Yemen, other countries. Frankly, if we were to withdraw the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and spend about 2 percent of what we spend on those troops in bolstering national security here at home, we would be safer.

But, again, I want to stress, even if people want to stay in Afghanistan, and I think that it is time to withdraw, there are tens and tens of billions of dollars being spent in military scenarios that have nothing to do with Afghanistan, nothing to do with terrorism.

I wish you could defeat them with nuclear submarines, because then we would have beat it, because we have all of the nuclear submarines. The major part of our weapons spending and our military commitment overseas has nothing to do with terrorist and little to do with making us safer.

BLITZER: We are only just beginning, but very quickly, Congressman Paul, why are you and maybe Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican Party, almost basically the only major Republican figures who are saying what you are saying? Because almost all of the other Republican leaders totally disagree with you?

PAUL: Well, who is going to define the public leadership? You know, there are several Republicans like Walter Jones and Jimmy Duncan and a few others that are opposed to it too. So there are some others.

But it is true, a large number of Republicans, the other night in a debate, they said, oh, 66 percent of the Republicans agree with the party that we have to stay there forever. Well, I mean, that means that 30-some percent of the Republicans are questioning this.

And, of course, there has been several of us who have been questioning it for a long time. And I make the point that this has been questioned by Republicans, this type of policy for many, many years. I often make the point that George Bush ran on a non- interventionist, humble foreign policy, no policing, in the year 2000, because he was tired of Clinton doing it.

BLITZER: But that was before 9/11.

PAUL: Well -- well, why should a tooth be removed? I mean, I don't think you have to change your mind about foreign policy...

BLITZER: because he is the first one who says that...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on, hold on, guys, hold on, one second. I want to take a break, but I don't want you to leave, because we're going to continue this conversation. I was just going to make the point that President Bush always said that everything for him changed as a result of 9/11, but we will pick up that point.

We are going to continue this conversation. There are plenty of pressing issues that Ron Paul and Barney Frank, by the way, don't necessarily agree on, including how to fix the economy. We are going to weigh in on some other topics as well right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We are back with Democratic Congressman Barney Frank and Republican Congressman Ron Paul.

Congressman Frank, the Pentagon's budget for 2010 almost $700 billion, in your estimation, what should it be?

FRANK: Well, for this year, I would like to cut it about 50. And I want to stress, Wolf, I don't want this argument hijacked. The case that Ron Paul and I are making, along with Representative Walter Jones, a Republican, Ron Wyden, a Democrat, is separate, to a great extent, from Afghanistan.

People can differ about Afghanistan. I voted to go in, I think it is bogged down. But we are talking about useless expenditures which are, for geopolitical reasons that I don't think are valid, in NATO, in Japan.

We had, against the Soviet Union, three ways of dropping thermonuclear weapons on them when we were at the height of this war with them. We have all three: nuclear submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, Strategic Air Command. I want to be very radical and say to the Pentagon, pick two. I don't think you have to worry about the Soviet Union as much.

So I want to make it very clear, we are talking about NATO. NATO was a wonderful idea. It was formed in 1949. We are as far away from NATO as NATO was when it was done in time from the presidency of Grover Cleveland.

NATO has served its purpose. And I don't -- The New York Times had a very interesting article a couple of weeks ago about the extent to which Europe -- Western Europe, wealthy nations, facing no real threat, can afford very, very good expenditures for social welfare, because America...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So basically, what both of you are saying, bring the troops home from Germany, from Japan, from South Korea, bring them home...

BARNEY: Yes.

BLITZER: ... from all over the world. It is a waste of money.

FRANK: No, not all over the world. Excuse me, Wolf, I don't argue in extremes. Not all over the world. There are parts of the world where I think...

BLITZER: Where? FRANK: ... there needs to be -- well, for instance, I do want sea and air power to confront the People's Republic of China. I don't want Taiwan overrun. And I think sea and air power can help with South Korea. But South Korea is larger than North Korea, and can put its own troops in. Fifteen thousand Marines in Okinawa are irrelevant to what we want to do with China.

We're not going to land Marines on the Chinese mainland. So yes, there are parts of the world where our presence would be useful, but -- and I think we have to be very clear that we would be there militarily to confront Iran. But it is not any longer reasonable to have troops virtually everywhere.

The general view is America must be the superpower and be everywhere. And that exacerbates our national security, doesn't help it.

BLITZER: All right. I know you agree with that, Congressman Paul, but give me a number that you think would be realistic from your vantage point for the Pentagon's annual budget.

PAUL: Well, you can't do it in one year, but I think we could probably do it with about 30 percent of what we have if we had a non- interventionist foreign policy. And I agree with Barney on his argument, this project that we are dealing with, and I agreed to join in, it does not deal with bringing troops home with -- who are active in battle in Afghanistan. So that is the case.

But I have also made the case that I want to distinguish between military spending and defense spending. We are mostly talking about some military spending. And Barney makes this very important point that we are subsidizing other rich nations for this, and I think that is very important.

Defense spending is very, very important, I believe in defense. It's just that I think the intervention, as a matter of fact, undermines our defense. And that is where I find the problem.

But, right now, I think that this is, to me, you know, a modest approach, but that is where you start. My goals might be slightly different than his goals, but this is a modest approach that we can agree on.

FRANK: One last point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

FRANK: We could save, I believe, tens of billions of dollars by withdrawing immediately from Iraq as soon as possible. There is no logical military or national security justification. We were told that we were going to pull out of Iraq, but because the Iraqi parliament can't come together on a government, we may have to stay longer.

That just is nonsense and we are spending money on their infrastructure, we are spending money mediating their political situation. So, yes, I believe we could save upwards of $10 billion from what is now planned if we simply said, all right, we now begin an orderly withdrawal from Iraq to protect the troops and then we get out.

BLITZER: Because the president says that combat forces will all be out by the end of August and all U.S. troops will be out by the end of next year. That is not good enough, Congressman Frank?

FRANK: No. You know how much it will cost us? You asked me for a figure? do you know how much it will cost us to keep all of the troops there next year? And if there aren't any combat troops, what are they, crossing guards?

By the way, there is also a problem with the definition of "combat troops," as The New York Times points out. There will be troops there that will be engaged in firefights alongside the Iraqis. You know, the Iraqis don't face an external enemy. The Iraqis ought to be able to deal with it themselves, and if they can't, we got rid of Saddam Hussein, there were never any weapons of mass destruction, but, yes, to keep troops there for another year-and-a-half will probably cost $20 billion.

You want a number? There is one. And I don't understand why we should be paying it.

BLITZER: Have you spoken, Congressman Paul, with the chairman of your party, Michael Steele, since his controversial comments came up?

PAUL: No, I have not spoken to him. I went to his defense because I thought he blurted out the truth and I was very pleased with him, and I wanted to encourage him. Of course, the political pressures are such that these things have to adjust a bit.

But let me tell you, there are a lot of people who agreed with what he said and a lot of Republicans agreed. And I think the non- interventionist foreign policy under the stress of this economy, not only is it a necessity, it makes good common sense that we quit doing this. I think I'm going to win this argument long-term.

Our empire is going to end. Our troops are going to come home. I want them to come home in a more calm, deliberate fashion. But I don't want them coming home like they did in the Soviet system, with a total collapse of the system.

Our empire is going to end because we can't afford it. I mean, we are running up these trillions of trillions of dollars worth of debt. And when you look at the total debt, what we are talking about here, what we're saving over a 10-year period, this is a modest suggestion, and there shouldn't be any reason why anybody should disagree with this.

And I find tremendous support, especially with the young people who are inheriting this budget and this debt. They are sick and tired of it, and they don't want to have any part of all of this foreign fighting and militarism that is going on.

FRANK: And by the way, if...

PAUL: I would just like it to happen a little smoother than what is going to happen if we don't do something.

FRANK: And if you don't do what Ron Paul and I suggest, again, aside from Afghanistan, reducing the thermonuclear arsenal to destroy a non-existent Soviet Union, and letting NATO defend itself, then you are going to have to either have a degree of tax increases that could damage the economy and impinge on people, or make cuts in vital domestic programs that impinge on the quality of life. And I don't understand why we should continue to subsidize Western Europe and Japan, leave aside Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Congressmen, a good discussion. We are going to continue this discussion down the road. Barney Frank, Ron Paul, thanks for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

FRANK: Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you.

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