Stephen Kaye and Gayla Cawley met with Congressman Gibson representing NY's 20th CD and two of his staff on June 11, in our office on Franklin Avenue. The interview covered a number of topics. We here break out a section devoted to the role of the military in our foreign relations.
Gibson sits on the House Armed Services Committee, recognized as a plum appointment because of the power the committee wields over the largest item in the budget, the Department of Defense budget. The House passed a Defense Authorization bill of $642.5 billion earlier this month.
Gibson expressed his strong preference for using diplomacy and persuasion as the first and most important instrument in our relations with other countries. He said the role of the military is that of deterrence. To make the power of deterrence creditable, we have to show the world we mean business when we do become involved in a foreign military engagement like Iraq.
He moved away from normal Republican policy by expressing a strong desire to see the military budget shrink and to see a change in our military policy. He would like to concentrate our forces in the U.S. and bring them home from the many far-flung bases we now occupy throughout the world. He said we have an interest in trade. That would justify our having a strong naval power. But we don't need land forces stationed in hundreds of bases.
"If we better integrated the intelligence community particularly the Special Operations Command, we would continue to do well against Al Qaeda and the existential threat it poses on us," said Gibson. "We're not optimally organized enough to do that. So, when you think differently and when you go through the comprehensive national security establishment and reform, you'll be safer and it will cost less money because the money that we're spending to send our land forces overseas (to maintain it and in some respects help the local economies with countries overseas) we can't afford to do that and there's no evidence that makes us any safer. So, I've been an advocate for this kind of change and we've had some amendments that have come into law."
He recognized that most of the members of the Armed Services Committee are on the committee because they have large bases in their districts. He does not expect the committee to be an instrument of change. When asked whether the committee would voluntarily agree among themselves to forgo all campaign donations from defense contractors to remove the taint that the entire committee is on the payroll of that industry, he shook his head and said campaign reform will take a Constitutional amendment.
Gibson said he had joined with a bi-partisan group of 35 Congressmen to reduce the Defense Bill authorization to what the President had asked for (the House bill adds to the Executive request by $4 billion) but their amendment did not pass. Because the committee is not likely to approve any reform in the way the military does business, he is looking for the House floor to be the instrument of change. He was against the language in the bill about deploying tactical weapons in South Korea. He voted against the bill.
"I think we need to think differently. Let me just say absolutely, with every fiber of my body, I'm for protecting America and our cherished way of life," Gibson said. "But I don't think the way we're doing business right now is getting that done well, and it's most certainly doing it more expensively than we should be doing it."
Although Gibson has a strong military career (he served four combat tours in Iraq as a colonel), he said his primary interest is history which he studied at college and in which he has a PhD degree. He taught history for three years at West Point and they were among his favorite years. At some point, he decided he would rather make history than study it. He says one of his favorite jobs is to host school kids when they visit Congress. He recalled visits by students from both Millbrook High School and the Millbrook School to his office. He likes to visit schools and talk government business so students have a sense of participating in history, something he does regularly. He plans to go back to teaching after he leaves Congress. He said he has limited his own term to eight years if the electorate is willing to have him that long.