News: An Interview with Long Island Congressman Peter King
By Raymond Keating
Long Island Sentinel: Politics and Society
March 27, 2009
U.S. Rep. Peter King is the lone Republican member of Congress from Long Island. He spoke with Long Island Sentinel on March 25 about some key foreign policy, economic and political issues.
Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo
Sentinel: Since you are the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, what’s going on in the war on terror these days? Are you feeling good about where the Obama administration is on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran? What’s your take?
King: Well, first of all, we’re not allowed to say “war on terror” anymore. We’re talking about manmade disasters. The administration has basically taken the word “terror” out of its lexicon because they say that induces fear, a climate of fear and loathing, so we can’t use “terror.” To me, that shows a mindset on their part, which I think, is disturbing.
But now, as far as specifics, I think the President is actually doing the right thing on Iraq, certainly better than I would have thought. His policy so far is not much different than what John McCain’s would have been. It’s going to slowly withdraw troops, and in August of 2010, we’ll still have 50,000 troops there. So, this is very, very different from what he was saying certainly at the beginning of his campaign, and throughout most of his campaign. On that score, I give the President credit.
On Afghanistan, he is increasing the number of troops. I hope that if he sends the troops there that he does what General Patraeus did in Iraq, and that’s let the troops actually fight, and not have one hand tied behind their backs, the way they had been for several years in Iraq before the surge policy began. So, the jury is still out on Afghanistan, but so far so good.
As far as in this country, I think he made a terrible mistake in saying that he is going to close Guantanamo within the year. It’s a mistake for two reasons. One, just symbolically, the President said he was going to close Guantanamo and then in the same paragraph said the United States would no longer torture. In terms of torture, he was basically admitting to the world, or acknowledging to the world, that the United States does torture, and that Guantanamo was part of some torture policy, which is totally wrong. It’s a cave in to the left; it’s a cave in to Europe; it’s a cave in to political correctness.
I’ve been to Guantanamo. The prisoners, the detainees, in Guantanamo are treated better than prisoners at, I would say, almost any American prison that I’ve observed. And now what are we going to do with about 240 detainees left there? These are the hardest of the hard core, and I don’t think people want them brought to the United States. If we send them overseas, if we find countries that will accept them, the danger is that they’d be kept just a matter of months and then released. As it is, 60 detainees we’ve released have come back on the battlefield. One of them is the head of al Qaeda in southern Afghanistan.
Also, the President when he was on “60 Minutes” the other night said something else that was disturbing. That under President Bush, terrorists were not brought justice. Actually, quite a few al Qaeda leaders and members were killed. Others are in prison. This shows, I think, when the President says not brought to justice, he is talking about them getting civilian trials, which is the mistake that Bill Clinton made. Before September 11, he was treating it as a criminal justice issue rather than an issue of war. It’s not our obligation to apply a justice system to enemy combatants. Certainly, the Japanese, the Germans, the Italian prisoners we had during World War II, we kept them in prison camps without giving them trials, without producing evidence against them. And these are even worse with al Qaeda, these are enemy combatants captured in the battlefield.
Obama and Iran
Sentinel: What about the President’s outreach – I’m not quite sure what word to use – on Iran? What’s your take on what he’s been doing there?
King: He is giving the false impression that we have not tried to reach out to Iran before. We have. We’ve done it often privately, to some extent publicly. But you really run the risk if you reach out to Iran so openly, you give them the opportunity to turn you down, to reject you. They often look upon it as a sign of weakness. Now, the President is taking a gamble. He’s the commander in chief. I believe in having a strong president when it comes to foreign policy, so he’s entitled to give this a try. But I’m very skeptical of it, that Iran is going to respond to these public entreaties. Generally, that’s something done privately, and it usually is accompanied by a threat – the carrot and the stick.
It’s only six or seven weeks into his administration. I don’t want to be jumping the gun. I’m willing to give him the opportunity on Iran. I think it’s wrong. I don’t think it’s going to work, but I hope it does.
Bailouts and the Economy
Sentinel: You’re on the Financial Service Committee as well. What’s your view on the Wall Street, banks, credit crunch, bailouts situation. Are we pointed in the right direction on this? Are the taxpayers protected in any way?
King: I voted for the initial bailout last September because I was convinced by Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke that the American economy and the world economy were about to collapse. And we’re not going to know for several years if that was entirely accurate. I thought we couldn’t afford to take a chance at the time, and the economy has been kept afloat for the last six months. But having said that, we now cannot continue to throw money after money. We can’t just continue with bailouts. We have to get much more accountability as to what’s going on. We need more restrictions put on how the money is spent.
The economy is not going to survive if we just keep throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at the problem. We have to get the private sector more engaged, and we can’t look at it in a vacuum. We have to try to bring the economy back. You don’t do that by massive increases in spending. You don’t do it by raising taxes, which is what the Obama administration wants to do.
I believe we should be cutting taxes, especially on small businesses, which are the generators of jobs in the country, and extending the Bush tax cuts. This concept of raising taxes on upper income people – you know John Kennedy was the one who turned the tide on that when he said that a rising tide lifts all boats. He cut taxes in all brackets – from the top to the bottom.
I thought we were getting away from class warfare, but it appears the Obama administration is going back in that direction, which will be very counter-productive because the people we’re taxing are the ones who create the jobs. They’re the ones who expand businesses, and they’re the ones who will bring us out of the recession.
Labor Union Legislation
Sentinel: You were a supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act in the past, and now you oppose it – is that right? If you switched, why?
King: I was in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. I did feel that there were companies around the country who were making it difficult for unions to organize. The economy was doing well. I thought this would be a step towards leveling the playing field.
Having said that, given the economy and the situation it is in right now, the last thing we need is to have a labor-management dispute. There are too many businesses on the precipice of collapse, and so I am not supporting the Employee Free Choice Act.
I can tell you it probably will never even come to vote in the House because Nancy Pelosi is sensing the sands shifting on this. Many of her Democratic members don’t want to vote on it. So, she is saying the House won’t vote on it until the Senate does. I don’t believe the Senate has the votes even to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote.
But I thought it was important for the unions, who I had supported in the past, to know that I am now opposed to it because of the economic situation that we’re in.
Sentinel: Finally, are you working on another novel?
King: I am retired by popular demand. I could say two things. I could say I’m not writing any more because nobody wants me to. Or, I could say that I’m living off my royalties from the first three books, but that would be totally dishonest. Maybe after I retire from Congress, or get thrown out of Congress, or whatever, I’ll be a writer because as I’ve seen from some newspaper columnists, almost anyone can be a writer.
Sentinel: You’re absolutely right.
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