Duncan (R-Tenn.) is considered one of the most conservative members of Congress
– the American Conservative Union gives
him a lifetime score of 88 out of 100. But that doesn't mean Duncan always goes
along with the Bush administration. In fact, when it comes to foreign policy,
Duncan has been one of the most outspoken critics of the White House. In 2002,
Duncan was one of just six
House Republicans to vote against the authorization to go to war with Iraq.
At the time, Duncan argued that Iraq posed no threat to the United States' national
security and that the authorization to go to war was unconstitutional.
Since then, Duncan has continued to be vocal in his criticism of the Bush administration's
policies in Iraq. On May 10, he was one of
only two Republicans to vote for a bill introduced by Massachusetts Democrat
Jim McGovern that would have provided for the withdrawal of all troops and military
contractors from Iraq within 90 days. And on May 15 he delivered a floor
speech making the case that the war in Iraq is anything but conservative.
"It is sure not traditional conservatism to carry on a war in a country
that did not attack us, did not even threaten to attack us, and was not even
capable of attacking us," he said, "and it is sure not traditional
conservatism to believe in world government even if run by the U.S."
The next day, Duncan sat down to offer his take on the South Carolina Republican
debate held the night before. In the following interview, Duncan focuses on
the heated exchange between
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former
New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani
over Paul's statement that the 9/11 attacks may have in part been the result
– the CIA's term for the unintended consequences of the United States' foreign
policy. He then discusses what the leading Republican candidates' embrace of
the Bush administration's foreign policy means for the future of the party and
for the future of conservatism.
CD: In the South Carolina Republican debate, Congressman Ron Paul was denounced
for arguing that the United States' foreign policy in the Mideast provided motivation
for al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attack. He argues the U.S. should take a noninterventionist
approach to international affairs. So what do you make of the vitriolic response
Rep. Paul received from the other candidates for stating what used to be a more
popular conservative position?
JD: Well, you're exactly right. The traditional conservative position
on foreign policy is a noninterventionist foreign policy, and Congressman Paul
has been a very forceful advocate of that. What he should have said, in my opinion,
is that nothing that we've ever done or not done could ever justify the killing
of innocent people such as occurred in New York City. On the other hand, at
some point we're going to have to realize that we can't afford to keep getting
involved in every religious, ethnic, and political dispute around the world.
It's unconstitutional and unaffordable, and it goes against every traditional
conservative position I've ever known.
CD: I was watching every candidate come on to talk to Sean Hannity afterwards,
basically to denounce Ron Paul and his foreign policy views. What does that
portend for the future of the Republican Party if they're going to condemn a
foreign policy that they traditionally embraced?
JD: Well, it's almost impossible to take on the bully pulpit of the
White House and the top-rated [conservative] national TV and radio shows. They've
wanted to support the president, and I've supported him on far more than I've
opposed him on. But President Bush, when he ran in 2000, he came out very strongly
against nation-building, which of course is exactly what we've been doing over
in Iraq. And he said very forcefully, and many times, that we needed a more
humble foreign policy. And I agree with that, because the GAO tells us we've
got at present about $50 trillion dollars in unfunded future pension liabilities
in addition to our almost $9 trillion national debt. And there's no way we're
going to be able to pay our military pensions and our Social Security and all
these other promises we've made to the American people if we keep trying to
run the whole world. It's unconstitutional and unaffordable.
CD: But what's going to happen to the Republican Party if all the major
contenders for the nomination are basically embracing the Bush foreign policy
of the last seven years?
JD: Well the political pendulum swings, both nationally and within parties.
And so temporarily the so-called neoconservatives, who I don't believe are conservative
at all, are in control of the White House and the party. But I think what it
is, I think a great majority of the people in the party have not realized that
what they're doing is going against every traditional conservative and traditional
Republican view that the party has traditionally espoused. I remember when I
was a teenager reading something from the Republican National Committee that
said that Democrats start wars, Republicans end them. I sent my first paycheck
as a bag boy at the A&P grocery store when I was 16 years old as contribution
to the Barry Goldwater campaign. I'm very comfortable in the Republican Party,
and I don't mind being in the minority on certain things at this point because
I think that my views – I think the majority of Republicans will come back around
to this position, but it just may take awhile.
CD: Is there any Republican candidate right now that you think best embodies
the spirit of Barry Goldwater?
JD: Well you know, here's the thing: President Reagan used to say that
if you found somebody in politics you could agree with 80 percent of the time,
that was about as good as it could get. I've added to that that even husbands
and wives and best friends disagree sometimes. So I've never expected everybody
to agree with me 100 percent of the time. And I can tell you that as far as
I'm concerned, our worst is better than their best. I would support any of those
Republican candidates who participated in that debate last night over anybody
that the Democrats have running. Because even though I wouldn't agree with them
on everything, and I would disagree with them on a neoconservative foreign policy,
a neocon foreign policy – I'd rather call it neocon because I think it's more
like a con game really, but anyway – you know still, I don't have any problems
supporting whoever becomes the Republican nominee for president because I would
agree with them probably on fiscal policy and taxes and domestic concerns and
social issues a lot more than I would anybody that the Democrats would nominate.
CD: But if a Republican nominee proposes an interventionist foreign policy,
isn't that going to translate into "big government" here at home?
JD: That's exactly right, and that's one of the main reasons why I've
taken the position that I've taken. You know, I think the foreign policy that
we're following, and the policy on homeland security, is just leading to a great
expansion of federal power. I opposed the creation of the Homeland Security
Department. I've opposed the PATRIOT Act. Because to me those things are leading
to more and more and bigger and bigger and much more expansive government that
I don't think we can afford. And it's making our federal government more powerful
and more intrusive, invading the privacy of many of our citizens and so forth.
And it goes against every traditional Republican, traditional conservative view
that I've ever known. So I'm going to try and remain consistent to what I believe
are traditional conservative viewpoints.
CD: In an ideal world, who should be the Republican nominee?
JD: Well, I'm not going to… I'm supporting Fred Thompson
because I've known Fred Thompson for many years, and I'm supporting him because
most of his views are very consistent with mine and he has the best chance.
I'm a good friend of Congressman Paul's and his views are probably closer to
mine than maybe all of Fred Thompson's, but Congressman Paul does not have a
chance to win the nomination. And that's no criticism of him, it's just that
there's just not a majority of the Republican Party that's going to support
somebody like him at this point. So I'm going to continue to speak out on the
issues, but who I support for president is almost meaningless. Because congressional
endorsements can make a difference if you have two unknown candidates running
for some local office, but they're almost meaningless in presidential races.
People make up their own minds about presidents. And I'll be very comfortable
supporting whoever the Republican nominee is. I endorsed Mitt Romney earlier
because I didn't know Fred Thompson was going to get in the race. And he understands
that if Fred Thompson gets in the race and stays in it that I would be supporting
Fred, but I'll support Mitt Romney if he gets the nomination.
CD: Despite the foreign policy objections?
CD: A lot of conservatives would argue that foreign policy is the most important
issue and everything else flows from that. So how can you support someone whose
views on foreign policy are so different?
JD: Now, I'll tell you this. I have very strong views on a lot of issues
and I try to express them in not a hateful or mean way. And I almost never,
and I try to never, attack anybody because I believe I can express my views
without doing that. Now, you know I'm comfortable with my foreign policy views
and you know if I had to choose what to me is the most important issue at this
point in time – now a few years ago it would have been probably some domestic
issue, taxes or fiscal policy, and I'm not sure, even now I think the biggest
problem that we face is all these unfunded future pension liabilities and the
fiscal condition of the federal government and all this debt. That probably
is going to do more harm to our people in years ahead. But probably the issue
that I'm most concerned about is what I think is our foreign policy. I've stated
my views; I did a five-minute special order on the floor yesterday. But I'm
not a single-issue person, I never have been. I'm against abortion, but if somebody
who was in favor of abortion got the Republican nomination and I felt like I
agreed with them on 75 percent or 80 percent of the other issues, I would vote
for them. I just never have been a single-issue person. I grew up in a political
family, and nobody agrees on everything. I mean, I don't agree with myself 100
percent of the time. Sometimes I change my mind and wish I'd voted a different
way than maybe I'd voted on some bill two or three years earlier.
CD: If the Republican nominee embraces a neoconservative foreign policy…
JD: I'll be very disappointed, but not surprised.
CD: But with public support for the war as low as it is, how does that bode
for the Republican candidate in '08? If Republicans lose, will that lead to
a change in the way the party approaches foreign policy?
JD: Let me explain it this way. You know, probably President Bush, I
guess he gets very angry with anybody who opposes what he's done in Iraq. He
should be getting angry at the neocons that got him into that in the first place.
Because that's what's turned off most of the independents who otherwise would
have voted for us. It's done, in my opinion, three really bad things. One, it's
hurt the Republican Party and the conservative philosophy in which I believe
very deeply, and it's hurt us very badly – and you can see that in President
Bush's 26 percent or 28 percent favorable ratings. Because even many of those
people are not enthusiastic about Iraq, they're just polling that way because
they don't want to be considered on the same side as Ted Kennedy or Nancy Pelosi
on anything. But worse than what it's done to our party is what it's done to
our country, because it has greatly harmed our reputation throughout the world,
and it's hurt our relations with other countries, particularly those in the
Middle East. We should be friends with Israel, but we should also try to be
friends with all those other countries in the Middle East, too. And then the
worse thing it's done, worst of all, is all those thousands of young people
who've been killed or horribly wounded. And so, that's just the way I feel about