An Interview With Tony Blankley

by John Hawkins | January 16, 2009 9:16 am

I was pleased to get an opportunity to interview Tony Blankley[1] about his new book, American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century[2].

While I don’t agree with everything Tony had to say, most particularly on the draft, I think that he raised a lot of worthy points and made a number of excellent suggestions.

What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!

In the book, one of things you call for is a reinstatement of the draft. Setting aside the fact that would be extremely unpopular on the left and right and would probably make using the military more difficult, we probably don’t need that much manpower. Is that really something we should really pursue?

Well, if we don’t need that much manpower, then I would agree with you. I think clearly we already need more manpower than we are capable of raising….I will give you three examples.

First of all, the surge, when Bush asked for 20,000 to 30,000 more troops, his former advisers told him that we didn’t have 20,000 to 30,000 more troops. He decided to go against their technical advice — and Presidents don’t like to go against the technical advice of their senior generals and they managed to deliver the troops with longer deployments, by putting more pressure on families, which means more divorces and more difficulties at home, and they were just barely able to find the men. That may have been the decisive action of the Iraq war that turned it from a losing to a winning proposition. (The idea that we as a nation of 300 million people didn’t have enough troops to win a war with a nation of 24 million people, tells you about the shortage.)

Second example: Obama is calling for more troops for Afghanistan. He may well be correct in that. He believes and a lot of people believe that we have to take the troops out of Iraq because we don’t have the extra 30,000 to bring there. To withdraw troops prematurely from what is turning into a winning effort in Iraq in order to go to the next place shows you the shortcoming.

Let me give you, to me, the biggest argument and that is the almost 4500 troops that have been killed in Iraq and more thousands than that that have been seriously injured. All of that came after we defeated the Republican Guard. Rumsfeld was correct that we only needed about 80,000 troops to knock off the Republican Guard. They were wrong to think that we could occupy that country with only those 80,000 or 100,000 troops. In Germany, after WW2, we flooded the zone. When the 80,000 elite forces finished their fighting, we needed to flood the zone with 300,000 or 400,000 ground occupying troops. Every village, every main intersection, every building guarded — the resistance would never have arisen. We would have saved 4000 lives if we’d had enough troops. We sacrificed lives.

One of the reasons we lost lives to the roadside bombs was that we did something we never did in any previous war: we sent our troops into the field where there were likely to be bombs and they didn’t have mine detectors in front of them. Now, I have met with young men who lost their legs because we didn’t have enough troops to clear the zone before they went through. So, their vehicles were blown up and their legs were blown off.

This was a relatively small war. Now, what happens if the Jihadis overthrow the Pakistani government — a very unstable government. …They have nuclear weapons. If we want to stop the Jihadis from getting nuclear weapons, we’d have to go into Pakistan and try to stop that. We don’t have remotely the number of troops to do that.

Moreover, as the years unfold, according to the intelligence community — the day before I sent my manuscript to the printer — we’re likely to have resource wars over water and oil in the coming decades. China already has a lot of troops in Sudan guarding their oil fields right now.

So, I think it’s obvious that we can’t raise enough troops by the voluntary method. I’ve got a young son, a new 2nd Lieutenant in the Army — I’ve met his friends, …I’ve talked with the generals, and I know how wonderful the volunteer service is, but there just aren’t enough of them.

You’ve called for pragmatic limits on civil liberties. What sort of pragmatic limits?

Well, I was very specific. It has to do with reporting in the newspapers of war plans, ongoing covert operations — we saw another example of it Sunday. The New York Times reported that while President Bush had blocked Israel from bombing Iran, he had started a covert operation to sabotage the Iranian nuclear system…

Yeah, that was absolutely outrageous…

Now, what’s more important than trying to stop a madman from getting nuclear weapons and yet, they’re able to publish that. Now, that used to be called sedition.

…Well, let me ask you: under the current laws we have, why shouldn’t it still be called sedition? It puzzles me — and maybe you can answer this — why do you think the Bush Administration has been so extremely reluctant to go after the people who are leaking this incredibly sensitive classified data to the press?

I can guess — my guess is that…leak investigations are very tricky. …Watergate started as a leak investigation. It gets out of hand. The problem with only going after government employees — and I am completely in favor of going after government employees who leak classified information about national security — but, if you only do that, you don’t deter it.

I’ve been in Washington 30 years and leaking information is pretty easy in this town. What’s not so easy is to print it and not notice that you’ve printed it. If the New York Times and the reporter who reported it, the publisher, the owners, and the editors were prosecuted for giving that information to the public, it wouldn’t matter who leaked that information.

Admittedly, on the internet, you can leak information out there and if you go after a website, they can set up a new website. But, anybody who publishes this information, I think, has committed a crime and if it’s not a crime under the sedition laws that are on the books, then it should be. But, you have to have a public willing to support those prosecutions or a President and an Attorney General may not be willing to go against the fury they’d get from the media if they ever proposed such a thing. …That’s what we did during WW2. I think it was perfectly reasonable. FDR was a great liberal and he didn’t have any hesitation about censoring war information.

In the lead up to the Iraq war, we saw in both the Washington Post and New York Times what was reported as, and I believe actually was, actual war plans. Immediately before the war, they published what our plans were. American troops were likely to be killed as a result of that and there was no legal consequence. I think there should be.

I agree with you 100%. A lot of people have suggested sensible changes for the country. Any conservative could probably name off 3 or 4. However, the big problem seems to be that our government seems extremely reluctant to make real changes unless there is a major crisis and as often as not, in that situation, they make the wrong change. So, as a practical matter, what should we be doing to create positive change for the country?

Well, that’s an awfully big question…

I know, I know. But, your book covers a lot of awfully big subjects.

Let me approach it a couple of different ways.

First of all…and I say this as someone who started off as a Libertarian. I was a youth coordinator for Barry Goldwater. I worked on all of Ronald Reagan’s campaigns, governor and President, and thought I was part of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Revolution. I served on Reagan’s White House staff for 6 years and was Newt Gingrich’s press secretary.

Until Sept. 11th, I considered myself a Libertarian and considered the greatest threat to be an overbearing U.S. government. After Sept. 11, I started realizing that there were some things that were more threatening to me than a big U.S. government or that I may owe something to the civilization that has given me all that I have.

I think that what has happened in the last 30 or 40 years is that we have not forgotten at all what rights we have — whether it’s the right to be a 96 year old and get comprehensive health care subsidized by our fellow citizens in the last months of our lives….I just went through, with my dad, he had been healthy until he was 92, never had a dollar’s expense for himself or the government, but in the last three years of his life, God only knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent between Medicare, insurance, our out of pocket — to keep a man who had been vigorous, but lost that vigor, alive for just a few more months.

Is that really a right we have or should we show a little more forbearance in clamoring for every last buck we can get? I think we need to start thinking a little bit about what we owe our country. It goes back to Jack Kennedy’s famous phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Does the ACLU have to assert every last inch of every possible right, even when it goes against the general interests of our society? I think not.

I don’t think being physically in the United States, legally here, and being a citizen is simply a geographic expression. I think it’s also a moral proposition and that citizens have some duties.

So, one way for the public to think about what they want of government policy and their own responsibilities is if you do a little bit more for your society, you won’t force the government to start mandating things that we ought to be doing voluntarily.

You talk a lot about oil shale drilling and nuclear energy in the book. Tell the people reading this interview why this country should really be investing a lot of resources into that.

Well, I think this is a terribly important issue. Certainly everyone of the center and right, and even some people who are liberals, are in favor of energy independence.

Almost no politician….will say what they would do to get to that point. Because we have become dependent on foreign oil, we transfer almost a trillion dollars overseas, maybe a little less than that with the price of oil down…much of it going to the Middle-East, where it comes back to us in the form of terrorism. It goes to Venezuela, where it comes back to us in the form of Hugo Chavez being empowered to do unconstructive things.

…Also, the money is not here in America, to be spent by Americans on our economy. The money goes abroad. We can, in fact, become energy independent through shale oil. I have talked with people doing experimental work, various economists, and geologists who specialize in petroleum geology and there is no question that there are at least 1.8 trillion barrels of shale oil in the Rocky Mountains, most of it Colorado and some in Wyoming and Utah. In 10-15 years, it could be produced at an industrial strength level.

The trouble is that right now, the price of extracting it is judged to be as high as $80 a barrel. Only 6 months ago, the price of oil was $140 a barrel and now it’s around $40 a barrel. Oil companies will not invest the vast billions of dollars to extract the oil because they are not confident that when they finish doing that, that the price of oil (will be sufficient to recoup their investment). So, I argue, even though I am a free marketeer and believe in free markets most of the time, that we need to do for shale oil what we have historically done for grain — that is, guarantee the investors a price that guarantees them a reasonable return on their investment. The result of us doing it with grain is that we are the grain producers of the planet. We have not only fed ourselves, but fed much of the world and made a lot of money in the process. If we would guarantee that reasonable price — and I have some free market friends who don’t like it — then the American oil companies can start investing.

There is a political power that comes with it, too. You have seen Russia using their natural gas imports to Western Europe as a device to influence policy. If we become a net exporter of oil, as we have been and could be again, we could increase our influence and that would make it less likely that young Americans would die fighting wars.

So, that’s my argument for shale oil and a slightly non-market method of doing it. It doesn’t require the government to fund the process, just to guarantee a reasonable return on the investment.

You talk about international alliances and diplomacy in the book. However, the UN is almost entirely non-functional, NATO isn’t much better, and most of our traditional European allies seem to lack the will and/or capacity to deal with the challenges we have to face in the world. So, how should we approach international alliances and diplomacy?

I have a chapter on foreign policy and I try to chart a path between isolationism, which I think is just not a practical policy in the world in which we live….We have to be out in the world, managing it for our own safety. However, I’m also not for unnecessary adventurism. I believe in democracy and I hope countries go democratic, but I don’t believe Americans should be going all over the world fighting just to create democracies. Particularly in the Middle-East, between Pakistan and Turkey, free elections will elect Islamist regimes. We saw what happened on the Gaza Strip: they elected Hamas. So, foreign policy needs to be international, but practical, and we need to act in our own interests.

Now, treaties that are in our interest, we should enter. We always have. …What we are in danger of, and what I am very afraid the Obama administration is going to do, is to start giving away our sovereignty on things like the International Criminal Court, like the Law of the Sea Treaty, and then dangerously in all kind of climate legislation that is likely to come down to giving up the right sovereignly rule of America to an international body and I am pretty fanatically opposed to that.

I completely agree with our liberal friends, when they say we need diplomacy rather than war fighting. Nobody wants to fight an unnecessary war. I think the best way to be diplomatically successful is to have a military that is so powerful that it supports our diplomacy. People are more likely to agree with us if the consequence of not agreeing with us is our action. A strong military makes smart diplomacy possible.

Tony, that’s the interview. I really appreciate your taking the time…

Well thank you, I go to your website regularly and I will appreciate seeing it.

Any other blogs that you read regularly? Feel free to name off a few. We’ll throw them in the interview.

I read a lot of blogs. I go to Hot Air[3]…I go to Instapundit[4], NRO[5]. I love The Corner[6] at NRO. I check the other side. I check the Daily Kos[7] and The Huffington Post[8] just to see what they’re saying about us. I go to Atlas Shrugs[9], I go to The Anchoress[10]…you know that blog?

Oh yeah.

It’s a Christian woman, I think it’s called Anchoress, and they were women in the middle-ages, sealed up in walls next to churches, and they lived there, were very religious, and they sort of peeked out and watched people pray. That was their life. This woman is, I think, writes a very intelligent, Christian blog that I like.

It’s getting richer and richer. It’s a funny thing, I get all the papers lined up on my desk in the morning and at the end of the day, I’ve read everything I need to read in the papers and I’ve never opened them because I tend to live on the internet.

Thank you, Tony!

  1. Tony Blankley:
  2. American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century:
  3. Hot Air:
  4. Instapundit:
  5. NRO:
  6. The Corner:
  7. Daily Kos:
  8. The Huffington Post:
  9. Atlas Shrugs:
  10. The Anchoress:

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