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Bruce Fein: Tea Party libertarians must fight for massive cut to military spending and end to Afghan war.

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. A couple of weeks ago at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Ron Paul won the straw poll to be the next nominee for the Republican Party for president. I found that rather interesting, because it seemed to me a lot of people in that room either didn’t understand or certainly don’t agree with Ron Paul’s foreign policy positions, which include closing all foreign American military bases, getting out of the Iraq and Afghan wars, and so on. So to help us understand what’s happening in the Tea Party movement and in terms of conservative and right-wing politics in America, we’re now joined by Bruce Fein. Bruce is a–used to be an associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan. He’s author of the book American Empire: Before the Fall. He’s a co-counsel for the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund. And you’ve often consulted with Ron Paul and worked with his organizations. Thanks for joining us.

BRUCE FEIN, LAWYER AND AUTHOR: Thank you for inviting me.

JAY: Alright. So am I right that in that CPAC conference there’s a lot of people who probably support Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, and yet a majority of them vote for Ron Paul, and they have to be on completely other pages when it comes to foreign policy issues?

FEIN: Well, I think, Paul, that’s partly right, but let’s look at the figures. Mitt Romney received 23 percent of the vote, Ron Paul 30 percent. Sarah Palin was in single digits. There’s no doubt that there’s some philosophical division in CPAC, and it was an open-invitation organization this year. Some boycotted it because they didn’t like a gay group there presenting their view.

JAY: So was there kind of a more of a representation of Ron Paul libertarians than a broad representation of the Tea Party movement, then?

FEIN: No, I wouldn’t necessarily say that. I’m not certain that–I mean, Mitt Romney attracts a large following from the Tea Party people. After all, when governor of Massachusetts, he ran a dress rehearsal for Obamacare and mandating everyone in the state purchase health insurance. But if we look at the overall attendance, I think its philosophical drift was shown at one event. It was a presentation by what I would call neocons to Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of defense, for the Defender of the Constitution Award, to be conferred by none other than Dick Cheney. Now, both Rumsfeld and Cheney I call vandals-in-chief of the Constitution, when they served in the highest levels of the Bush administration, whether it was detaining persons without accusation of charge, military commissions, waterboarding, the equivalent of torture, unilateral executive power to initiate war without any congressional review, and that sort of thing. And both Rumsfeld and Cheney received rather hoots and maybe [in] some respects hectoring from the Tea Party.

JAY: Okay, they received hoots and [inaudible] but where–?

FEIN: No, from the Tea Party people at the conference. Now, if we’re just talking about the philosophical array of voices at the conference, I think that’s–consensus was clearly behind Ron Paul and had repudiated the empire mentality of Bush-Cheney and now Obama.

JAY: Well, break down this movement for us, because do you consider Sarah Palin a real member of the Tea Party movement, a representative?

FEIN: No, I do not. She certainly wasn’t an originator. And though she has some following, when she was governor of Alaska there wasn’t anything that–in her acceptance of huge amounts of federal monies that suggested that she somehow was in favor of states’ rights and not accepting what you would call [inaudible] at the state level, unlike, for example, current governors saying, “We don’t want billions of dollars to build high-speed trains, ’cause it’s just going to be an albatross; down the road, they just don’t work,” pushing back billions of dollars offered by the federal government. Sarah Palin never did that. And moreover, Sarah Palin, whatever else her attraction, she’s not somebody who is philosophically deep. She doesn’t really have anything but her own personality as an outdoorswoman to attract–.

JAY: But in last November election, she’s going around endorsing candidates, and people–.

FEIN: Yeah, but many of them lost. Many of them won, but surely it wasn’t a juggernaut, that she pointed someone and, aha, they automatically won.

JAY: Well, I’m not suggesting–I’m not suggesting that.

FEIN: She had some successes, some that were not successes.

JAY: No, I’m not suggesting because she anoints someone, they get elected. I’m saying, does she represent a significant body of opinion of people who identify themselves as Tea Partiers?

FEIN: Well, significant. I wouldn’t say it’s, you know, a tiny slice, but I would say clearly a minority, ’cause the Tea Party people–and I spoke at the conference as well. I think by and large they do recognize they don’t want an empire. They do at least viscerally understand that when you spend $1 trillion on defense and you’re worried about any upheaval anywhere in the world, whether it’s Libya one day, Bahrain, Bhutan, Nepal, or whatever, it’s unsustainable; that it looks like the United States is more concerned about other people than its citizens at home. And I think that’s what drives this Tea Party. This is just madness. We need to be protecting ourselves here. We don’t want to be spending probably $100 billion on building bases abroad and just construction money alone. That’s not going to the United States economy. And just it’s almost as though they recognize–more, I say, by gut instinct than by thought–that many of these defense weapons are like TARP [Troubled Asset Relief Program], except they just have a national security banner about them. I mean, building all of these fighter jets and stealth airplanes, you know, to fight terrorism?

JAY: They’re just really forms of stimulus spending of one kind or another, yeah.

FEIN: That is exactly right. And the defense contractors are smart enough to put their employees in the strategically located districts. So the chairman of the Armed Services Committee has so many employees involved in defense industry, and therefore they’ll vote for these weapons systems.

JAY: Okay. So this puts the Tea Party and Tea Party representatives in the House and the Senate right now–at least when it comes to these kinds of issues–completely at odds with the leadership of the Republican Party.

FEIN: Absolutely, and that’s why they steamrolledered [John] Boehner on these issues. It was their votes that have forced the budget to be cut more than what Boehner wanted. Now, that’s because on the House side, the Tea Party coalition is far greater in numbers–87 or whatever–than they are on the Senate side.

JAY: But what did they do on military spending?

FEIN: They cut back. They threw out this extra engine that was wanted for the F-35. I think GE had a lot of employees in the plant near Boehner’s home district.

JAY: But do you think that goes far enough? Shouldn’t there be–?

FEIN: No, there should be more, but it’s the beginning, it’s the beginning. And remember, it’s very significant, Paul, because in this era, what I call the post-9/11 era, when you just scream “national security” and everyone says, “How much money do you want for it?” this is the first time where, you know, the bluff is called. No, defense isn’t just inputs; you’ve got to ask what the output is. And just increasing inputs doesn’t make us safer. It could make us less safe by creating more damage and creating more deficits, more bombs that the Chinese need to buy, etc. And that’s why that’s very significant. Even though it’s true, it’s not nearly as much as I would cut. It is the beginning of a recognition that defense has to go through the same cost-benefit analysis as other expenditures. Before the Tea Party came on, you just said “defense”, the money was there no matter what. See, we’re building weapons systems. Our defense budget is bigger than all the rest of the defense budgets in the entire globe combined. You know, we’re–it’s like we’re ready to fight another war against the Soviet Red Army or the Luftwaffe or something, when we’re fighting, you know, international terrorists that live in caves.

JAY: So if you say this was the beginning of at least saying no to something to the military and the Pentagon, what is a litmus test for you, going forward over the next year, say, for people like Rand Paul and for people in the House to actually do something more significant on the side of empire and militarism?

FEIN: The most important thing is resolutions fixing a date when we’re out of Afghanistan and Iraq, making it clear we’re not going to fight a war in Yemen, you know, we’re not going to be fighting a war in Pakistan, and we’re not going to be going into a–with a war with Iran, that it’s the Congress that will decide, and these are threats that can be handled by building up our defenses at home. That is–that will be the key. Now, I’m not saying necessarily it has to pass, but there has to be a significant voice, concerted political risk-taking. We want out. There are better ways to protect the United States. The only way isn’t to project force 8,000 miles abroad at an exhorbitant expense and making people angry because we kill civilians who blend in with the terrorists or whatever. That will be the earmark for me to show this is genuinely a new era of politics.

JAY: So if Rand Paul, for example, puts that forward, and maybe his father does it in the House, they’re going to have a lot more allies in the left of the Democratic Party than they are non-Tea Party members of the Republican Party. Are we going to see this kind of alliance take shape? And you know these guys. Are they willing to get into a real fight–I mean, “they” being the Tea Party–with the leadership of the Republican Party?

FEIN: Yes, I think the Tea Party clearly is. I think they’ve already taken on Boehner and [Eric] Canter and Kevin McCarthy when it’s come to the budget issues, that that wasn’t good enough, we’re going to cut more. And that’s why Boehner was forced to offer literally hundreds of amendments, to cut out more than just public broadcasting funds or more than just planned parenthood funds; funds that went to the Defense Department, the spending issues that clearly can go, what you might call, to a middle-class constituency that traditionally would not be hostile to a conservative agenda.

JAY: Alright. So you know Rand Paul.

FEIN: I know Rand Paul’s philosophy. I know Ron much, much better.

JAY: Do you get an indication Ron and/or Rand are planning to do such a thing, to try to create a fixed day?

FEIN: I don’t consult with them on strategy, but it’s clearly, in my judgment, something they’re inclined, you know, to use their political capital to accomplish. But there are all sorts of elements in a landscape that make it more or less propitious to do it at a particular time and place. But I’ll tell you, if we’re talking about between now and the elections for the president in 2012, I would be stunned if one or the other didn’t introduce a bill and make clear he’s for removing our troops from Afghanistan and Iraq promptly.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.

FEIN: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Bruce Fein is the founder of the American Freedom Agenda. He served in the US Justice Department under President Reagan and has been an adjunct scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a resident scholar at the Heritage Foundation, a lecturer at the Brookings Institute, and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. He was an advisor to Ron Paul. Bruce is also the author of the book "American Empire: Before the Fall."