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Interview with Representative Allen West

Interview with Representative Allen West

By John King, USA - October 21, 2011

KING: There are nine Iraq war veterans serving in Congress, all Republicans. One is a senator.

The other eight serve in the House, including Florida Republican Congressman Allen West, who joins us tonight live from Los Angeles.

Congressman, it's good to see you.

You did serve in Iraq. You think the president's making a bad call here tonight. Why?

REP. ALLEN WEST (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think that you have to be very circumspect about what is a near-term decision. Hopefully this is not a campaigner in chief decision, not a commander in chief decision.

One of the things I go back to and remember is serving in Operation Desert Shield, Desert Storm in 1991. And when we did not complete the operation and the means by which we could have had that resounding tactical and operational success and victory we knew at some point in time, we'd have to return back to Iraq.

Now, we have to be concerned about the influence that Iran will continue to try to spread, seeking to be a regional hegemon, across Iraq into, Syria and then of course to Lebanon, where they have Hezbollah, but also where they have some type of influence with Egypt and into Gaza also. So I think that we have to look at this long term and not be so celebratory in the short term.

KING: Well, as someone who wore the uniform, the president was unable to negotiate with the Iraqi government a status of forces agreement that would give the men and women of the United States military immunity, that would have them if they had any issues to deal with, deal with them in the U.S. military justice system, not an Iraqi court system, which I'm sure you would not trust right now.

In that sense, without that agreement, is it the right call for the president? Would you want to serve there without that status of forces agreement?

WEST: Well, you're absolutely right. But I think the things I have to look at where was the failure in leadership where we could not negotiate from a position of strength. And now we look like we're in a position of weakness where we could not negotiate a solid status of forces agreement which would protect our men and women in uniform serving there, which will continue to make sure that Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi army, which we know is supported by Iran, we know that the arrogance and the belligerence of Iran is increasing.

And also we have to look at this through the prism of the eyes of the opposition from our enemies. We know that when we withdrew from Somalia many in the Islamic world saw that as a sense of weakness. As a matter of fact, Osama bin Laden said the United States was a paper tiger.

So, again, what is the perception that will be long term from this withdrawal? Our men and women have fought bravely there. And in 2003 I was there as commander and I look forward to once again shaking the hands of those who have served there and have, you know, given their limbs.

But I want to make sure that just the same in '91 when I had to return 12 years later, we don't set our military up for going back into an even worse situation.

KING: You just heard Fareed Zakaria there. He was someone who was in favor of dealing with Saddam Hussein back many years ago, but he says the question now is did the costs outweigh the benefits?

Saddam Hussein was a tyrant. He was a thug. He was many horrible things, Congressman West, but you knew where he stood when it came to Iran. Do you worry now that this new leadership in Iraq that is there because of the U.S. military operation will the operation turn to be foe, not friend?

WEST: Well, you do have to have that concern about where they will align themselves, as far as their interests, if you don't have any type of U.S. presence there that can be the honest broker.

Look, I will be the first to admit we have gone about this nation-building, occupation-style warfare in the wrong means. I think that we should have been more so focused on the enemy and conducting what I call more of strike operations.

I think you see us getting to that here in the last two to three years, but I don't want to see us becoming so quick and so hasteful that now the next thing is we're going to set ourselves up for a tougher situation later on, because you still have an Iran that is seeking to expand its influence in that region.

And also I'm very concerned about the Kurdish people to the north if they see this once again as us abandoning them somewhat as they saw after Desert Shield, Desert Storm.

KING: You just heard Chris Lawrence. The Pentagon is looking at ways. And there are still negotiations. There could be an agreement down the road to leave several hundred U.S. troops there to serve as trainers for the Iraq people.

But among the other proposals on the table, maybe some naval exercises, maybe finding a third country. I assume that could be Kuwait, although I will shake my head the day Kuwait allows Iraq troops to come south again under peaceful circumstances to train maybe in their country. Do you see the possibility of working something out that makes this acceptable to you?

WEST: Well, I think that that's something that when I get back to Washington, D.C., we and the House Armed Services Committee could potentially have a hearing about that, and find out what are the courses of action going forward?

What is very interesting to me is, not too long ago, the commanders on the ground asked for 10,000 troops as a residual force. That got taken down to 3,000. And now of course it's at zero. So you know you have to ask, what is the criteria? Of course, that status of forces agreement has a lot to do with it, but I don't think that we see an Iraqi force that is ready to assume that responsibility.

And we know that Iran is just waiting for the Mahdi army to have that opportunity. And they're very patient and I think that they see this as a victory where they waited us out.

KING: Let me ask you, as someone who has worn the uniform, not as a politician, sir, the president today used the term success, not victory. His deputy security adviser used the term success, not victory.

How do you view the war in Iraq, and the fact that people don't use the term victory, the fact that public opinion has turned so vociferously and fiercely against it? How does that impact the legacy of the one million Americans who have served in Iraq over the past nine years?

WEST: Well, I think that those of that have worn a uniform understood the mission that we went over to do.

Tactically, I think there was always success and we had great victories. At the strategic level, that's where the United States of America has had problems ever since World War II. We saw that in Korea, we saw it in Vietnam.

And I think that why it's so important, John, that we get men and women who have been on this modern 21st century battlefield in uniform that can be in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill and other places, so we make sure that we make those right strategic level decisions as we go forward and we make sure that we're committing our greatest treasure, the men and women in uniform, with the right and proper goals and objectives, so they can have victory.

Success, we have to wait and see how that comes out, because I would look at what's happened since Hosni Mubarak was deposed in Egypt. I think that has pretty much gone the wrong direction and I don't want to see things go in the wrong direction between Iraq and Iran.

KING: Congressman Allen West of Florida joining us tonight, sir, appreciate your insights. Thank you very much.

WEST: Thanks so much, John.

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