Senator James M. Inhofe is the second ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee and is a former chairman of (and now ranking Republican on) the Environment and Public Works Committee. I had the opportunity to get his thoughts on some key issues of interest to the Atlantic Council community.
1. One of the dividing lines between the United States and its European allies is our much stronger support for Israel, which many claim has hurt us in our attempts to be seen as an honest broker in the region. Why is it in America’s national interest to be seen as so staunchly in Israel’s corner?
Israel is a unique nation among its neighbors in the Middle East for many reasons and, perhaps most importantly, the strongest and most committed nation to democracy and freedom in a very tough neighborhood. It has been a consistent friend and ally in the region and our strong friendship and alliance with Israel is vital to maintain a strategic partnership in the Middle East. I can’t speak for the various European countries and their varying degrees of support for Israel but, as an American, our relationship with Israel is imperative to strengthen the U.S. presence in the Middle East and allow our two nations to fight terrorism that is bent on the destruction of Israel.
Being an ‘honest broker’ in the Middle East should not take precedence for the United States over doing what is right in defense of freedom and to promote the national security of Americans and the United States is going to continue with our strong support for Israel, helping Israel defend itself. We have authorized and appropriated $2.5 billion for military aid. This is significant to both the US and Israel because we need each other. It was the Israelis who developed the Lightning Pod, the Hunter UAV, and the Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles. These Armor tiles have played a central role in Iraq due to roadside mines, explosive charges and rocket-propelled grenades.
As we help provide for the defense of Israel, Israel has helped us save countless American lives. Since its independence in 1948, Israel has fought five wars and in each one Israel has not been the aggressor. It considers a level playing field being outnumbered two to one. Israel held back for months as Hamas launched hundreds of rockets and mortars into Israeli neighborhoods, until December of last year when they finally responded with assaults into the Gaza strip. Israel has demonstrated restraint in the face of this persistent assault. Few countries would have tolerated such risks to their people. Israel is a tiny nation that stands as a beacon of freedom in the midst of great threat and intimidation.
2. A few years back you were famously “outraged over the outrage” over Abu Ghraib. Now, you’re a leading opponent of President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo. Do you disagree that these incidents became unfortunate symbols that hurts us in the war on terror? Or are you think the trade-off was worthwhile in terms of protecting the country from terrorists?
The United States does not condone or permit torture, and believes that anyone in the government’s custody should be treated humanely and in accordance with applicable law and international norms. After the attacks September 11, 2001, senior administration officials confronted grave issues of policy and tried to resolve them in a way they consonant with applicable law.
Many of those issues have not gone away and will confront future administrations with the same painful dilemmas faced. In the wake of the incidents at Abu Ghraib, 12 non-partisan investigations were conducted into various aspects of detainee operations. 492 recommendations were made to improve detainee operations and thoroughly investigate allegations of detainee abuse. There have been over 900 investigations in the Department of Defense alone on detention operations. Comprehensive improvements have been made to the detainee operations system in Iraq, a program that is of the utmost importance to the continuing success of the War on Terrorism. Significant improvements have been made to this system, ensuring our military is able to responsibly continue removing al Qaeda and other terrorist extremists from Iraqi society.
The abuses made by a small group of individuals must not distract from the important progress being made on a larger scale in Iraq in which detainee operations are key. When evidence of detainee abuse came to light, all allegations of abuse were investigated and properly prosecuted.
On January 20th, President Obama instructed military prosecutors to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings at the Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) Detention Facility or what administration officials called “a continuance of the proceedings” so that his administration can review the military commissions process. On January 22nd, President Obama ordered the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. In light of these announcements by President Obama, I believe it is important for the American people to know the truth and the real value of this installation and its contribution to the security of the United States.
On February 2nd, I led a Congressional Delegation to GTMO in order to give an eyewitness account of the conditions at GTMO and allow the American public to hear the truth from someone who had actually been there, rather than the scores of Members of Congress who hold blind objections without any attempts to look into it on their own. I also introduced legislation (S.370) to prevent any transfers of detainees from Guantanamo to anywhere in the United States or its territories.
Since the United States began its Global War on Terror, the U.S. has detained almost 800 Al-Qaeda and Taliban combatants at GTMO, and since 2002, more than 525 detainees have been tried and departed GTMO for other countries. Today, there are approximately 245 detainees remaining at GTMO. The military detention facilities at GTMO meet the highest international standards and are a fundamental part of protecting the lives of Americans from terrorism. Current treatment and oversight exceed any maximum-security prison in the world. There are 127 doctors, nurses and medical technicians dedicated to caring for and maintaining the health of each detainee – a ratio of 1:2 (one health care professional for every two detainees). There are on average, two lawyers for every detainee that has been charged or had charges preferred against them. The Expeditionary Legal Complex (ELC) located at GTMO is the only one of its kind in the world. It provides a secure location to secure and try detainees charged by the US government, full access to sensitive and classified information, full access to defense lawyers and prosecution, and full media access by the press. The detainee complex at GTMO is the only complex in the world that can safely and humanely hold these individuals who pose such a grave security risk to the United States. It is a secure location away from population centers, provides the maximum security required to prevent escape, provides multiple levels of confinement opportunities based on the compliance of the detainee, and provides medical care not available to a majority of the population of the world.
GTMO is also the single greatest repository of human intelligence in the War on Terror. This intelligence has prevented terrorist attacks and saved lives in the past and continues to do so today. New intelligence is continually being collected from detainees at GTMO and is being used to fight terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe. This intelligence information obtained from questioning detainees includes a variety of issues of value to U.S. security, including: the organizational structure of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups; the extent of the terrorist presence in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East; al-Qaida’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction; the methods of recruitment and locations of recruitment centers; terrorist skill sets, including general and specialized operative training; and how legitimate financial activities are used to hide terrorist operations.
The United States will continue to capture, hold and detain enemy combatants, and we must therefore have a location to safely detain and care for these detainees. There is a thorough legal process to determine whether detainees are a threat to the United States, and each year, formal military commissions/tribunals reassess whether detentions should be continued. These reviews have led to the release of a number of detainees with some that have returned to their home countries or have been given asylum in other countries. Others are awaiting release while the United States ensures that the countries receiving them will treat them in a humane manner.
Finally, others will be tried as war criminals under a military commission process that is established and authorized by law. Recent report on GTMO directed by President Obama’ Executive Order stated the conditions of confinement at GTMO are in conformity with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and that there were no evidence of violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. The report also found that the chain of command responsible for the detention mission at Guantanamo consistently sought to go beyond the minimum standard in complying with Common Article 3.
In 2007, the Senate passed a resolution by a vote of 94-3 stating, “detainees housed at Guantanamo should not be released into American society, nor should they be transferred stateside into facilities in American communities and neighborhoods.” The United States is still in a global War on Terror, engaged in armed conflict with terrorist organizations, and will, in all probability, continue to capture terrorists who will be detained in a facility. If the detention facility at GTMO is closed, some United States domestic or overseas prison will have to house these detainees while they await disposition.
For our nation’s security, detainees at GTMO must not be allowed to be transferred or housed in the United States or its territories. Before we rush to close GTMO, I have asked President Obama and my colleagues who have never visited GTMO to make time and visit GTMO. They owe it to themselves and the American public to see and understand what is going on there, how detainees are being held, and the legal process that has been put in place to ensure detainees receive a fair and impartial trial.
3. Given the difficulties in getting European powers to spend more and send more troops to fight in Afghanistan, what do you see as the future of NATO?
I recently returned from Afghanistan in December 2008. I met with Met with General David McKiernan, Commander of ISAF and US Forces Afghanistan, and General Raheen Wardak, the Afghani Minister of Defense who was trained in Oklahoma at Fort Sill. I was briefed on the current situation in Afghanistan, the status Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and the outlook for Afghanistan’s future. The Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) is now stronger than ever with over 2/3rd of the forces now capable of leading operations.
Supporting the ANA is smart investment of our resources, as it less expensive than deploying ISAF troops and has the dual result of allowing more Afghans to defend their own nation. Over 60% of the Afghan National Army is now capable of leading operations in Afghanistan. General Wardak informed me that 89% of the population of Afghanistan respects the ANA and believes it to be effective. Together with ISAF, Afghanistan’s government is taking a regional approach to winning by building the will and capacity of the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the Afghan government. ‘Clear – Hold – Build Strategy’: clear segmented areas of Afghanistan of all Taliban and extremists, then put the ANSF in place to maintain security, allowing the Afghan government and ISAF to rebuild the area with a renewed focus on the Afghan people.
Today we have a coalition of 41 troops contributing nations (26 NATO and 15 non-NATO). ISAF force size is approximately 55 thousand troops which includes 23 thousand US troops…an 18,000 additional US soldiers in country as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). When NATO sent forces into Afghanistan in 2003, it mission was focused on a stability and reconstruction. Unfortunately, the Taliban’s hold on Afghanistan coupled with thirty years of continuous war required both combat force capable of fighting a counter-insurgency and a complete rebuilding of a nation.
In order for Afghans to begin to feel secure, the Afghan Government must work to establish trust and credibility with the people. If we are to be successful in Afghanistan, NATO must fulfill its commitment in Afghanistan. NATO members have pledged to do more and need to do more. I commend our allies that have committed substantial forces to Afghanistan…I appreciate their friendship, their sacrifices, and welcome further cooperation. However, there are other countries that have not come forth with the additional troops that are needed in Afghanistan. NATO needs to step up to the plate and provide the forces it agree to provide. There continues to be a need for additional ISAF troops in the role of trainers and mentors of the Afghan National Army (ANA), as well as ANSF troops. Unfortunately, as the US announces a commitment of more troops to Afghanistan, some NATO members are just sitting back waiting to see what happens next. It is imperative that each NATO country understand the threat terrorists pose to the future of NATO and its members and NATO government must explain to their constituencies that it is in each NATO’s country’s interest to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, bring stability to that part of the region.
The Taliban is not only global threat but a clear threat to the democracies of Europe…the very backbone of NATO. Recently, an Atlantic Council of the United States report [Editor’s note: He’s referring to “Alliance Reborn: An Atlantic Compact for the 21st Century“] recommended that instead of forcing nations to undertake operations that will not be approved by domestic legislatures, those nations should provide commitments in kind such as civil support, both in financial and human resources. While NATO’s future is not tied to the success or failure in Afghanistan, failure to each member country to engage as a coalition of forces could result in a two-tiered Alliance…a concept that goes against the very fiber of NATO. We continue to make progress with increasing NATO commitments and operations in Afghanistan. NATO and non-NATO partners have increased their troop contribution by about 15,000 over the past 18 months. Increases in 2009 include the Czech Republic, Slovakia, United Kingdom and Canada. On 20 Feb 09, Sec Gates has said at the end of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Krakow that up to 20 nations offered to boost their civilian or military commitments to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there were no firm commitments.Sec Gates made a change in the command structure, making General McKiernan both the commander of ISAF and commander of all U.S. forces Afghanistan eliminating command problems and difficulties with respect to unity of command. We are still having a problem with caveats but some countries have either removed their caveats or decreased their impact – we must continue to work this issue.
4. You have said that “America is far too dependent upon foreign powers for our sources of oil.” How would you propose we change that?
As America faces mounting energy challenges, now is not the time for politics as usual — now is the time for common sense solutions. That’s why I consistently push for legislation that will increase access to domestic supplies, expand the nation’s refinery capacity, and promote market-based alternatives for our energy future. Put simply, America’s energy supply should be stable, diverse, and affordable. Through my leadership position on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee I have worked to craft legislation and conduct hearings to meet these goals. I continue to call on the Democrats to act to expand refinery capacity and to open the nation’s access to the Outer Continental Shelf, ANWR, and the Rocky Mountain oil shales, as well as preserve access to Canadian oil sands. Today’s American oil producer operates with the most sophisticated environmental technologies and policies on the planet. It’s time to end the Democratic Party’s obstruction to increasing American energy supply. Unfortunately, with little more than six weeks since inauguration day, the Obama administration has instead launched an onslaught of policies to restrict access to resources and increase taxes on America’s home-grown oil and gas industry. President Obama’s unprecedented $31 billion proposal in new oil and gas taxes will significantly curtail the operating budgets of all exploration and production companies big and small. Every marginal well operator in the country should be gravely concerned that these proposals will force the premature plugging of low-production marginal wells. And, despite the rhetoric, America’s oil companies are already paying taxes at the highest rates. Figures from the Energy Information Agency indicate that America’s major oil producers already pay on average more than a 40% income tax rate. After President Jimmy Carter imposed a similar Windfall Profits Tax on the oil and gas industry back in 1980, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service later determined that its results were hugely counterproductive: ‘The WPT reduced domestic oil production between 3 and 6 percent, and increased oil imports from between 8 and 16 percent… This made the U.S. more dependent upon imported oil.’ For American jobs, for the international competitiveness of American companies, and for the consumers at the pump, Congress must reject Obama’s energy tax increases. These counterintuitive policies will undoubtedly make our nation more dependent on foreign oil, not less.
5. Do you still believe that global warming is a “hoax”? What would you say to those who say this is now a matter of “settled science”?
Every day more and more reality checks are stripping man-made global warming fears away. The climate doom promoted by Gore, the UN and the media is proving “unsustainable” as more and more peer-reviewed studies and scientists publicly declare their dissent and call warming fears mistaken. The so-called “consensus” is now in a freefall collapse. It is unhealthy for any debate to be quarantined. As more and more Americans awake to the higher energy costs and futility of global warming policies, they will question the science on their own.”
Inhofe’s prominence and issue stances illustrate a recurring theme of mine on transatlantic relations: We simply have very different views of the world. To be sure, we have a common heritage and substantial overlapping values and interests. But how do you come to agreement on, say, the Kyoto accords when a substantial number of prominent American leaders doubt the science behind global warming?
On the other hand, it’s very reassuring that Inhofe not only supports the NATO mission in Afghanistan but understands the importance of working with our European allies.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.