Q & A: 'Not a Good Year for Us'
"I don't believe it's going to be a good year for us," he said, citing several troublesome issues: "Iraq, immigration, energy and health care."
Republican Coble, whose Eighth District includes Moore County, said President Bush may not be to blame for $3-a-gallon gasoline and other woes -- "but he gets his mail at the White House," meaning that a sitting president often gets the blame or credit, fairly or not, for what happens on his watch.
Coble, back in the district for Congress' summer recess, participated in a Q&A interview during a visit to the offices of The Pilot. Asking questions were Staff Writer Matthew Moriarty, Managing Editor David Sinclair, Editor Steve Bouser and Publisher David Woronoff.
Here is an edited transcript of their tape-recorded discussion:
Q: Congressman, you're back here on recess. What are people talking about? What's on people's minds in the district?
A: Iraq, immigration, energy and health care. I'd say that these are the top issues that people are discussing and they're not happy with. Some people are concerned about tighter border control. That is, many in the border states -- California, Texas, those on the border. [Others are concerned about] the guest workers, or the seasonal workers, call it what you will. And I think we're going to have to address both those problems if we're going to have an immigration bill.
Q: You recently came out with a statement about Iraq, saying that the president should admit that he made some mistakes. What's been the reaction to it?
A: Not much of any reaction [from the media]. ... You remember I came out -- oh, a year and a half ago -- and indicated that we needed to at least consider troop withdrawal.
And I voted for the resolution [originally supporting armed intervention in Iraq]. But I voted for it with the assumption that there was some sort of sound post-entry strategy that had been developed, and I don't think that it was unreasonable for the Congress to assume that. But I just don't believe that there was one.
Q: You said specifically that mistakes were made. What do you think went wrong, and what can be done to correct it now?
A: Well, when I said mistakes were made, I guess I knew that shortly after we went in, when I saw the wholesale looting. And I thought, my gosh, looting would seem to be the first issue at hand in a situation like this. Surely we made plans to guard against looting, I said to myself as I was watching the looting, so I think that would be number one.
Now, this second proposal can be very delicate -- I think we may have [decommissioned the Iraqi army too soon], because apparently we had nobody there. Now, granted, the army consisted of thugs and terrorists, probably, who don't like us. But I think it would have been better to let the standing army stand for at least a brief period while we were getting our troops together. In fact, I don't think we had our troops together. Otherwise, I don't believe the looting would have occurred as it did.
Q: Did we send enough troops there to begin with?
A: I don't know, but probably not. I can't prove that. But the best I remember -- didn't [then Secretary of State Colin] Powell suggest that we send more than we did? I may not remember that correctly. ... I'll admit I'm Monday-morning quarterbacking, which is always easy to do. But I'd be inclined to come down on Powell's side, maybe, and say that we probably did not send enough, that we should have listened more carefully to what he was saying.
Q: How do you respond when it's said that our troops are now finding themselves squarely in the middle of a civil war over there?
A: Well, I don't know how to respond to that. I think a lot of the Iraqi leaders, I am told, are not saying that. But if civil war is imminent, and then our people are right in the middle of it, I think that's even more reason to hand the baton over to them.
I heard the president say recently say that we can't "cut and run." What constitutes "cutting and running"?
If we stayed there five months, yeah, I'd say that was "cutting and running." But we've lost over 2,500, about 2,700, people, with 20,000 injured, many of whom are permanently injured.
We've been there four years almost -- I just don't believe "cutting and running" is a justifiable charge if we did leave.
Q: So you believe in pulling out now?
A: Now, I wouldn't say that. I think that would be presumptuous for me and probably unfounded, because that needs to be done by the person that's on the ground over there.
When I think back to my statement of about a year and a half ago, I just wanted somebody to be aware of the fact that withdrawal ought to be on the board.
You know, there for a long time, nobody would even consider withdrawal. There was talk about "staying the course," don't "cut and run," and maybe send more troops. But I said let's at least add to the equation troop withdrawal at some point.
Q: Congressman, you've got President Bush with pretty low ratings right now, largely because of the war. All you House members are going to be up for re-election in a few weeks -- how's that going to go for the Republicans, do you think?
A: I don't believe it's going to be a good year for us, [because of] those issues I mentioned earlier.
The occupant of the White House, whether it's fair or not, is given credit or blame by many American voters, depending on their conclusion. Now, I don't suggest that George Bush is altogether to blame for $3-a-gallon gasoline, but he gets his mail at the White House. Just remember that.
And I use as an analogy the fact that President Clinton reaped great benefits from welfare reform. Well, it was the Republican House that hammered out welfare reform. Even over his objection. But, by golly, President Clinton [got credit for welfare reform] because he was in the White House, and it was on his watch. And I believe conversely, that with President Bush in the White House, given the other problems, that may be a detriment.
Q: Certainly we could all view the Iraq war as the president's key foreign policy initiative, and that wasn't an accident. He created that, didn't he?
A: Yes, and it hasn't been a smashing success.
Q: What about our national energy policy, or lack thereof? Because of the president's former occupation before he became a politician, do you think that has influenced the fact that we're still behind on oil, foreign oil, and don't seem to be making much progress on some other forms of energy alternatives?
A: That's a fair question, and I don't know, I couldn't give you a yes or no on that. I'm not in that loop.
Q: What should our energy policy be?
A: I think that drilling in ANWR (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) could be done without damaging the environment. I'm told it would yield about a million barrels a day -- not a significant amount, compared to what we consume a day, but nonetheless a step in the right direction, I think.
I went to Canada to visit their oil sands, about which they are ecstatic. They tell me that they have petroleum resources that are comparable to Saudi Arabia once the process is completed. They are our number one exporter of oil now, which I think is good news. They are a good, stable neighbor, unlike the Saudis, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran.
Off-shore drilling maybe. We have a bill in the House that would permit it from 50 to 100 miles out if appropriate states involved opt in. The final decision has got to be at the state level. The Senate version would restrict that to the Gulf of Mexico, which in turn would restrict it to only four states.
So if any kind of energy plan is to be formulated before we adjourn, the Senate and the House are going to have to get together, and they're light-years apart now. There has been no new nuclear development in this country for years and years, and I think we're going to have to go that route.
Q: Do you have a trip planned to Iraq?
A: I've never gone. I had planned to go, and I was talking to a member of the House who told me that when we send a congressional delegation over there, it ties up 95 soldiers. That's not a good use of resources, I said to him. But I probably should go. ...
Q: How would you grade America's handling of the conflict between Lebanon and Israel?
A: I don't think anybody could get good grades on that one. I don't believe we mishandled it. Some folks said the president should have insisted on an earlier ceasefire, and I don't know that that would have been sound. I'm not even sure the latest ceasefire is going to hold.
I'm confident that not even Israel's hands are completely clean. But given the problem over there, I'm far more comfortable aligning myself with Israel than I am with Syria or Iran or the Palestinians or any other group that comes into the affray.
Q: One question in connection with your terrorism subcommittee position: Should we be worried about profiling in trying to catch hijackers?
A: I don't think we should be worried about it. I think we should be doing it.
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