WASHINGTON —If Bob Corker, the junior Senator from Tennessee and a certified heavy lifter on both the domestic and foreign-policy fronts in Washington, had his way, the United States would follow up the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan with some dramatic policy reversals both there and in neighboring Afghanistan.
The kernel of the problem, as he sees it, is that America has been “fighting a war in a country where our enemies are not,” while, “on the other hand, we’re providing aid to a country where our enemies are.” In the course of an interview with the Flyer last week in Washington, Corker, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the discovery of the Al Qaeda chief’s elaborate sanctuary in Abbottabad, a suburb of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, provides the United States with a “relationship-changing opportunity.”
Corker discussed the problem at some length and also made the case for the CAP Act, a spending-cap bill he had proposed as a preamble to raising the U.S. debt ceiling — an issue that just now has Republicans and Democrats at loggerheads.
The senator began by saying that in Pakistan the armed forces are the major ruling force. “The Army supplies adult supervision for the country. Politicians are of a very different level.” The fact that bin Laden had been occupying a compound adjacent to the nerve center of the Pakistani military command indicates that the country’s government had been “either in cahoots with bin Laden or incompetent, neither of which is particularly good,” especially since there is “a lot of nuclear weaponry” in Pakistan.
“I think we’ve known for a long time that Pakistan plays both sides. They’ve been able to get aid from America by being a bad actor. It’s a leverage they use. I just left a Foreign Relations Committee meeting where I talked about this. Whether they’re in cahoots or incompetent, this has been an embarrassment for their country, and it provides a relationship-changing opportunity.”
On Pakistan as the true center of Al Qaeda activity:
“The fact is, if you travel through Afghanistan, as I’ve done many times, and you talk to our military leaders, they’re unbelievably frustrated, because they’re fighting a war in a country where our enemies are not. And on the other hand we’re providing aid to a country where our enemies are. To me, and this is what I really pressed hard in this last hearing on, this is where our focus needs to be.
“In the ‘FATA,’ the Federal Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, Balochistan, and the former Northwest province, that’s where all the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, their accounting network, they’re all there. It’d be my guess that the second in command in Al Qaeda is still there. So to me this creates an opportunity for us to bear down on ridding that country of the enemies that we’re fighting in Afghanistan but happen to reside in Pakistan.
“I’ve been very skeptical about the efforts there for some time, and General [David] Petraeus has asked that we show patience through this fighting season, which will end in November. And I’m willing to do that. But — our men and women in uniform, I hold them in highest esteem in carrying out their mission, but much of what they’re fighting there is just criminality. I mean, one of the areas I was in, there was a prison nearby, there was about 1500 folks locked up there, and only 80 of them were extremists. The other 1420 were there because of criminality. So much of what our soldiers are fighting there is criminality. Again, the head of the monster, if you will, exists in Pakistan.
On the nature of Pakistani relations with bin Laden:
“And I see what’s happened now. Because it is such an embarrassment to the Pakistan military and intelligence service — whichever it is who are incompetent — It’s still tremendously embarrassing . This area is like the West Point of our country, where Osama bin Laden was killed. Literally, it’s like some other person being harbored at West Point.
“It’ll be interesting to know what we find out as time goes on. I’ve written a letter to Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton requesting that they share with us what involvement they’re aware of, and I think that will happen in the very near future. But I think we have an opportunity like we’ve not had to really force the issue in Pakistan about them not really making — You know what they’re really doing is — they’re harboring, they’re not harboring, they’re allowing people to exist there directing the killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan
“[But] I’m not ready to say that they were in cahoots. I don’t think there’s anybody yet that really knows.”
On the risk element in the American raid that resulted in bin Laden’s killing:
“ I absolutely believe there was risk involved. I don’t want to say more than I should, but there was no question that the president took a risk, and I’m glad that he did. There’s no question that they took a risk going into that compound. There were a lot of things that pointed to the fact that that’s where he was, but there are also questions, and I would say within the intelligence community different opinions as to the likelihood of his being there.
"It was something that took — it was no sure thing. I’m glad that he took that calculated risk, okay? The Navy Seals are just exceptional. I’ve watched — I’ve been able, I’ve been in Afghanistan and watched what these Navy Seals do at night. Pretty incredible!”
On the credit due the Obama administration for the success of the mission
“Ultimately, the president had to make a decision as to whether to send the Navy Seals. There was risk involved. In other words, it was not a sure thing. It wasn’t a sure thing that it was even where Osama was. It also wasn’t a sure thing obviously that it would be successful. You’ve seen what has happened in the past with presidents who have visions that go awry, so I think you have to give the president a lot of credit.
“This was such an issue of interest that there was an all-Senators briefing, and it was such a unique briefing that 74 Senators showed up. 74 senators never show up for a briefing. This was one of great interest that was well attended.”
On Corker’s proposed CAP Act, which, among other provisos,would impose a mandatory spending ceiling on federal spending that, over a 10-year period, would bring expenditures down from their current level of of24.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the level of 20.6 percent:
“It’s the only mechanism that today has bi-partisan, bicameral support — bi-partisan support in the Senate, bi-partisan support in the House. It’s understandable. It’s being focused on because it is the only bill out there in that regard. I know the administration doesn’t like it. So they’re working against it. [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid has spoken against it. In spite of that the bill has been gaining momentum. I’m going to go in the House the next few weeks and make a presentation to House members, even though they’ve already introduced it there. Jim Cooper [D-5th District] of my own state and Jimmy Duncan [R-2nd District] of our own state are the lead co-sponsors on each side there.
“[In the Senate]Clare McCaskill [D-MO]was my original co-sponsor. She still is, but Joe Lieberman [Ind., CT] has joined the effort. Joe Manchin [D-WV] has joined the effort. Another senator on that side of the aisle has mentioned that he was interested, so we’ll see. What I’m trying to do right now is just make other senators aware on the other side of the aisle. We’ve got to have 60 votes to pass it, right? Just to make them aware of what it does because I know it’s going to be demagoguged, and what I’m saying to those that I know probably are unlikely co-sponsors today , what I’m saying to them is, Just listen. Know what this does. We’ve got a debt ceiling vote coming up. I want you to be aware of what the CAP Act does.”
On Administration hopes of avoiding a trade-off:
They’re not going to get a clean debt ceiling vote. That’s not going to happen. They may attempt it. It’s never going to happen. So the CAP act, the way it’s designed, it could be attached to the debt-ceiling increase, which would dramatically change the character of spending. I’ve said for months and months and months, there’s no way I’m voting for this debt-ceiling increase unless we do something to dramatically change the character of spending in this country The CAP act accomplishes that. A lot of people are looking at it as that statutory vehicle that if that ceiling passes, ought to be attached to it.
On the difference between the presentation he’ll be making in Congress and the one on capping spending that he made throughout Tennessee last year:
This one is a little bit shorter, because I’m giving it to politicians. You know, you can’t hold their attention long. It focuses more on the bill. We use some of the same slides that we used in Mnmphis, but because we want to focus more on the bill than on what got us here, it’s a little different.”