The Boston Globe sat down last week with US Senator Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, at the Newport Creamery in Cranston’s Garden City Center to discuss major developments in US foreign policy and military affairs. Reed had much to say on both topics and we selected some of the most intriguing responses, with a few edited for space.
Q: What is your reaction to President Trump’s decision to bypass Congress by declaring an emergency over Iran and moving forward with $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan?
A: This is very dangerous because it undermines Congress’s appropriate role in foreign affairs. Congress should have the authority to control arms sales and we are exercising that authority, and he has circumvented with this so-called emergency. I don’t think it’s a valid emergency to justify this. It’s a pattern. Same thing about the border. On a bipartisan basis, we rejected the border wall and then he declared an emergency. I think particularly my Republican colleagues sense there is really only one rule in Washington: What goes around comes around. If a Democratic president decides to use this to create a national system of opioid recovery centers using military construction funds, I don’t think my Republican colleagues would be very happy about that. This is setting some dangerous precedents for the future.
Q: What is your analysis of the decision to send an additional 1,500 troops to the Middle East amid mounting tensions between the United States and Iran?
A: We have to be very careful because the possibility of escalation with Iran is very real. At this point, the military response has been limited and focused on deterrence. But this is now the opportunity for the President to find a way to begin discussions either directly or indirectly with the Iranians. This constant maximum pressure campaign eventually could lead to miscalculation on either side. And the consequences could be severe. At this point, you’ve got to look for a diplomatic approach. I think it was a mistake to leave the (Iran nuclear deal). The irony is if (President Trump) could get an agreement like that with the North Koreans, he would probably take it in a Brooklyn minute.
Q: Speaking of North Korea, what did you make of President Trump’s tweet about North Korea’s short-range missile tests while in Japan? He tweeted: “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me.”
A: I think (President Trump) went into these negotiations totally unprepared. He came out with a view that (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un is a really good guy, which he is not. I think he is stymied because he does not want to get into the real detailed negotiations long-term. They are short-range missiles, but they reach Japan. So the statement was particularly hard to accept when it is made in Japan. They have signaled they are back in the testing game with short-range missiles, and I think sending the signal that they could go even further in the future.
Q: What did you think of President Trump, in that same tweet, saying he smiled when Kim Jong Un “called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse.”?
A: Completely inappropriate. To describe Kim Jong Un as a real good guy in so many words -- he is a homicidal autocrat, and he killed his half brother. He is ruthless to an extreme. And that is not the only autocrat that the president seems to admire. And then to have these really disparaging statements made about anyone in the United States, political rival or not, is not something you say or pass on. You might just not comment -- that would probably be the wisest thing to do.
Q: Where do you stand on reports that President Trump is considering pardons for several American military members accused of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan?
A: This is really about: How do you protect our forces? How do you insist on high standards of conduct? And one way you do it is you enforce the laws even if they apply to Americans. People have and should have the right to due process. These are not snap judgments about a person’s conduct. They are subject to very rigorous review and then there is a legal proceeding. If they are found guilty, that is a very serious charge. To ignore that jeopardizes the safety of the troops in the field today. I mean, it certainly takes away any kind of moral standing we have to defy abuse by military forces of local populations.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.