TRANSCRIPT: FPI-Hudson Institute Event with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)

May 26, 2016


The Hudson Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative


A Conversation on the Middle East with Congressman Adam Kinzinger

Moderated by Josh Rogin

May 26, 2016

JOHN WALTERS: Good afternoon. I’m John Walters, I’m chief operating officer at Hudson Institute. I want to welcome you to the Stern Policy Center and this event — this joint event with Hudson and the Foreign Policy Initiative. We’re pleased to have this cooperation. I want to thank them for the collaborative effort.

We’re honored to welcome Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who has joined us today. As you know, he is a leader in national security issues and a powerful advocate for robust American global leadership. Congressman Kinzinger served in the Air Force in both Iraq and Afghanistan and continues his military service to our nation as a pilot in the Air National Guard. He was elected to the House in 2010, serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, after prior service on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Today he’ll be discussing the Middle East with columnist Josh Rogin, who as you know, will be joining The Washington Post to write on foreign affairs. We wish him well in his new position. Congressman Kinzinger has traveled frequently to the region we’re going to discuss today, and we look forward to his views and advice on this confusing, dangerous, and strategically important region, and what the U.S. and allies need to do. Please join me in welcoming Congressman Kinzinger and Josh Rogin.

JOSH ROGIN: Thank you, John. Thanks everybody for coming out today. I’d like to give you a couple of extra facts about the congressman that you may not have heard. [Laughter]


ROGIN: In addition to his distinguished military career, the congressman started his political career in college, running for a contested seat on the McLean County Board.


ROGIN: He held it from 1998 until 2003. After serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was awarded the Wisconsin Red Cross Hero of the Year Award after he wrestled to the ground and disarmed a man who was attacking a woman with a knife. In 2011, he was voted number five on The Hill’s list of the 50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill. [Laughter]

KINZINGER: The first four are gone now. [Laughter]

ROGIN: I first encountered Congressman Kinzinger when we went on a trip to the Munich Security Conference with a congressional delegation led by Senator McCain. And not only did I get to see the congressman in action, asking important questions and representing U.S. policy abroad, Senator McCain kept introducing him as the grandson of Henry Kissinger. [Laughter] Which the Europeans thought was serious, but we just thought was hilarious. The second time I interacted with the congressman was when he called me from the Syrian border. He was on a trip with Mouaz Moustafa from the Syrian Emergency Task Force, and met with Syrian rebel leaders at a time when even the U.S. government was discouraging U.S. lawmakers from doing just that.

I want to open up the floor to the congressman to give some opening remarks. Then I’ll ask a few questions and then we’ll get input from all of you.

KINZINGER: Thanks, brother. Appreciate it. Thank you everybody for being here. It’s a good opportunity to interact. Some good faces in the crowd too. People that have done a lot of hard work. The Syrian Emergency Task Force does a lot of good work for people. And Mouaz has introduced me and introduced his people to folks in the network to defend the voiceless. And that’s what we have in Syria, is a generation of voiceless people right now that are being destroyed by a very evil dictator. And unfortunately not enough information, not enough discussion, happens about the real way to fix Syria. It focuses on ISIS, which is a real problem, but this is a problem and a conflict that’s not gonna burn itself out.

This is not a house that’s on fire where someday we sit back and eventually it’s just a tragedy but just a few embers are burning and the house is gone. This is a fire in an apartment complex, and you have one apartment on fire right now. And if you stand back and watch it happen and don’t act, it’ll spread to the next building, the next apartment, and then the next apartment building, and the whole region will burn down. It’s a serious problem.

You know, on a broader thing, I know we’re going to get into a lot of more detailed discussion, I’m a really passionate believer in America’s role in the world for a couple of reasons. Number one, I think when our country was created, when it was thought of, we were created with a unique mission. And that unique mission is not just to provide people that live in our country nice clothes or opportunity, although that’s an important mission, but I think we have a unique mission, which is to be an example of self-governance to a world that’s drowning in chaos and strongmen and poverty. We have a unique responsibility.

In the political dialogue that’s happening today, which is actually quite depressing, it’s very tempting to fall prey to the rhetoric that we need to just withdraw from the world, we need to lick our own wounds, and we need to cut off all foreign aid. It’s seductive in the political — that will get cheers and crowds, because people feel like America is in a way worse position than it is.

Unfortunately, it’s not an honest discussion. All you have to do is look through history and see when America has made the decision to withdraw from the world, that it is only a matter of time until that decision comes back and bites us in a big way. We look at World War II. When America withdrew after World War I, all the events that happened after, and frankly the West’s reticence to engage against Hitler in Germany, led to many, many millions of people giving their lives when this could have been stopped way earlier. So America has a mission, I think, and unfortunately in this dialogue, in this discussion, people don’t talk about America’s mission, and that mission, again, to be an example of self-governance.

But the other issue is this. Altruistically, yes, we have a desire for human rights. Yes, we have a desire to help people. But being engaged in the world is not just out of the altruism of our heart; it’s in our own self-interest. You know, when you have leading candidates for president, and one says that, you know, a country should pay us to defend them, I call that a narcissistic foreign policy. And I call it that because it doesn’t recognize the reality that troops in South Korea is not just for the benefit of the South Koreans; it’s for the benefit of the United States of America.

You know, the understanding that our involvement in NATO is not because we just want to defend Europe out of the goodness of our heart, but because without NATO we never would have been able to drop the Iron Curtain and bring freedom to millions of people and make us safer. We don’t talk about the fact that, when you talk about leaving NATO and you talk about NATO being past — [it] doesn’t recognize the contribution that NATO has made to the war on terror since September 11, 2001, and continue to make today in Afghanistan. Are there challenges? Of course. But that needs to be done in the context of “how do we get NATO reengaged” versus “let’s just get out of the rest of the world.” That’s a narcissistic foreign policy.

So a couple of just top-line points. Number one, I don’t think we have a right or an ability to withdraw from the world. Number two, I believe that we need to begin to talk about our role in the world not just as us doing things for people, but also in the fact that by us being engaged in the world we are helping ourselves. It is in our own self-interest to do that. And I think when you put words to that level, I think people can begin to see it outside of the dangerous rhetoric of “we need to just get out and withdraw.”

Just one other very brief thing on that before we just get into the discussion. I touched on the human tragedy on Syria. There are iron curtains that have descended around the world right now all over the place. We all know the iron curtain of the former Soviet Union and the reality of that, and we won that war not by shooting guns. There were conflicts throughout the decades that existed, but not through guns. We solved it through ideas. We solved it because the power of American lifestyle and American ideas were beamed over the iron curtain to people that just — humanity has universal desires and that’s one of them. To have things and to be free. This is how we’re going to win against the iron curtains that exist today.

There is a role for robust military power against ISIS, and it has to be done. I think there is a role for robust military power against the Assad regime, and that has to be done. I believe military has to be ready, and hopefully never be used, to push back against Russian aggression in Europe and elsewhere. That’s important, but ultimately the way we’re gonna solve the problem of radicalization — it’s gonna be a long war. It’s gonna be a long war of ideas.

And when you have the chaos enveloping in Syria right now, and I went to a refugee camp in Turkey recently with Senator Graham and Bono, who’s cool, by the way — that makes me cool, because I was with him [laughter] — but when you see displaced populations and you see children that are not going to school, that is fertile recruiting ground for the next generation of extremism.

And I noticed that when I was in Liberia once. Liberia is a fantastic country with fantastic people, but as you know Liberia tore itself up with civil war. So now you see people that are my age, or maybe a little younger, in Liberia, that can’t read or write, that don’t have jobs. And now they’re not turning to jihadism, because they are — you know, it’s a Christian country. But they’re not being utilized. And the same people that are my age that should be teaching the next generation of children are unable to read or write themselves. And so the next generation of children are not getting the education they need to teach the next generation. It’s a cycle of poverty.

When you do that in certain areas, when you subject children to not being able to read and write, not understanding the bigger world out there, they can easily be whispered into walking into a café with a bomb on them and blowing themselves up. That is how you drain the next generation of terror, is make sure people have an education and an opportunity. With that, that’s my opening statements.

ROGIN: Thank you, Congressman. Let’s start with Syria — a subject that is somewhat under-covered here in Washington, but something a lot of people in this room I know care about. We can look back at the five years of U.S. policy toward Syria. We can find a lot of mistakes, a lot of misconceptions, a lot of errors. We are where we are. Specifically, as of now, not looking back, looking forward, what’s the list of things that you think that America must do in order to [unintelligible] in Syria?

KINZINGER: I think the first thing we have to recognize is it’s not gonna be easy or pretty. It’s gonna be messy. But the alternative to inaction we’re seeing right now. I mean, could it get messier than it is now? You never say nothing couldn’t get messier, but it’s pretty darn messy right now. You have freedom of operation for ISIS, you have freedom of operation for other radical groups that hate us, and you have half a million people dead. I mean, you have kids that wake up, that want to be teachers, doctors, lawyers, firemen, that that night are not going to bed, because they’re killed by a regime that’s selfishly interested in taking power. So that’s the reality. So can it get worse? I guess. But it’s pretty doggone bad now, and without action it’s only gonna spread.

I think the first thing that needs to happen is the declarative statement and red line — and I’m always hesitant to say red line now in this context — but that Assad absolutely must leave power, and if he will not do it voluntarily, it will be by force. That doesn’t necessarily happen immediately, but immediately you put up no fly zones and you protect the population. The reason you have people fleeing to Europe right now is because they have no safe place to be. Create that safe spot for them in Syria. Make sure that aid is getting in, obviously. Defend that safe area with troops on the ground, with a no-fly zone, stuff in the air.

And I think in that context of Syrians being among themselves, you can begin to build a construct of a next government. You have a police force — we know the Jordanians are very good at training police forces — you have a police force that polices themselves in the camp and gains the trust of the population, so in a post-Assad world people trust the police force that’s there. You begin to build the structures of governance, you begin to teach people a version of democracy. And you understand it’s not gonna look like ours. And I think that’s mistakes we’ve made in the past, is we expect an American version of democracy.

But you give people relative safety. And also in that environment, you begin to train the people that are gonna take on the Assad regime and take back their country. You know, we have very strict guidance right now on who we recruit into our train-and-equip program. That’s gonna have to be loosened. Are there gonna be people that maybe slip through the cracks? Possibly. But if we get more people than not, we will find a good alternative.

And lastly, just briefly. Arab regimes in the area are willing to do this themselves. But they need American leadership. When you have a country like Jordan that’s the size of Illinois without Chicago, right, the idea that Jordan by themselves — you know, when somebody says, “oh, just let the Middle East take care of it all” — we have unique capacity and capabilities that these countries do not. We can build alliances to fix this problem.

ROGIN: So troops on the ground. U.S. troops on the ground.

KINZINGER: I think — you know, I think if we can do it with Arab troops that’s way better.

ROGIN: If not —

KINZINGER: If not, then I think at the end of the day, there has to be some level of it, whether it’s to protect the safe zone or otherwise.

ROGIN: What level, do you think?

KINZINGER: Whatever is required to protect the safe area.

ROGIN: Do you have a number in your head?


ROGIN: 5,000, 10,000?

KINZINGER: It depends on how big the safe area is. But I think at the end of the day — and again, the preference here is not American troops, because I think there’s all kinds of connotations that come along with it. I don’t think, you know, even the countries in the region don’t necessarily want to see this. But whatever it takes to maintain that. And hopefully, the Saudis have said they’re willing, Jordanians, other countries have said they’re willing, hopefully we can use that.

ROGIN: You said military —

KINZINGER: There will be American military special operators, as we have now. There will be American military defending the no-fly zone. And by the way, that includes against the Russians too.

ROGIN: You said military power against Assad. U.S. military power against Assad?

KINZINGER: I think whatever it takes ultimately to get Assad out of power must be used. And — you know, let’s go back, I don’t want to obviously revisit the mistakes of the past. We know it. But right up to the discussion of the red line of Syria, right up to it, there were all kinds of discussions of “how do we get Assad out of power?” There were all kinds of people floating ideas, you know, to give him, whatever, a billion dollars and leave kind of thing. The day we failed to enforce the red line, the discussions of Assad leaving stopped. They stopped cold. The threat of military power — and Assad knows that any military power turned against him would be the end of him — even the threat of military power that’s legitimate I think would leave to a more peaceful exit of Assad.

ROGIN: But ok, so now —

KINZINGER: But I’m not — no, nobody’s for a quarter million troops in Syria.

ROGIN: Understood. But you’ve heard the criticism. If we remove Assad, it creates a power vacuum that the strongest group in Syria will fill, and the strongest group is now the extremists. How do you prevent that from happening? Isn’t that likely what would happen?

KINZINGER: It’s possible. But I think, look, the Syrian people — the thing that’s impressed me about them is they have a national identity. It’s different than what you see sometimes in Iraq, where you have a lot of different ethnic groups that fight against each other. There is a national identity in Syria. The Syrian people I don’t think by and large want to be run by extremism. So I think there’s a natural population that would rise up against that kind of thing.

But I think we all have to understand that the immediate post-Assad Syria will be messy. It’s not gonna be pretty. I mean, the United States, when we were developing our own self-governance, we ended up throwing out the Articles of Confederation and we had a civil war. We expect this stuff to happen immediately, and it doesn’t necessarily happen immediately. But I can tell you the longer that Assad stays in power, the more these extreme groups are able to recruit, the more the Syrian population feels left behind and angry. And this is a decision ultimately that’s going to end up having to be made, and it’s going to be bad.

ROGIN: Look at Libya. That’s essentially where your policy that you’re advocating for in Syria was implemented. Libya doesn’t look so hot right now.

KINZINGER: Yeah, but the mistakes in Libya were not in the intervention. I think we made a mistake by calling ourselves leading from behind. I think that’s the most ludicrous foreign policy thing I’ve ever heard. Almost. But I think, the problem was — so Qaddafi’s killed, a moderate government is elected, legitimately, and the moderate government goes, “Hey, listen, we think we have a problem with some of these extremist groups, we’re gonna need help building an army and having weapons to fight against them.” And the West turned their back. And in that chaos is where you see what happens. Anytime you have chaos you have breeding ground for terrorism to spread. And so I think the mistake in Libya was the post-action where we turned our back. That’s what you’re gonna have here in this situation too.

ROGIN: Interestingly on that point, you and President Obama actually agree.

KINZINGER: OK. There’s a lot I don’t agree with him on, though, don’t worry.

ROGIN: Clearly. So the one unescapable fact is that there’s no popular appetite in the United States for the measures that you’re advocating. Right or wrong, make sense or don’t make sense, agree or don’t agree. Based on the American experience in Iraq and Libya, the politics are totally in the other direction. How do you fix that?

KINZINGER: It’s leadership.

ROGIN: Can you be more specific?

KINZINGER: Yeah. Americans listen to their president when it comes to decisions of war and peace. You know, leading up to Iraq, agree or disagree with that invasion, leading up to Iraq, the president gave a series of speeches to bring public opinion on his side. He talked about what we’re doing, laid out strategic objectives, talked about the compelling case for it. That has not been done by this administration. Even in attacking ISIS, a cancerous terrorist group, the president has not strongly — public opinion led the president against ISIS, by the way. When you had the vast majority of Americans believing in air strikes, only then did the president begin air strikes against ISIS. It’s the opposite of how it should be. So I think it takes strong leadership. I think it takes making the case for why this is not gonna burn itself out.

And the other thing is, quit telling us how war-weary we are. This reminds me of, like, you know, when my grandma was alive, we’d go over and she’d be like, “Adam, you look so tired.” [Laughter] And I’m like, “No, grandma, I’m actually not tired.” And she’s like, “But you look really tired. [Laughter] You’re tired, aren’t you?” And eventually I’m like, “Yeah, I guess I’m kind of tired.” [Laughter] When you have a president that continually reinforces to Americans that they’re war-weary, continually reinforces that the greatest national objective is to get us out of war versus to fight for what’s right, it is absolutely amazing that there is still any public support for any kind of military action.

It takes leadership to say, you know what, you think you’re war-weary, and I know some of you are, and I know some of you knew people that lost their life in the Middle East. But after World War II the president of the United States did not say, hey, we lost hundreds of thousands of people and had an entire industrial base motivated to winning the war. We won the war. You are tired. They were tired after World War II. And instead of leaving Europe we doubled down our commitment, basically built NATO, and said we cannot leave the world again. And the American people happily followed. And there were wars that followed because of it. It is leadership that makes the difference.

ROGIN: So let’s talk about leadership, the leadership of your party, the Republican party. When you talk about a narcissistic foreign policy, it’s not exactly code, right? We’re talking about Donald Trump. OK.

KINZINGER: Really? [Laughter] I’ve never heard of this man.

ROGIN: Donald Trump has put forward an America first policy —

KINZINGER: It’s cute. [Laughter]

ROGIN: — criticizing NATO, advocating for nuclear proliferation, all of those things. But especially on Syria, advocating for a position of bombing the hell out of ISIS, leaving the rest of the problem to the region, and mostly staying out of it. Now it’s not just Donald Trump, and it’s not just the Republican voter that seems to be supporting Donald Trump. There’s been a longstanding struggle inside the Republican Party between people who agree with you, and people who agree with Donald Trump, and now for the first time that I remember in recent memory, the Donald Trump side has the momentum.


ROGIN: So talk to me about what’s going on inside the Republican Party on foreign policy. Is it true that the hawkish camp is now playing catchup to the more isolationist, more realist, whatever you want to call it, camp. Is that fixable, in your view, from your perspective, and what can we expect the Republican Party to look like for the next few years?

KINZINGER: I think it is fixable, because, you know, I remember during the red line in Syria debate, when I was — and then ultimately I was one of the first members of Congress to call for bombing ISIS when we thought they were still Al Qaeda, when they went into Fallujah. I mean, I had — literally — staff fielding calls and in tears because of just how they were being assaulted by people in my own party. “Adam wants to start another Iraq war, hasn’t he had enough?” You know, this kind of stuff.

But we saw that circumstances on the ground changed that public opinion. It is not easy to lead and talk about nuanced foreign policy realities. That’s a very hard case to make. What’s easy to make is, you’re tired, let’s get out, let’s bring the boys home, and get the hell out, right? That’s really easy. But the people like me in my party that believe like I do are not going to change our philosophy. Just because our frontrunner may be an isolationist doesn’t mean that I’m ever going to become one.

And so we continue to do events like this, to go give speeches on the floor, to do news hits, to continue to make that case, so that when circumstances catch back up again, which they will — another beheading, or another whatever happens — you’ve been consistent in foreign policy all along. You know, Republican Party has always been the party of defense and security. And even though we may be losing that edge now, I don’t think we lose that edge permanently. In terms of what does everything look like in the future, I really don’t know. I mean —

ROGIN: Well, you say that Republicans won’t change, but I knew Jeff Sessions when he was a hawk. I listened to him today, and that man has changed.


ROGIN: And when I talk to Bob Corker, who’s increasingly close to the Trump campaign, I’m not going to go as far as to say he’s changed, but he’s talking differently. So there does seem to be a realignment going on. There does seem to be a coalescing. Not by everybody, but by a lot of leaders in the Republican Party around Donald Trump.

KINZINGER: Oh yeah, there’s a coalescing happening, yeah. You know, in terms of — you probably have better interactions to know if there’s an overall change in movement. I know I’m not, and I know that I’m a Republican because I believe in America’s role in the world, and will continue to articulate that policy. But yeah, it’s a concerning situation that we find ourselves in. You know, when you have, in essence, a frontrunner that’s to the left of a Democrat, Hillary Clinton, on foreign policy, that’s a frightening thing.

When you have somebody that says he’s going to have a really bad relationship with England because David Cameron was a meanie to him, but then he’s going to have a really great relationship with Vladimir Putin, because Putin ran the KGB playbook of flattery on him, and he fell right into it. You know, “Vladimir Putin’s a great guy; we’re going to have a great relationship,” this is the guy that’s tearing Europe up, by the way. This is the guy that’s throwing the international order aside. This is the guy that’s basically a dictator in a very powerful country, of course with an economy the size of Italy, I’d need to reiterate.

It’s a frightening thing. My only hope right now — and it’s sad that I’m hoping this — I’m hoping it’s an act, right? Now, I don’t think we should reward actors who run for president — besides Reagan, he was good [laughter] — but I don’t think we should reward the act of outrage in running. I think we have a tradition in this country of having people run as statesmen, and electing statesmen.

ROGIN: So if it’s not an act, and Donald Trump is elected president, what’s the consequence for U.S. national security and foreign policy?

KINZINGER: Well, I think if what he says, he implements. If what he says, he implements, it’s devastating. I mean, think about it. He wants Japan to have nuclear weapons. Well, Japan’s prohibited by their own constitution from this, by the way, but disregard that. He wants Korea to pay us for troops in South Korea. Well, they already pay half of the personnel costs. He was surprised when it was mentioned to him that they pay half the personnel costs, and it’s actually more expensive to keep American troops in America than keep them in Korea because of that.

I would expect you’re going to see — when we talk about, you know, when America retreats from the world, chaos follows, strongmen follow, dictators follow — I expect if Donald Trump carries out what he says, you will see more of that.

ROGIN: Now, you brought it up. Hillary Clinton supports your exact policy on Syria: more pressure on Assad, no fly zones, a renewed effort to train and arm moderate rebels. Are you prepared to endorse Hillary Clinton?

KINZINGER: [Laughs] You just want to make huge headlines here, I get it. No, I’m not — you know, I’m not going to support Hillary, and you know, there’s a number of things I disagree with her, but especially on domestic policy. I mean, at the end of the day, I’m still a Republican. You know, I have a very strong interest in seeing the Supreme Court — whose balance is going to be tipped right now — with conservative-leaning justices. So it’s more than foreign policy, but you know, look, it’s a compelling case she can make to certain people.

ROGIN - Are you concerned that your opposition to Donald Trump, although it’s not support for Hillary Clinton, could have a cost for you politically?

KINZINGER: Yeah, and it already has. I mean, you know, in my district, I’m a believer that I’m not elected to come out here and just simply, in essence, take a poll in the district and just do exactly — you know, and it’s, we have to listen to the district, right, that’s important, it’s important to go talk to them, and it’s important to hear what’s on their mind, and in something that’s an interest to your district, whether it’s, you know, an energy bill, or it’s something like that, you need to vote on behalf of the benefit of your district.

But when it comes to issues of foreign policy and leadership, I am very clear about what I stand for and what I believe. And my district, every two years, has an opportunity to determine if I reflect their values, or if that’s the kind of leadership they want, or if it’s not. There are a lot of Kinzinger supporters that are Donald Trump supporters, and I’m hearing from them. They’re not really happy about it. But the thing I say to them is, look, this is nothing against you. I mean, I understand it’s an attractive message to people, and he’s the legitimate nominee of our party in July. He won. But I also have to be very true to myself.

Let me give you one more quick thing on that. I’ve taken so many votes that I thought would end my career that it’s not even funny. I’m not scared of my own shadow, though. Some members of Congress are so scared every vote they take because it might cause a primary, or it might hurt them in the general election. I just want to be me, because A) it’s way more fun to just be you. It’s actually fun to defend votes that were out of what people necessarily wanted you to do. But lastly, and I don’t want to sound overly emotional on this, but if we’re going to ask people to go die for their country, if we’re going to ask people to — can you guys hear me? It’s like, in-and-out —

ROGIN: Yeah, we can hear you.

KINZINGER: OK. There we go. If we’re going to ask people to be willing to die for their country, you have to be willing to give up your career for the same cause. When we’re taking votes out here, when we’re advocating for positions, I have to be willing to put my career on the line if we’re going to go to a funeral of an 18-year-old that died for his country and salute the flag. My opinion.

ROGIN: And you’d rather lose your seat than support Donald Trump. [Laughter]

KINZINGER: Didn’t go there.

ROGIN: OK, you don’t have to answer.



KINZINGER: Look, let me just say this: I want to get to where I can support him. I want to.


KINZINGER: And my hope is that through people like me, even though I understand that I’m not as big and powerful as Paul Ryan, somebody like Paul Ryan saying, “Hey, it’s going to take some time here,” it gets Donald Trump to a perspective where he can come closer to what a real Republican should look like.

ROGIN: Well, if you ever get there, give me a call.


ROGIN: Alright, so let’s move on. You mentioned your trip to the region, right? And —


ROGIN: This is a trip that I spoke with Senator Graham about, and I watched your floor speech on Syria, and you — this is a quote from your floor speech: “Humanity does not like to be oppressed under these dictatorships.” Now, that could apply to Syria, it could also apply to some of the other countries you’ve visited.

KINZINGER: Sure. Yeah.

ROGIN: The first one that comes to mind is Egypt. Now, what struck me when I spoke to Senator Graham about that trip that you were on, was that his view towards the dictatorship in Egypt had changed, right? He was part of a group of Republicans who had advocated for a lot of pressure on Sisi, a restricting of U.S. aid towards Egypt in light of the increased repression on human rights, journalism, civil society, that’s going on in Egypt right now. What about you? Where do you come down on how do we balance our need to work with Egypt on security, and our values of pressing basic human rights and democracy, and so on?

KINZINGER: You know, I think it’s an art and not a science. And I say that because, so yes, Egypt has some human rights practices that obviously we would love them to correct, and we pressed the case with the president when we were talking with him. You know, he pressed back in certain areas, said he’d look into certain areas, you know, kind of the typical back-and-forth. The reality, though, is the president of Egypt has not killed 500,000 of his own people. The president of Egypt —

ROGIN: Just 3,000?

KINZINGER: Well, I mean, but it’s a different situation in that. The other thing is, if Egypt falls, if the Egyptian government collapses, and you have in essence the same kind of chaotic situation in Egypt that you have in Syria, it’s going to make the refugee crisis out of Syria look like child’s play. Because you have 90 million people now that are going to be putting pressure very closely to Europe and everywhere else.

So it is an art form, and at no point should we turn our back on the human rights violations, that’s important to keep on the forefront, but I don’t think you can make those human right violations detrimental and engaging with a very important country of Egypt. We saw what happened — I mean, the Muslim Brotherhood was going down a very bad path. The people did not want the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt, so the army took him out and then Sisi was elected. So it’s a very different situation than a guy that responds to peaceful protests by massively killing a bunch of people, and specifically women and children because it inflicts a lot more pain.

ROGIN: OK. You can see how some people might see a contradiction between —


ROGIN: — those two policies, especially when you think back to the Bush administration —

KINZINGER: You can’t, and let me just say real quickly, you cannot have this idea that if you treat somebody one way you have to now level that standard on every other — doesn’t recognize international politics. International politics is not always fair, international politics is, like I said, it’s more of an art than a science. It’s understanding consequences.

ROGIN: The idea is, we either use whatever leverage we have, in a persuasive or even coercive way, to get Egypt to behave better, or we don’t. And even in the Bush administration, aid was used to promote positive if incremental reform in Egypt. The question is, have we lost the ability? Is aid no longer useful as leverage?

KINZINGER: No, I think it’s useful, but the difference is, is under the Bush administration, there was not an immediate threat of the collapse of Egypt, and you did not have a Middle East in absolute utter chaos like it is right now. So while in Egypt again, and it’s not putting aside the violations. I mean, I’m very concerned with NGO arrests and everything else, I mean there’s American NGOs — somebody’s son, Ray LaHood’s son, you know, I mean, this is ridiculous.

But at the end of the day, if we disengage from Egypt, if we pull the aid, if we go away and say, “You know what? We don’t agree with everything, so we’re out.” We’d have to level the same standard to Saudi Arabia, by the way, and some of these other countries. We have eliminated ourselves from the Middle East, the Russians have taken that as an opportunity to get way back in the Middle East now, and the chaos that follows will make any decision we made look extremely terrible.

ROGIN: And do you have any insight, or have you been briefed, on the Egypt Air disaster?

KINZINGER: I don’t have any insight that you all don’t have, but you know, it looks like it was a terrorist attack. It’s possible it was some, you know, catastrophic event in an Airbus. If it was a terrorist attack, I mean, this is aimed at — I think — as much at hurting Egypt’s tourism economy. You know, when I was there, they talk about tourism’s at 20 to 25 percent. That’s a huge part of the economy. And now everybody thinks that ISIS is running Egypt. It’s not the case. You know, they’re obviously big in the Sinai, but they’re not running Egypt. Egypt’s a great — I would go back to Egypt by myself tomorrow, because it’s a beautiful area.

ROGIN: Saudi Arabia. I heard, tell me if I’m right, that the Saudi king — you met with him?


ROGIN: Had something to say about Donald Trump. Can you tell us what it was?

KINZINGER: People have been trying to pry this out of me, so I don’t want to quote anything, but I will say this. Middle East leaders are very concerned with the rhetoric. And it’s because of this, it’s not really because it’s just offensive to them to hear that we should ban all Muslims. I mean that’s offensive. But, you know, Saudi Arabia and UAE just dealt a major blow to Al Qaeda in Yemen a couple weeks ago. That’s work that we don’t have to do now. There is a — there is — we have to have Muslims as allies. I think Muslim regimes can be the best, and Muslim governments can be the best allies in the war on terror, because they understand the religion, they understand the culture, they understand why people are attracted to ISIS.

So I think, yeah, when, you know, Trump makes comments like “ban ‘em all,” it does real harm to our international affairs, and our ability to leverage when we say, “well, we want the Middle East to do their own work,” well, we have to leverage those. And when you’re saying inflammatory rhetoric just for the sake of a domestic audience, you harm your ability to do that.

ROGIN: One Republican congressman, not you, who was on the trip with you, told me that the Saudi king said about Trump, “Is this the best you can do?” Is that true? [Laughter]

KINZINGER: I’ll let you quote your sources.

ROGIN: Alright, that’s a non-denial, everybody. [Laughter]

KINZINGER: I always try not to release too much from those meetings, because then they always kind of never tell you the truth.

ROGIN: Noted, noted. The bill, to allow families — victims of 9/11 — to sue the Saudi government. Where do you stand on that?

KINZINGER: I don’t think it’s a good move. And, you know, look, I understand the concern, but it opens up a lot — it frankly opens up the United States to a lot of liability too. I mean, you know, mistaken bombings during the war in Iraq. Now, by this definition, Iraq can sue America for every mistaken collateral damage action, and I think it’s going to do very, very significant harm to an ally that we need. And so I think it’s — I think it would be a bad move. Now, it’s not popular to say it, but I think it’s a fact.

ROGIN: Understood. The 28 pages from the joint congressional inquiry into the attacks on 9/11 that allegedly refer to the involvement of senior Saudi officials in aiding the attackers — do you think those should be released?

KINZINGER: I’m kind of on the fence on that. At this point, I want to say no because, from what we understand, it’s a preliminary study that was even refuted later, and I think the potential damage of it, for something that was eventually refuted, I mean, if you could release it as saying, “Hey, here was a draft; by the way, this was refuted,” that’s one thing. But they will take that — people, you know, the media — will take that draft and say, “This is what happened.”

And now, look, to the extent anybody was involved, they ought to be held accountable. But if you’re going to just do something and the story out of it is incorrect, I think it does a lot of damage.

ROGIN: My understanding is that it’s raw intelligence that was neither confirmed nor refuted.

KINZINGER: That’s what I understand.

ROGIN: Is that your understanding?

KINZINGER: That’s what I understand, yeah. And, you know, it’s, again, when we make these decisions, they have huge impacts, and it’s not just — you can’t run international politics based on domestic politics. And that’s where we run into the temptation to do.

ROGIN: Last one before we go to questions. Turkey. It seems to me, my amateur observation, that we’re supporting at least three sides in the war in Syria. We’re supporting the Kurds, we’re supporting the Turks that are fighting the Kurds, and we’re supporting the Sunni Arabs that are fighting the Kurds, and in some cases each other.

KINZINGER: It’s a mess.

ROGIN: It’s a mess, right? So, you know, what should our policy be towards the Turkish government? They clearly want us to be more aggressive against Assad. They clearly want us to stop supporting the Kurds. They clearly want us to turn a blind eye to some of their human rights violations against the Kurds —


ROGIN: How do we square that circle? What’s the best way?

KINZINGER: I kind of think you look at it almost as, I still call for engagement with Egypt, right? We need Turkey. Turkey is a very important NATO ally, even if their — even if sometimes their president maybe would make us believe otherwise. They’re an important NATO ally. It’s the bridge between the Europe and the Middle East. We cannot afford to turn our back on them. You can help influence them through engagement, not through ignoring, and I think that’s important to do. I spent time in Turkey, you know, as a military pilot, and it’s a great country, and these are folks that I think by-and-large want to have a great relationship with the United States and the West.

Turkey also is very concerned with, obviously, the Assad situation, and I share that concern. They’re doing a great job of handling the refugee crisis, but they’re dealing with a refugee crisis because of inaction in that area. The last thing I want to say on that is this. We talked about dictatorships. In the 1980s, maybe dictatorships worked, because you could repress information, and if we were all here meeting to overthrow a dictator, one of y’all is going to be a rat and go tell the dictator, so we’re not going to do it, right?

But on social media, people can talk now. People can get together, they can meet at the square, they can rally, they can hold signs. Dictators cannot oppress people anymore. It physically can’t happen because of technology, and because of the internet.

ROGIN: Do you think Turkey should commit troops inside of Syria?

KINZINGER: Oh, yeah, I think so, yeah.

ROGIN: Great. Thank you. Let’s go to questions. Before I call on anyone, please wait for the mic. Please identify yourself, and your affiliation if you have one, and please put your comments in the form of a question. And we’ll start over there.

KINZINGER: That last part being key.

JEFF TYSON: Alright, thank you very much. My name’s Jeff Tyson, I’m a reporter with Devex here in Washington, and Congressman, I’m interested in getting your take on reconstruction in Syria. The World Bank, for instance, is an institution that doesn’t typically work in active conflict zones, and they’re already mapping schools and hospitals and trying to figure out where they can be most effective so that they can get in and start rebuilding as soon as possible. When is it too soon to begin reconstruction, and how can the U.S. government play a role in that?

KINZINGER: Well, it’s probably too soon with a conflict going on, because obviously you don’t want to build a school that’s going to be bombed by the regime. By the way, you know, I want to make a point, and then I’ll get back to finishing that.

A lot was made about the U.S. bombing a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. And a lot should have been made about it, it was tragic. But the regime bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Syria, and killed just as many people, and we barely hear anything about it. I think that’s important to note.

I think beginning to plan the rebuilding is important, beginning to figure out where the funding sources are going to come from is important, but I think obviously with an active conflict going on, there’s no use in rebuilding at this point unless we begin to have an established safe zone that we will absolutely not flex on. Then you can begin to rebuild in that area.

Another important thing, and Mouaz introduced me to somebody yesterday that is already beginning to outline the war crimes against the regime. And this is an important thing to map out, and the U.S. commits no money at this point to that, and I think we should.

ROGIN: Thank you. Sir?

OMAR HOSSINO: Omar Hossino.

KINZINGER: What’s up, brother?

HOSSINO: How are you doing?


HOSSINO: Definitely. I wanted to ask you about Iran. You know, we’re hearing a lot of rhetoric now from the administration and others that Iran could be a partner against ISIS, that we can work together with Iran to confront regional problems, that perhaps the Iran deal as it was sold to us by the president can make them a “responsible actor,” quote-unquote, President Obama’s quote, in the region, so, I just wanted to ask you, how do we contain Iran now that after the nuclear deal they’ve gotten more aggressive all over the region and is fanning the flames of more extremism? Thank you, sir.

KINZINGER: Well, part of it is, and thank you for the question, we encourage the Saudis to continue to do what they are doing in Yemen. You know, in one end, you have an administration that says the Middle East should handle their own affairs and then when the Middle East handles their own affairs, they pull them back a little bit and say, “well, you guys are getting a little too aggressive in Yemen.” We personally said thank you to the Saudis for what they were willing to do. I think that’s important. I think ensuring that, you know, people that can push back against Iranian interest have that. I do not forget that about a third of American soldiers were killed by Iran in Iraq. And maybe it was a quarter. The number is debatable, but there are Americans that died because of Iran. It’s not something that I forget.

Iran was the original sponsor of terrorism before it was even cool, so pre-9/11, you look at all throughout history of the Iranian terrorist acts, and they continue them to this day. They support a regime that murders half a million of its own people. They support Hezbollah. I mean, it is, it is — they are the problem in the region. Why were we concerned about Iran getting nuclear weapons? It’s not because we’re just anti countries getting nuclear weapons. It’s because they’re terrible actors, and they make the statement that they want to destroy Israel, so we have to believe that. Well, if they say, “well, that’s just rhetoric,” OK, the Joint [Comprehensive] Plan of Action is also just rhetoric. If you believe that they are going to be honest about the Joint Plan – about the nuclear deal, you have to believe that they are going to be honest about their desire to take over the region and destroy Israel. If you’re not going to believe them here, you can’t believe the Plan of Action.

You know, if I was president today, obviously I don’t think you can just unilaterally say the Iran deal is off now, immediately, but I think you have to make it very clear that any inkling of violation of that deal, and the deal is off. Sanctions snap back, and you’re going to rally a world to do what it has to. We have the technology to prevent getting Iran from a nuclear weapon. They have to decide how they want to get there, either peacefully or other means.

ROGIN: Quick follow-up. President Obama, in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, described his desire to see an equilibrium, a new equilibrium, in the Middle East between Iran and —

KINZINGER: That’s cute.

ROGIN: — and Saudi Arabia. What do you think about that?

KINZINGER: It’s stupid. [Laughter] I mean, you know, there is no, there is no equilibrium in the Middle East. I mean it’s, it’s, you’re not, you’re not going to get to where you have this fairytale, hold hands scenario, where you know Sunni and Shia love each other, and they were just, you know, they pat themselves over a little bit of a misunderstanding. Iran is a very bad actor, and you know, people say — they talk about hawkish foreign policies. I’m not a hawk because I enjoy war. I don’t, right? But I think being willing sometimes to use military force when necessary makes your need to use military force much less — makes it much less likely to happen. For instance, had we bombed in Syria in the red line, I think you would have a very different Syria today.

ROGIN: We’ll never know.

KINZINGER: We’ll never know.

ROGIN: Let’s go in the back. The woman with the blonde hair.

ANNE PIERCE: Anne Pierce. I am an author and commentator. When I attend or read transcripts of hearings on the Hill, I see a certain percentage of congresspeople who have the big picture and the understanding of the American foreign policy tradition that you do, but it seems that when I see congresspeople in the media, they focus exclusively on ISIS and completely ignore terror-sponsoring, WMD-proliferating, murderous regimes, and I wonder if you could tell me a little about that dynamic and explain it, because as you said, leadership is so important, and I wonder why the narrative doesn’t somehow get to the public.

KINZINGER: There’s two points on that, and I want to be very clear. I will criticize a president in a forum like this — not personal, nothing for me is personal. It’s policy. But when I’m overseas, I do not. I’m still an old school believer that politics stops at the water’s edge, and I think that’s important. You know, why does that happen? Well, first off, the media’s interest right now is ISIS, right, so, you know, for instance, if I go on and talk about ISIS, I try to broaden it to the fact that the incubator of ISIS is Bashar al-Assad, but you have a four-minute hit, and it’s hard to make that long point, but just getting it out there is important, but truthfully, I hate to say it, and it’s nothing against my colleagues. There’s some amazing people that serve in Congress. We get a bum rap, but there are great people there. But they did not go to Congress because of foreign policy.

Some of them maybe were elected because they opposed the health care law, or they have an interest in telecom or energy or something like that, and foreign policy is a necessary part of what they have to learn, but they don’t have good foreign policy instincts, and that’s the vast majority of members of Congress. Now they have expertise in areas that I don’t. There are some areas, you know, domestic policy, certain domestic— that is dry for me, and I have to try really hard to understand. Foreign policy is the opposite for me, so that’s part of the reason I try to do so much media is not just because I want to go be famous or anything. I try to do media because I think it’s important to get this side of the message out there, and it’s how I feel that I can be effective in these talks.

ROGIN: Thank you. Woman right here in the orange.

SARAH RODERICK: Sarah Roderick.


ROGIN: Please wait for the mic.

RODERICK: Sarah Roderick with the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights. I’m also an Illinoisan.

KINZINGER: Good, you’re smart.

RODERICK: Leatherneck.


RODERICK: Not a Redbird though.

KINZINGER: Alright, Redbird is better, but that’s cool.

RODERICK: Anyway, my question is in regards to, well, actually, something that’s kind of been unspoken, but the occupation of Lebanon by Syria. That hasn’t been mentioned too much, but I wasn’t sure if you’ve met with some of the Lebanese leaders. Now, of course, there are different factions there. There’s the Christians, the Druze, and of course the Muslims, Hariri’s group, and of course, some of them had issues throughout the past couple of decades with Israel, and Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, and I just wanted to know if you’ve spoken with them, because obviously if there is any action in Syria, what might happen with Lebanon, especially with Hezbollah being such a big influence in southern Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley?

KINZINGER: No, it’s good. I met with recently a former prime minister of Lebanon and —

ROGIN: Hariri?

KINZINGER: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, yeah, and it was a really enlightening meeting for me because you know, in all honesty, I consider myself really to have a good knowledge of the Middle East, but Lebanon is one that I did not get to know enough of, you know, and it’s like, so I’m learning about some of the dynamics and a close friend of mine out here is, she’s Druze from Lebanon and talks to me about some of that. Just went home and said that it’s a completely frightening situation now. And obviously the refugee situation is putting an amazing amount of pressure. In terms of how does action in Syria directly affect Lebanon, I don’t necessarily know the answer to that, but I can tell you that we’re worried about the future of Lebanon as well as Jordan. I mean these countries — so Jordan has the equivalent right now of the entire country of Canada moving into the United States without a job. You know, I mean that’s incredible, and yeah, these are big issues.

ROGIN: Quick follow-up. You visited the, I’m going to mispronounce it, refugee camp.


ROGIN: Yeah. So the U.S. gives by far more refugee assistance than any other country, yet these accounts are substantially underfunded. What are the people in the refugee camps say to you when you visit them about their view of America, American foreign policy, and American policy in Syria?

KINZINGER: Well, what we talked about in terms of, you don’t — you try not to engage them too much into politics, because we’re there to see the humanitarian side, but a lot of people ask me why Assad is still alive, right? I mean they just, they were, they were pushed out of their home because of him, and they’re wondering why he’s still there. Have they been forgotten? You know, they’re voiceless, right? They feel voiceless, and these are people that deserve a voice, and it’s heartbreaking, but I got to put a good shout-out to the Turkish government. I mean, what they have done for the refugees was pretty impressive.

We went to a refugee camp, and you know, a certain percent, maybe it’s 20 percent of people live in camps. Kids running around with backpacks, smiling, laughing, you know, learning Turkish, having a good time, learning how to read and write, and proud of their possessions in their little backpack, you know, something to be, something to own, something to be proud of. You can see war in a lot of their eyes. It’s heartbreaking because you know, sometimes I walked in, and I remember this little girl starts kind of shaking and crying, and I talked to, you know, through a translator to her teacher kind of what’s happening, and she’s like well, you know, obviously she’s got a little PTSD and frightened, and this is just a young girl, and that’s repeated hundreds of thousands if not millions of times throughout the population.

But the Turkish government is doing a good job of caring for these people and taking them to school, and it’s not just out of humanitarian, even though that is humanitarian, but it’s out of Tukey’s own self-interest because people that are educated and have a good view of Turkey are much less likely to use terrorism as a weapon.

ROGIN: Thank you. Here in the front.

MOHAMMED GHANEM: Mohammad Ghanem, Syrian American Council. Congressman, thank you so much for your comments. I have a question about YPG Kurdish forces in Syria. How do you assess the relationship with — today photos were circulating on Twitter of U.S. Special Forces dressed in YPG fatigues. Do you think that long-term, working with the YPG, the U.S. can win the war against ISIS in Syria? Thank you.

ROGIN: It’s a good question.

KINZINGER: Yeah, it is a good question. I don’t know if just working with the YPG is going to win the war in Syria. We’ve made decisions to work with different groups — enemy of my enemy thing —but I’ve got to tell you when all is said and done, I think what we have is a somewhat flawed strategy against ISIS anyway right now, and I think that there is a potential that we are stirring a lot of passions or tensions that may come back to bite us when this is done.

I don’t know that for sure, but I will tell you that’s why I think — so the overall strategy, you have no military power and World War II military power, right, like everything. Somewhere on here, on this spectrum, is what’s required to defeat ISIS. Let’s just use that. Let’s quit incrementally increasing. Let’s just use what’s necessary — work with people we need to, get it done, and try to work the broader issues, the Turkish, the Kurd issue, the Kurds in Iraq, Iraqi Kurds that don’t, you know, it’s, it’s a mess.

ROGIN: Do you think there’s a difference between the YPG and the PKK?

KINZINGER: Yes. No. I don’t know, I don’t really want to get into the middle of that one.


KINZINGER: Sometimes I know which battles to pick and not to pick.

ROGIN: Right. All the way in the back, sir, in the blue shirt.

PAUL JOHNSON: Yes, my name is, can you hear me?



PAUL JOHNSON: My name is Paul Johnson. I’m a Persianist, living here in Washington, D.C., and while I was studying Persian at the University of Tehran in the early 70s, I would travel to Mashhad and go to Afghanistan, and I would be greeted by a contingent of the U.S. Army on the Iranian side, and a contingent of the U.S. Army on the other side, arresting drug traffickers from the poppy fields. Then, when I would go south from Mashhad to Yazd, I would pass by a very nice long strip of concrete, which had been built in the 1950s, as a U-2 spy plane landing site for emergencies when they would fly the plane from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Norway. Now when I was there a few years ago, we now have, I discovered, a battalion of Marines on the Afghani side and regular RA-style Iranian army cooperating with us, arresting drug traffickers. We have a common need. When you go south, past the old airport, it is now an antenna field. In the old days, it was manned by national security agency people. It is currently manned by national security agency people. We cooperate with Iran on the eastern part of the country.

ROGIN: Can we have a question please?

JOHNSON: I would like to have the people comment on what I just said.

KINZINGER: OK, I mean I don’t know what to say.

ROGIN: Do we have areas, let me try to —

KINZINGER: Yeah, I guess there’s areas of common interest.

ROGIN: — areas of common interest, are there ways in which we can cooperate with Iran —

KINZINGER: If it’s in our interest to not have drug trade, and it’s in Iran’s interest to not have drug trade, that’s fine. That doesn’t mean that we have to accept, you know, Iran’s larger behavior in the area. I mean, look, we cooperate with Russia in certain things, right, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept an illegal annexation of Crimea. So yeah, that’s a good point, I guess, but.

ROGIN: Right here in the third row.

SARAH KAISER-CROSS: Hi, I’m Sarah Kaiser-Cross, and I’m with ACLED, and I wanted to ask a little bit about the perception of the United States in the Middle East. You talked about the need for strong U.S. leadership and the need to bring in, perhaps, a stronger military force. My question is, how do you balance, as a policymaker, the mistrust from a lot of the regimes for letting people like Mubarak fall and balance that with the expectations of the Middle Eastern populations to practice what we preach, in terms of democracy and freedoms?

KINZINGER: No, I mean it’s a good question, and you know, one of the areas where we’ve let people down, for instance, is in Iraqi and Afghan translators that we promised, in essence, visas to come to the United States, if they work for us. They did. Many have come, but there are many that are still waiting, and many that have been killed waiting. Anytime like that we violate the trust of the people, and look, there’s going to be another need someday for another war. I’d love to say there isn’t, but there will be, and people have to look at that.

There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of mistrust in the United States right now. I think there was a perception for a while that the mistrust was based solely on the invasion of Iraq, and somehow Middle East chaos is a result of the invasion of Iraq. Well, a fruit stand vendor in Tunisia didn’t decide to light himself on fire because the United States invaded Iraq. It was because he was being oppressed, and that sparked the fire. You know, you can always argue the invasion and everything else, but I think part of the issue is the population in the Middle East feels very left behind.

Now it doesn’t mean they want, you know, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of American troops around, but it means they want to feel like they have a friend, and you see that in the Saudis right now, who make it very clear they want their alliance to be with the United States but feel that we’ve turned our back on them. You hear it in an ambassador that told me, you know, when Trump makes his comments, for instance, he says we’re very pro-American. You guys see us as very pro-American, but you don’t realize we have forces within our country that do not want us to be pro-American, and when you say comments like that, it puts fuel on the fire, and we have to defend domestically. So I think watching our rhetoric, I think following through on what we say is very important to bringing the folks with us and bringing the countries with us, because the detriment is what we’re seeing in the chaos that’s enveloping

ROGIN: Thank you. We have time for a couple more questions. Enthusiastic woman with the brown hair.

KINZINGER: You are real smiley.


OLIVIA DE LA PENA: Alright, thank you. I am Olivia de la Pena. I’m a student at George Mason, and one thing I was curious about is, with dealing with Syria, how do you prevent the same thing happening with Iraq? Because we went in in 2003, we invaded Iraq, we took out Hussein, but then all of a sudden, it seemed like we kind of left them there, once we pulled the troops out of Iraq. Are we, like, how do you go about that with reestablishing Syria, as opposed to just kind of leaving them hanging? Because I know you outlined some things that we can do, but how much money is it going to cost, and how are you going to enforce everything to make sure that, so that we don’t have this major collapse just because this country doesn’t have a government anymore?

KINZINGER: Yeah, so how do you basically stop, how do you, in essence, how do you ensure that Syria is a little more successful than what we had? The point I want to make first off is, and I firmly believe, Iraq was won. We won that war. And it took a while to get there. It was messy. A lot of bad decisions were made, but when I was there in ’08 and ’09, I mean, in ’08 it was full-on war still, in ’09 I saw kids playing on the street playing soccer.

When we left in 2011, President Obama himself said we are leaving behind a stable government. The problem is when we withdrew, sectarian tendencies came back, people lost faith in the government, and now we see the problems that we have today. I think in a post-Assad situation, it’s going to take — the lead is not us, and I think we need to make that clear that another 250,000 American troops rebuilding Syria is not going to happen and probably would not be very successful.

It’s going to take alliances in the region that understand the culture, that understand the people that can help them work through their democratic process or whatever their process looks like and build their institutions of the state. We have the ability to help the execution of the military power, some resources, and bring in a lot of other resources from other countries together; NGOs, you know, other state actors, so I think at the end of the day, we have to have a better post-government plan than we did in Iraq.

ROGIN: This will have to be the last question, and we’ll go all the way to the back. Gentleman with his hand right up there.

KINZINGER: We forget nobody, including the people all the way in the back.

ROGER BOADA: My name is Roger Boada, I’m a Barcelona-based consultant. Thank you, Congressman, for your remarks. My question would be in the post-Assad scenario that you have sort of laid out, you say that you expect Arab leadership to basically lead the reconstruction of Syria. My question would be, what will the situation of Christians in Syria be under these circumstances, because of course, we know that Saudi Arabia, in spite of their, you know, taking offense at Trump’s comments, is not known for respect for religious liberty either, and we know that a substantial part of the opposition in Syria is made of hardline Islamists, so how can we make sure that this post-Assad order is also good for the religious minorities in Syria?

KINZINGER: Well, I think that that is part of the process of figuring out what government looks like and how it works and, you know, I can’t get up here and give you the blueprint of that yet. It’s just that that will be figured out by the Syrian people and by players in the region. You know, the longer this conflict goes on, though, Christians are being kicked out, killed, by ISIS, by certain actors, and that’s important to note.

Assad is not some protector of Christianity either. Assad uses minority populations to maintain power. And the other bigger thing to keep in mind is this. Anybody that gets seductively into the belief that, you know, well, at least the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. The devil we don’t being what does Syria look like. You know, does it become a terrorist state, which I don’t think it does. But Assad will never regain control of Syria. Ever. I mean, he can’t. There is no — you know, Syria, as big as it is, as much as it is, Assad, the best he could do for himself personally is hope to hold power in Damascus, in Alawite regions, and some areas. He will never reassert control over all of Syria.

So what is the alternative? So Assad stays in power, and you continue to have a huge part of Syria governed by these groups that we don’t like. ISIS, al-Nusra, some of those. So I think this idea that somehow, you know, Assad with Russian backing, or whatever, can re-attain Syria, and we can go back to the good ol’ days of oppression but at least stability is completely unrealistic and will never happen. So you look at that and say we either have a permanent, very bad man killing his people in one part of Syria and then an area for ISIS to thrive and flourish for the next generation of ISIS in perpetuity. Or are we at least hope that with Assad gone, it gives the Syrian people hope and a self-interest and self-governance, and it will be a messy few years after that, but we can get there.

ROGIN: I think that’s a safe prediction. Congressman, in closing, I’d just like to say that I am, although we are the same age, I am old enough to remember a time when Congress was full of generation of veterans from the greatest generation, and over the last decade or so, a lot of them have sadly parted, but agree with you or not, like you or not, you are a part of a new generation of veterans serving in Congress, so on behalf of all of us, I would like to thank you for your service.

KINZINGER: Thanks for being out here, guys.

ROGIN: Thank you for your time today.

KINZINGER: You bet. Thank you.

ROGIN: I just ask everyone to stay seated for two more minutes.

DAVID ADESNIK: Yes, the purpose isn’t to have you listen to anything insightful I am going to say. My name is David Adesnik, the policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative, but we do want to give the congressman and his staff a chance to depart and get back to their other responsibilities, since they have quite a few of them. We just ask you to stay seated while that happens, but first how about another round of applause for really a great guest. Thanks so much.

KINZINGER: Appreciate it.

ADESNIK: And while I have you as a captive audience, all I really want to say is it’s been a pleasure to co-host this event. It’s been a pleasure to work with everyone at Hudson. It’s been great to see Dan McKivergan. I haven’t seen him in a long time. And work with the rest of the Hudson staff. Thank you so much to Josh Rogin. I think that your rapid-fire interrogation helped bring out the best in our guest. And thank you also to my own staff at FPI, or my team, Elaine Stern, director of government relations, as well as Lindsay Markle.

So with that, I think we have given our guest the necessary pause and just again, thank you for coming to the Stern Policy Center here at Hudson. Hudson has been great to work with. Go online, and see their stuff, and you can see our URL here. Please go online, and sign up for our Overnight Brief, which will summarize world news stories for you every morning. Thanks a lot.

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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