Former Congressman and retired Lieutenant Army Colonel Allen West has a new book out titled “Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom.”
Yesterday Blaze Books spoke with Rep. West about his new book, and a wide variety of issues ranging from the military, a message he hopes the military sends to civilian leaders and Russia, to education and Common Core, to how the congressman believes Republicans can go about garnering support in the black community, the potential for a third major political party and much more.
Below is the transcript of our interview, edited for clarity and length. For more, be sure to check out the 12 most provocative quotes from Rep. West’s new book, and if you’d like to keep abreast of similar content, give us a follow on Facebook and Twitter.
Give your elevator pitch for why Blaze readers should pick up “Guardian of the Republic.”
West: Well I think it defines me and it also defines why I fight so passionately for this country. Which I think all Blaze readers really believe passionately in this country. So I think it’s so important right now when you see the American people really not fundamentally understanding what America is about and its established principles and values, that’s what I try to do in this book and it really is not an autobiography, it’s a philosophical biography.
If there were one or two takeaways from your book that you would like to emphasize, what would they be?
West: Number one to understand that I’m living the American dream. To have been brought up out of the inner city of Atlanta, Georgia, to be where I am today sitting here with you looking out over New York City. That’s incredible, and that’s what is part of American exceptionalism. Number two is to understand that fundamentals of America is principles and values, and we’ve got to be able to get that message out there. Because right now we’re on the wrong path and we need to take the exit ramp. Number three, being a black conservative is not something new, it’s not trendy, it’s been around. As a matter of fact, some of the most conservative people in America are black, but we’re viciously attacked and demonized because the other side cannot stand for us to exist. And then the last thing is about – you always have to talk about the future, solutions, and I believe that the future of this nation can be brighter once we once again re-connect with our principles.
One of the things you speak to in this book is the lack of principled leaders in Washington.
West: Just think about what recently happened when the president comes out yesterday [Tuesday] on the Rose Garden and says you know we never went out and tried to sell Obamacare to everyone. We just kind of let people make their own choice. Well that’s a gross exaggeration of the truth. I mean think about the billions of dollars [the Obama administration spent on its healthcare efforts]. So I think that we need to get honor and and integrity and character restored back to Capitol Hill. This guy testifying right now Mike Morell who lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee; you know Susan Rice going out and saying what she said [on Benghazi]…there’s a perpetual lying – and this is bipartisan of course – that we have got to get people that are concerned about the American interests, not their own self-interest, not special interests. And that’s what I want to try to bring out. We have to get back to servant leadership.
Why are fewer military folks seeking public office at least at the national level?
West: We don’t want to deal with the BS. I mean we’re very straightforward, we’re mission-oriented, we’re task-oriented, and we just don’t have time for charlatans, usurpers and jokers or pranksters. But what you are finding is that there is a clarion call out there to get more to take off their uniform, put on a suit and tie and run, because as someone told me “the oath of office that you took does not have a statute of limitations.”
You speak in your book to a military philosophy based on a strong but nimble and efficient military that projects power. How would you deal with an expansionist and seemingly ascendant Russia?
West: Right now you’ve gotta understand the center of the strategy for Vladimir Putin is energy security. So I would look here at our oil and natural gas and I would make sure that we are producing and consuming and exporting all the oil and natural gas so that Europe and Ukraine are not dependent on him [Putin], we can supply them and undercut him because that’s his center of gravity as far as his economic, revenue-producing ability. And then the other thing is, the missile defense shield goes back up that we canceled, we look at NATO security arrangements and the agreements with countries in the Baltic states and that border along with Russia, because that’s what he understands. He understands strength. And really when you look at the Islamic terrorists, they understand strength and might. You look at Iran…all of these countries. And it’s not just Russia but also China, we have to be concerned about with their expanding. And the other thing going back, you know I don’t believe that the defense industry should dictate strategy. The needs of the military should dictate what the defense industry is providing. And so when you talk about another lesson learned up there on Capitol Hill, you know politicians want to have the money to flow into their district for whatever program, what have you, and that’s what they’re advocating. They gotta advocate what’s best for the military, advocate what’s best for our strategy. Because right now what I see us doing, we’re trying to make a strategy fit a budget, instead of the budget supporting the strategy. And so that’s a big thing we have to talk about.
Our administration talks about the Arab world as if we all share the same values. What would you say is the biggest misperception for America about the Arab world, and what do Americans need to know about the Arab World?
West: Well it’s not so much about the Arab world, it’s about Islamic totalitarianism. We have a problem with political correctness. We’re afraid to identify who the enemy really is because we think that we don’t want to offend them, and there are some people even on our side that believe the whole reason why they have such hatred of us is because of our policies. They don’t understand that this has been going on for almost 1,400 years, this war between East and West. And even the president doesn’t get this. And President Bush did not get this. So we need to be able as Sun Tzu would say, “Know the enemy, know thyself,” know the terrain and the environment and you will always be successful. So we have to challenge them. We have to bring out the ideologies and the separation between the two of liberty and freedom – how we believe in it and how they don’t; once again their desire to have totalitarian control. We have to explain what sharia is. We have to explain what their desire to have the restoration of a global Islamic caliphate – what that means. And we have to show anecdotally how it’s happening right now and how we cannot allow that to happen.
And to that end, if our civilian leaders have this politically correct ideology as you call it in the book, and fundamentally don’t understand who we’re dealing with, are there folks in the military who see the world as it is who will keep our civilian leaders in check when they pursue misguided policies based on such an ideology?
West: Yea but see the problem is they can’t, because we have a military that’s subservient to civilian leadership. So you know when you have the president who comes out and says, “I hereby declare the edict that turbans, hijabs and beards are going to be allowed in the United States military,” all the general can do is salute the flag and say “Roger that sir.” Or the general can resign. And I wish more of the top level generals would resign, because a message would be sent. And then say, “I’m against these policies because these policies are detrimental to the United States military.” Case in point: Major Nidal Hasan – everyone knew what he was doing – everyone knew the proselytization that he was committing, and the way he was treating some of the patients up there at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center]. He should have never been transferred to Fort Hood. He should have been drummed out of the military. But there were individuals who tried to bring that up. And guess what happened? They were told to “hush.” And the next thing you know thirteen Americans had lost their lives, thirty-some-odd were wounded and we have an administration that declares it as “workplace violence.” So that’s very frustrating. And so yes you want men and women in uniform to be able to speak out but they can’t, because you don’t want to have that type of – that’s outside the lines. I don’t think the American people want a military that will go out and you know run rogue like [General Douglas] MacArthur did with [President] Truman in Korea, and Truman sacked him. But I do think that we need to have those of us who have been in the military that are now on this side like General [Jerry] Boykin is an incredible spokesman on these issues. And I’m right there with him on CAIR’s hate list at number five…I told him I want to get past him and get to number one.
And what would you say to kids today, or teens or college students who are thinking about going into the military but are afraid or hesitant, given that we don’t have civilian leadership that understands the world that we’re dealing with as we’ve discussed?
West: Well I will tell you that many parents talk to me about the fact that they’re afraid to tell their kids that they can go ahead and join up. What I tell them is that they will be under the care of good men and women as their leaders. And if you are concerned about the leadership at the top then you’ve got to do something different – you’ve got to get out there and get your voice heard, and you’ve got to vote out this bad type of leadership. You can’t once again fall into this trance like we did in the past two years over slogans and mottos and bumper stickers. We have to challenge the people who want to be the commander-in-chief. And yet in the 2012 election cycle, it was the first time in 77 years the sitting president and vice president and the candidates for the office had never served in the military. Now, once upon a time, this country wouldn’t even consider someone to be a president that hadn’t served in the military. And I think that you’re starting to see folks – as a matter of fact someone talked to me about that yesterday – that the president should have served in the military. People start to believe that because they see the type of decisions that have to be made. When you are going to send Americans into harm’s way, I think it’s important that you’ve been in harm’s way. And I also say, you need to have been on the receiving end of an AK-47 or RPG or a PKM to know what it’s like. And I believe that’s another one of those self-correcting things that you’re gonna see happen.
When you are going to send Americans into harm’s way…it’s important that you’ve been in harm’s way
Shifting gears – you speak to education and the fact that kids don’t know Jean-Jacques Rousseau from Locke from Hobbes.
West: Most adults don’t…And when I look at education, we’ve got to make education relevant. That’s why I’m so against this Common Core thing. It’s a horrible thing that the federal government believes they can dictate standards of education all across the entire country. You know kids learn differently. And we need to be able to tap into that. Now, what we do need to stress is an understanding of how this country came to be, and its fundamental values. And we do need to teach how we got to this point – the Declaration, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution. So that when someone comes along and starts saying “hope and change,” someone says well “hope for what and change to what?” When someone comes along and says, “We’re gonna fundamentally transform the United States of America,” someone can say “Transform it for what?” It’s a Constitutional Republic, what do you want to make it? And that’s the key aspect of education. And we have to use the culture to be able to do that because the Left is very good in dominating the culture and saying that the way we are, the way we think, that’s cool. These other guys over there are not cool. Well I think being a conservative is about the coolest thing there is – to grow up and be confident of who you are, understand your country, and to go out and be a productive member of your society – that’s really cool.
In your book you attribute many problems from poverty to substandard education to the breakdown of the family among black Americans — and Americans more broadly — to the Leftist policies of the Great Society. Explain why you believe the Great Society programs have been so detrimental.
West: Well it’s very simple. The leftist policies have created a twenty-first century economic plantation because they have created a dependency society. They have expanded the welfare or nanny state. They’re not interested in the individual. Their indomitable will, their spirit, their entrepreneurial desires. They’re interested in the collective, you know bringing everyone together, the whole groupthink. And that’s how they operate. They pit groups against each other. And we have to get away from that because the power and the strength of America is in each and every individual. So that’s what I would talk to, and you know the ones who want to try to castigate you negatively, attack, I was in the military twenty-two years, almost shot at, blown up, and everything. Their attacks don’t bother me. And I think one of the frustrating things for the Left was that here I am a first term U.S. congressman, I’m the number one target for the Democrat party. George Soros throws in $5 million. They really believe, “Ok we cheat, we do everything possible to get rid of West, get him out of Congress and he’ll go away.” They don’t understand my passion for this country. I don’t need to be on Capitol Hill to stand up and advocate for what is right for this country. And that’s what we want to try to get people to understand. If you are right, if you are principled, you continue to march on. And that frustrates the other side. And I think that’s why I’m in a great position.
Do you think a conservative message can be viable and bring in support from folks in and outside of minority communities who typically have not been receptive to policies and principles promulgated by Republicans?
West: You know when you talk to people in the black community about principles not party, they’ll agree with you. On Sunday the most conservative people in the United States of America are black, in Church. And Church, you’re talking about individual salvation. Well guess what, individual freedom, liberty, I mean that’s what we’re talking about. My parents raised me very conservatively, and that’s what we talk about in the book. So, black conservatism is not something new. It’s been around a long time. Booker T. Washington talked about education, entrepreneurship and self-reliance. So if we go back and we talk about those things, not about party, not, “Sign up to join the Republican…put an elephant on your chest,” but we talk about, “What do you believe? Don’t you believe in a better education for your kids?” We’re not telling people that Barack Obama cancelled the D.C. school voucher program in April of 2009. Look at what’s happening here in New York City with Bill de Blasio with the charter schools. And black parents — single black mothers – you know screaming, outrage. Then where is our side coming in and saying, “This is what we believe in.”
So, I hate the word “outreach.” I think outreach means you show up in black history month and eat some fried chicken, and have some biscuits and collared greens and then they never see you again, until 45 days before the election. And they don’t care. What you need to have is policy inclusiveness. You need to talk about specific policies that affect the lives of those people. You know crime, security: I mean de Blasio wants to take away “Stop-and-Frisk.” The people in the neighborhoods like that because they can go out on the streets. You know school choice, better education for the kids, small business ownership. You know when the Republican Party talks about protecting job creators, in people’s mind they think about some big guy that’s living in a big high-rise building. You need to talk about the person that’s going out there and they open up a big grill every Saturday and Sunday morning and they’re selling barbecue in the front yard. That’s a small business owner. Now you want to talk to them about, “See that clothes storefront. Wouldn’t it be great if you could take from the front yard to that clothes storefront and open up a business? We want to set the conditions for you to be able to do that.” That’s how you talk to people.
The problem with us is that we don’t make the emotional connection. When you look at this last election, the horrific status of our economy, it should have been a walk in the park. Mitt Romney did not make an emotional connection with the American people. And it was easy to demonize him. And that’s all the Left is going to do. So we have to understand that image is so important now. That being able to go down and talk to any person in America wherever they are, however they live, and that’s how you’ll be successful.
Given the growth of bureaucracies ranging from the “alphabet soup” of agencies stemming from the New Deal to the Great Society, to today’s NSA and EPA that govern or at least monitor every aspect of our lives (and incidentally you bring up the parallel of this Leviathan to Marx’s 10 planks of Communism in your book), what can or should the few people who get into Washington actually do to stop the growth of the state and then turn it back?
West: They’ve got to cut off the purse strings to the bureaucratic state. They have to once again understand as Montesquieu wrote in “The Spirit of the Laws” that we have separation of powers. And I think right now you see the legislative branch that is really abdicating a lot of their power over to the executive branch. They’ve got to get the executive branch back under control because Washington, D.C. is going out of control, and you’re right, the bureaucratic state…when the EPA or anyone can just willy-nilly come up with regulations that they’re not going through Congress and they’re causing a financial impact to everyday Americans, and they don’t even know that it’s happening. The next thing you know, here’s a new regulation I have to contend with. So we have got to start getting the legislative branch back into control and cut back down on that expansive growth of the executive branch of the bureaucratic state.
We talk a lot about the growth of the state and the power it might usurp and abuse in the most extreme scenarios. Could you ever envision a time where the military or forces under control that are extra-military would ever turn its guns on U.S. citizens?
West: No. The United States military would never do that. I’ve got plenty of friends that are there and relatives…that’s not gonna happen. The United States military serves this country, and the interesting thing about the United States military is that they take an oath to the Constitution. They don’t take an oath to a king, to a president, to whatever. They do say to obey the orders of the officers appointed above me, but also but also if you are given an immoral order, you don’t have to follow that order. So that’s the beauty of our military, and that’s not gonna happen. And I think that’s also why you see such an animosity between the Left and our military. And that’s why they want to break down the military because that’s really the last bastion of American principle and value, and moral value. You know the president for him, his vital national interest is repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” getting social egalitarianism – getting women in the Rangers and the Navy SEALs. He wants to break the military down from what it is, so no, that would never happen.
If you were to characterize America and where we stand today, where are we in history and what country do we represent?
West: Well you do see many similarities to the beginning of the collapse and fall of Rome. You see the corruption of the Senate. You see the devaluing of the currency. You see Roman citizenship did not mean anything – anyone could be a citizen and that’s what we’re talking about now. You know just give amnesty, let everyone come here and be a citizen. So you do see some similarities there. But what I really see similarities with is the 1930s, globally, because when I look at what Putin has done, very similar to what Hitler did with the Sudetenland, then Czechoslovakia, and then he continued on. I see President Obama as a Sir Neville Chamberlain – you know an appeaser, a compromiser – and he believes that if we weaken America everyone will like us better and the world will be a better place. But the world is not a better place when America is weak. The world is a better place when America is strong, when America is that symbol, that beacon of liberty and freedom. And if we’re not willing to accept that role and that responsibility which unfortunately that’s what we got after World War II, then the world’s gonna be a crazy place, because you’re gonna have all these different actors out there – the non-state actors out there, the belligerents, the state actors like the Russia’s, China’s, Iran, North Korea’s we’re gonna have to contend with them. And I really am concerned that economically we’re in a bad position, foreign affairs, foreign policy, national security, we’re in a bad position. It’s just ripe for something bad to happen.
And so if we’re going to extend that parallel, do we have a Churchill that is going to arise, and more importantly do we have an electorate that will support a Churchill arising?
West: Well it’s interesting that you bring up Churchill because he said you can always count upon America to do what is right after they’ve exhausted all other means. I think there will be an event that will jar the American people…[But] it’s sad that we have to have something bad happen to make us react. That’s not how it should be. We need to have a steady-state because right now we have a pendulum system of governance – it swings one way and we say, “Ah, we don’t like this” – and then the pendulum swings back the other way. I do believe that a principled leader will rise from amongst the people. There are Establishments on both sides, Democrat and Republican, but the American people are gonna get tired of that. The American people don’t like to be told who their leader will be, the American people like to bring forth a leader that is from amongst them. And I believe that that is gonna happen. And I think that depending on what happens the next two election cycles it is very ripe for a third party to arise.
And you don’t think that – or perhaps you do think that the Left will try to use that third party to destroy the Right? You think that party could be politically viable?
West: Yes. I do because there are disaffected Democrats called “conservative Democrats,” “blue-dog Democrats,” and they’re disaffected because the Democrat Party really has gone progressive socialist, very far Left, George Soros runs the Democratic party. So if there’s a leader that can come up and talk principally to the American people, I mean he can galvanize this country, but you just have so many mealy-mouthed folks that say, “You can’t say this, you can’t say that.” Just speak the truth to the people. That’s what they want. They want someone who they can believe in, and that’s kind of what Ronald Reagan did. And he was pretty forthright in his vision for this great nation. And that’s what they’re looking for.
Now what you see happening though are the Democrats are able to leverage the libertarian candidate in races, and you can see they’re funding some of these libertarians. You saw it in the gubernatorial race in Virginia because they know that that siphons off votes from the Republican side. So we’ve got to be careful. We’ve got to make sure that this is not a “Trojan horse” libertarian candidate that is running. And we’ve got to be more circumspect. And you know Glenn [Beck] did a great job on covering the funding and the support that was going to that candidate in Virginia. We just saw that in a special election in Florida. This libertarian candidate that was there who was getting Democrat funding. So that’s where we have to be careful. If there is a true third party, Conservative Party, Constitution Party, whatever you want, I think it will be based upon principle not about politics.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from your time in the House?
West: My biggest lesson was that we have got to get people that are considering the American interest or the interests of the people. There is just too much special interest influence there, and you know the American people can’t show up and be the lobbyists. But we should have people that are going in – that’s why I talk about servant leadership – and you know when you think about it that’s what Jesus was. And that’s why that faith-heritage portion is so important. We’ve got to restore that, we’ve got to restore people that are willing to go to Washington, D.C., and they’re not afraid of losing. They’re gonna go there and do what is right. If they lose that’s fine, but if they can look in the mirror and say I never lied to you, I never did anything or sacrificed my principles, and that’s the most important part. So that’s what I learned is that we’ve got to get more people up there that want to be servants.