OTR Interviews

Col. Oliver North: 'There is no strategy' to the defense budget that reduces military to pre-WWII levels

A look at Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's call for cuts that would shrink the U.S. Army to its smallest size in decades and its implications

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 24, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Colonel Oliver North joins us. Nice to see you, Colonel.

LT. COL. OLIVER NORTH, HOST, 'WAR STORIES' & FORMERLY U.S. MARINE CORPS: Good to be with you but not on a day like this.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. I was going to ask you two things. Two-part question. First, do we have to make cuts in the military? Is that smart and wise? And secondly, what do you think the proposed budget?

NORTH: I think the budget is terrible because it doesn't do the thing that defense budgets are supposed it to do and that is to support a national strategy. There is no strategy to this. Instead of deciding who our enemies and adversaries are and building a force capable of dealing with both, what they have done is they picked a number and then they backed into a budget. In other words, they backed into fore-structure based on the number instead of the other way around. Totally the opposite of what Ronald Reagan did.

President Reagan came to town, came to office promising to build a 600-ship Navy based on years and years of analysis that we needed a Navy that big to protect this country. He created millions of jobs, Greta. People forget that. It wasn't just a matter of putting more people in the military and paying us all better. It was a matter of building the capital equipment, ships, planes, trains, all this stuff that you need to make a military work. Reagan did it. They didn't. They are backing away from it.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. You didn't answer the question about cuts now. I'll ask that again. Just stand by. I'm curious, when Ronald Reagan came into office, we had a very different enemy than we might have now, in the sense that we had nations were our enemies. Now we have this other sort of morphosis terrorism thing --

NORTH: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: -- that is sort of like this cancer around the globe. Does that make a difference on how we build our military?

NORTH: As they admitted today, the threats are growing. They acknowledge that.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: But they are different than a nation a little bit.

NORTH: Certainly. You need a different structure to deal with it. But again, that's why I didn't answer your question about where would you make the cuts. The idea is you find out what it is you need to do, how you need to protect this nation. For example, they said we are not only going to be able to protect ourselves from foreign adversaries, we're going to protect the homeland. Did you hear anything about protecting us from the Soviet and Chinese modernization of their nuclear forces? There was nothing.

VAN SUSTEREN: Our secretary of defense is a Republican. And he is also --

NORTH: Please.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well. And he is also a vet himself. You say, please. Why do you say that?

NORTH: Because is he not acting like a coherent, responsible Republican. The fact is, for decades of my lifetime, since 1943, you have seen Republicans be the party that says we need a strong national defense. We have Republicans today that are going to go right along with these defense cuts. Think about what it - what is just about to happen to the finest military force the world has ever known. You've got the most combat-experienced, best-educated military, and now you are going to cut their benefits. You're going to cut not just commissaries. That's nothing. You're going to cut the pay --

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't like the commissaries. The enlisted soldiers who work so damn hard for us and put their lives on the line, and frankly I --

(CROSSTALK)

NORTH: But I'm not saying it's nothing to them.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right.

NORTH: I'm saying the cut in the commissary is $1.4 billion.

VAN SUSTEREN: I realize it's not a big number, maybe, but --

(CROSSTALK)

NORTH: But they're doing it. 40 percent more they will pay for food, medical care, schooling, housing, all the things that make a married military force, and about 45 percent of them are married today. The ones I cover overseas, 45 percent. 8 percent when I came in the Marine Corps in 1961, now 45 percent. All of their benefits are being cut. So what you are doing is you're flushing out of the military, these very, very accomplished and responsible young staff NCOs and junior officers whose family say --

VAN SUSTEREN: Who can't afford it.

NORTH: -- that's it, I've got to go.

VAN SUSTEREN: Colonel, always nice to see you, sir.

NORTH: Great to be with you. Thank you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us, our political panel, the "Washington Examiner's" Susan Ferrechio; the "Weekly Standard's" John McCormack; and the "National Journal's" Ron Fournier.

Ron, first to you. Your thoughts as this -- now this budget goes from the Pentagon over to Capitol Hill. What kind of reception is it going to get?

RON FOURNIER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: First, following Colonel North is like following Babe Ruth. I feel in a bad position here.

(LAUGHTER)

I think the number here --

VAN SUSTEREN: He would probably agree with that.

(LAUGHTER)

FOURNIER: I can understand why he is upset and why many Americans are upset by these cuts. The number we have to realize is $17 trillion. We have an enormous debt in this country. I will say liberals who don't want to give up education and spending on domestic policies, and I will say to conservatives for some reason don't like to look at these cuts, how else are we going to deal with the budget problems that we have if we don't do the big things right, which is starting with having new revenue on one side and cutting entitlements on the other side. Because there is no other way we're going to be -- this is only going to get worse. The budget we are seeing here is just a drop in the bucket of the kind of cuts we are going to have to both at the Pentagon and at the domestic level unless we really get our house in order domestically.

VAN SUSTEREN: John?

JOHN MCCORMACK, WEEKLY STANDARD: These are the kind of cuts you have to make when you are not willing to reign in entitlements, which are the biggest driver of our debt. President Obama, this is the one cut he agreed to. And Republicans said the only thing worse than defense cuts are no cuts at all. I actually think that's foolish because you can't balance the budget on the backs of the military. What happens 10 years from now after we have hallowed out the military? When we have -- entitlements are growing even more. Baby boomers are retiring at a huge rate. Medicare is expanding. I think this is definitely making us less safe. It's still a dangerous world. We just don't know what's next. We can predict one thing but we don't know what the next war is going to be.

FOURNIER: I don't disagree with that. I am saying we have to do both.

VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, let me ask you this, though. Every time I read stories about Capitol Hill, I see these incredible cost overruns with these big defense contractors. I realize that we have to cut spending. But it's really within -- within the military, how are we really cutting, if we are allowing enormous cost overruns for things we may not need or don't need. I mean, there's also smart cutting and dumb cutting.

SUSAN FERRECHIO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Lawmakers always talk about curving the waste, fraud and abuse of the military how much money that can save. But I also agree with what Colonel Oliver North was saying that there are Republicans that would go along with this that years ago would not, the idea of shrinking the military and making cuts the size of what we heard Secretary Hagel talk about today.

But let's talk about where this is going to go in Congress. I really doubt that you will see the kind of reductions they are talking about today, unless there is some give on the other side on the entitlements. I think Republicans may try to seize the opportunity with this number that was put forward today to say, look, if you want this kind of reduction, because, don't forget, Congress really needs to give approval to a lot of these deductions that they're talking about. If they are going to say if you want us to go forward with these reductions, we need to see something real on cuts to Medicare and Social Security to curb the growth of those entitlement programs. So far, President Obama has signaled he is not willing to do that in his upcoming budget. This, I think, will reopen that conversation. Even though there are some Republican who's don't -- who are amenable to making these changes in the military, many others are not. And they will be the driving force behind this.

FOURNIER: That would be one heck of a grand war began if we can get Republicans to realize that the Pentagon does need to be cut. That we're not fighting these two protracted wars any more. That technology makes warfare cheaper. And we can convince liberal Democrats we don't need all these entitlements. It would be nice if we had them, but we can't afford them. We have to reform the entitlements now or we will be killed by them 10 or 15 years down the road. That would be heck of a bargain.