A combat decorated U.S. Marine who’s also served on the National Security Council under President Ronald Reagan; LT. Colonel Oliver North certainly knows and cares a lot about military affairs. In fact, in addition to being the founder of Freedom Alliance, which provides scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed in the line of duty, North currently spends much of his time overseas as a Fox News contributor, where he’s been embedded with more than fifty U.S. and allied combat units.
North recently brought his vast knowledge and experience to Bethlehem, PA, where he spoke at a private event organized by The Veterans & Military Action Committee, a part of the 9/12 Project of the Lehigh Valley.
In his nearly hour long speech, North detailed stories of his recent work in the Middle East as well as his support of the U.S. military and time serving President Reagan – at one point, almost coming to tears while watching a video of his former boss delivering an emotionally driven speech about terrorism.
Although his talk dealt with the danger and uncertainty in troubled times as well as his frustration with the current administration’s failure to identify and offer a solid plan for achieving victory over terror groups like ISIS, North’s engagement left the audience of nearly 200 with patriotic enthusiasm and hope for America’s future.
Prior to his speech, I had the pleasure of interviewing Colonel North at length on a variety of topics affecting the United States and the world.
James Wood: We’ve seen a lot of ISIS attacks in recent days, most notably in Paris and Beirut as well as with the Russian Airline disaster. What are your thoughts on the current state of ISIS and President Obama’s reaction that the group has been “contained”?
Col. Oliver North: I’m not sure whether this President is just in denial or if they’re giving him bad information but he is living in a parallel universe. Contained? Are you kidding me? When we first went to war against ISIS they were in one place, and that was on the Syria / Iraq border. At that time, they were just thinking about a caliphate. Now they’ve got a caliphate, they’ve taken ground and they print their own money. They’ve got the city of Mosul, which is the second largest city in all of Mesopotamia and now stretch from Yemen and the base of Saudi Arabia all the way north into the Mediterranean. Every country along the southern coast of the Mediterranean has ISIS elements or people who are loyal to ISIS and say that they’re part of the caliphate. Just in the last few weeks they’ve downed a Russian airplane with 200+ dead along with 129 dead in Paris in six different suicide attacks. Then you’ve got Beirut, which was an attack on Hezbollah of all things. In the midst of all of this, our Commander in Chief said that they are contained. That’s a denial of the reality of what’s going on.
JW: In your opinion, what can be done to defeat ISIS once and for all?
North: I recently got back from Kurdistan where the Kurds [Peshmerga] were getting ready to launch an offensive to retake the city of Sinjar. It was right off the mountain where all of the refugees had been butchered by the thousands. They’re the only ones who’ve got a good sense for who ISIS is and have consistently beaten them in every battle as well as the only ones who get absolutely no help from the United States.
But here’s what you’ve got to do. First of all, you have to define who the enemy is and what victory is. This President has done neither. There’s got to be recognition from this administration that there’s a civil war on within Islam. Then you’ve got to put at least one carrier strike group in the Mediterranean (we haven’t had one there for two years). You also have to build a coalition with the Egyptians and Jordanians. Sisi and Abdullah (respectively) are both on our side. You don’t need a Marine division or the 82nd airborne. What you need is to support the Peshmerga, who are the only ones who actually win their fights, by giving them weapons. Then if you put JTACs (Joint Tactical Air Controllers) out there with them, you would drive ISIS out of northern Iraq and Baiji.
JW: Let’s switch topics to the upcoming presidential election. What are your thoughts on the current field of Republican candidates? Do you have a favorite?
North: I would take any one of them. Any one of them has a better idea of American leadership and every one of them accepts the idea of American exceptionalism. None of them are going to run around the world bending and kissing the butts or hands of royalty and cow towing to them.
JW: Do you have any concerns about someone like Donald Trump or Ben Carson (both currently leading in the polls) being political outsiders with no real foreign policy experience?
North: Most of our Presidents have come into office without a whole lot of foreign policy experience. The President I worked for had been the Governor of the biggest state in America and didn’t have any foreign policy experience – but he had been thinking about it for at least twenty years. If you read his journal, Reagan was already writing ideas and thinking about the foreign policy implications as far back as the late sixties. Ronald Reagan understood the primary purpose for the military is to deter and prevent war. But if you have to fight it, you can win it. He had no problem defining who the enemy was and what victory meant. Reagan didn’t have a lot of foreign policy experience working in California, so the likelihood of anyone coming in with any foreign policy experience is nil. In fact, the one candidate with the most foreign policy experience [Hillary Clinton] is the scariest of all.
JW: Do you think organizations like the Tea Party are important in moving this country forward?
North: To a large extent, the media has tried to diminish what the Tea Party movement is really all about, and that is the idea that the government of the United States is not there to be supportive of the people of this country. It is there to make sure that the people of this country are protected. That’s the most important requirement of government – to protect the homeland and the American people. Second, to get the government off our backs. It’s too expensive, too big, intrusive and costly and has no respect for our civil liberties. The Tea Party wants all of those issues dealt with in an affirmative way for the American people.
What do you say to people who feel the Tea Party doesn’t care about the social issues facing this country?
North: At one of the recent Republican debates, one of the moderators made the observation that the Tea Party doesn’t really care about social issues. That’s not true. Look no further than the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was elected on one single issue and it was that same issue that created the Republican Party – human bondage. No matter what people may say about States rights, it was all about human bondage. If that isn’t a social issue, there are none.
JW: What are your thoughts on the Benghazi Committee’s investigation and the media circus surrounding it?
North: Even before they had issued any subpoenas I actually offered the Chairman of the Committee some advice. I remember he was getting ready to be interviewed on Fox and he said, “How am I doing Colonel?” I said, “No, the real question should be, what are you doing?” On November 25, 1986, Admiral Poindexter and I were assigned to the Pentagon. By the first of January they had every check that I had ever written from 1961 when I enlisted in the Marine Corp. Think about that. I had asked that the NSA and FBI monitor every phone call that I made 24/7 for the entire period of time that I worked to bring hostages home and thank God I did. So how you can have a Congressional Committee that takes this long to find out things – including unlawful emails that were not discovered by the Committee but though a private lawsuit, is beyond me.
9/11 is going to be considered a terror event for the rest of our days. What we used to do in the Reagan era when we knew one of those anniversaries was coming up was to alert that embassy and provide them additional security. When Tom Pickering, who was the Ambassador in El Salvador, was being subjected to a terror attack by the Sandinistas, we sent a Navy Seal Team and a Platoon of Marines to improve the security of the U.S. embassy. So how one person could have concluded that at the end of the day nothing more could have been done for Ambassador Stevens in Libya is unconscionable.
Instead of Kevin McCarthy making stupid comments about bringing poll numbers down, the questions should be:
#1. What did you do before hand?
#2. What did you do during?
#3. What did you do afterwards?
That’s the essence of what the Benghazi investigation ought to be about. But it’s going to be a few more years with a Republican administration before all of what happened is finally known.
JW: Do you ever see a day when the narrative in Washington will change?
North: I’ve got sixteen grand kids and another on the way and I don’t want them growing up with a mountain of debt or believing that unilateral disarmament is the way to peace. I also don’t want them to have to suffer the slings and arrows of organizations like ISIS that could and should be crushed. Hopefully, we will elect people to public office: 535 members of the House and Senate, along with a President and Vice President who will be held to account by the first three words of the Constitution – “We the People”.