MYRTLE BEACH, SC — Ohio Gov. John Kasich gave his most extensive remarks on foreign policy in South Carolina on Monday night, offering a hawkish doctrine wrapped up in compassion and a belief in living selflessly.
In particular, he framed the battle against ISIS as a war of ideas, and pointed to a lack of “purpose” among young people that’s contributing to the spread of lone-wolf attacks in the U.S.
“We’re gonna be fine, but this battle against this radicalism is probably gonna be something we face for the rest of our lives,” he told the moderator of the national security panel hosted by Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security here at Horry Georgetown Tech University in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “We need to destroy it not only militarily but intellectually. And we need to charge our people, again, to understand that they have a purpose on this Earth.”
Kasich repeatedly hit on that theme — that “happiness doesn’t come from chasing happiness, it comes from the satisfaction of living a life bigger than yourself, of helping other people” — as an awareness missing from the lives of Americans, and one that’s contributing to many of the country’s ills, including national security challenges.
Kasich’s advisors have long argued his foreign policy experience in Congress, as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is one of his major assets in the GOP primary field, and he repeatedly referenced his time in Washington on stage, including as chairman of the Budget Committee.
“I wasn’t the chairman of the House Budget Committee to deliver us to the first balanced budget since man walked on the moon by playing namby-pamby,” he said, answering a question on Chinese currency manipulation. “We get this done by knowing where we wanna go and executing it.”
Indeed, he exhibited a deep knowledge of trade policy and offered quick answers to questions on everything from tackling China — “I would send a carrier battle group through the South China Sea and make it clear that you don’t own this” to Putin — “He steps one foot into any more of this western territory and NATO has an agreement that an attack on one is an attack on everybody.”
But what he didn’t know he danced around, and his value-based doctrine at times seemed insufficient to answer some of the more pressing national security questions facing the nation.
On the Iran deal in particular, Kasich could offer few specifics on what he’d do if it ultimately passes, saying his first priority is to “defeat this thing,” but if it does pass, all the parties to the agreement should agree to reinstate sanctions on Iran and increase them.
“But they’re not going to do that,” he admitted.
Pressed further on what he’d do as president if the deal passes, Kasich only offered: “If they violate this, or if the security interests of the U.S. or our friends, particularly Israel, is in jeopardy then the accord would mean nothing to me.”
But Kasich acknowledged it would be difficult to get other countries to go along with reinstating sanctions, and when asked why they would cooperate if the U.S. ultimately wanted to reverse the deal, he offered, “the answer to that is simple. The answer is, our children’s future.”
He also straddled the line on government surveillance, praising GOP presidential primary opponent Rand Paul for “doing us a favor when he said we need to get warrants,” but “if there’s information they need, the government needs to get it.”
“So I’m right in-between Chris Christie and Rand Paul on that,” he said.
But when pressed on whether law enforcement officials should have a key to access private data, he said officials should still take the warrant to court and “if it's critical, the answer yes.” If it’s an “automatic crisis,” Kasich said the officials should “use common sense.”
Though his position on surveillance had a libertarian flavor, he was more hawkish on drones, saying he supports them, and called Edward Snowden a traitor. He also said he believed Americans would support boots on the ground to fight ISIS if it was framed properly, and that he opposed nation-building.
Kasich guarded himself against claims he lacked depth in any one area by asserting that a good president also surrounds themselves with good advisors.
“You have to pick the people who can cut through it, who are not practicing parochialism who are just as a smart as a whip,” he said.
It was a characteristically Kasich event — the Ohio governor frequently frames his policy proposals within terms of morality and values, and this time touched on the five values he believes “need to be re-implemented in our country: Personal responsibility, resilience, empathy, family, faith.”
And the candidate who’s taken pains to avoid attacking his opponents, an effort read by many as an attempt to appear to be the moderate adult in the GOP field, on Monday night complimented a member of the opposite party.
“I give a lot of credit to [New York Sen.] Chuck Schumer. He is perhaps going to be the Democratic leader in the Senate, and his opposition to the Iranian deal, I believe has taken great courage,” Kasich said.
The auditorium was full of about 150 people, all reliably hawkish — questions included whether Kasich would support reinstating the draft and whether he saw the national power grid or space warfare as a greater threat. About a dozen mobbed him after the event for autographs and photos, and at one point he ran into an old neighbor — Susan Mense, who he said lived in the house behind his and her father would yell at him when he got in her yard.
And a fun note — Kasich seemed somewhat dazzled by snapchat, mentioning the social media app twice — once, joking about keeping some diplomatic relationships close to the vest, that “everything doesn’t have to be on Snapchat,” and later telling a reporter that more young people got their news on the debate on the app than television news.
“So I’m a snapper,” Kasich said as he left the auditorium.