Talent says United States needs to complete its mission in Iraq; opposes withdrawing troops

U.S. Senator seeking re-election grants exclusive interview to the Call


U.S. Sen. Jim Talent opposes withdrawing troops from Iraq, saying he believes the United States needs to complete the mission it set out to accomplish.

Talent, a Chesterfield Republican, was elected to the U.S. Senate four years ago and is seeking re-election Nov. 7. He is opposed by Missouri Auditor Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, Libertarian Frank Gilmour and Lydia Lewis of the Progressive Party.

Before his election to the U.S. Senate, Talent served eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives and eight years in the Missouri House.

During a recent interview with the Call, Talent discussed his views on the war in Iraq, Amendment 2 that Missouri voters will consider Nov. 7, border security, immigration and ethanol, among other issues.

Regarding the war in Iraq, Talent said, “… What we need to do is complete the mission and we can do that. Now let me say what the mission was and is. It was to remove Saddam (Hussein) and the threat that he represented and replace him with a democracy that would be an ally in the war on terror and would be able to defend itself alone as it’s now defending itself in partnership with us. And also from a longer-term perspective, a democracy that would defeat and confound the terrorist vision for the Islamic world. I mean ultimately the way we’re going to beat them is when mainstream Islam truly believes that democracy works for them.

“Now where are we with this? Saddam is gone and with him the threat that he represented — and this is a point that I make to people: We have an Iraqi government now that is not sponsoring terrorism, that is not restarting a nuclear program, that is not competing with Iran to dominate the region, that is not threatening Kuwait. We don’t have to station troops in Saudi Arabia any more,” he continued. “All that is a tremendous benefit that we’ve already received as a result of this policy. What we have to do is basically, the part of the mission that requires large numbers of American troops, is to complete the training and seasoning of the Iraqi army. Once we’ve done that, then we won’t have to stay there in large numbers any more. That part of the mission is proceeding and proceeding pretty well. The Iraqi army’s a lot more capable now than it was a year ago and will be very capable a year from now.”

The senator said he opposes Amendment 2, the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.

“I’m opposed to human cloning, and the amendment would create a constitutional right to clone the early stages of human life — an unqualified constitutional right, by the way. In other words, it would exist even if there were no medical reason for doing it. So I can’t support that. That goes too far for me,” Talent said.

“Now I’ve urged everybody to look at the issue (and) make their own decision based on their own personal moral judgments about it. And I’ve also suggested that people have some charity for people who don’t agree with them because this is a difficult issue. The underlying problem with it is that — and I’m very strongly for stem-cell research — there is a particular kind of stem cell. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of different kinds of stem cells. There’s a particular kind of stem cell that until recently science believed it could only get by cloning an embryo. And that’s the reason there’s a connection between cloning and stem-cell research. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any connection,” he said.

“Now the good news is that science is developing alternatives, which I think may be more plausible than cloning an embryo and which will give them every kind of stem cell that they want. Once those alternatives are developed, then this issue just goes away … which is one reason in my judgment not to support the ballot issue because I think it will put into the Constitution something that may be medically unnecessary pretty soon …,” Talent said.

Talent also discussed his belief that a security fence along the nation’s southwest border would help deter unlawful immigration.

“We need to pass and fund a security fence, and then that’s the core of border security,” he said, adding that such a barrier “will by itself prevent a lot of unlawful immigration and then it narrows the task that our agents have to perform. Patrolling a fence is a lot easier. This will be like a triple-layer fence backed up by technologies. It’s just a lot easier than trying to patrol a completely open border of hundreds of thousands of miles. In addition, we need good, strong employer sanctions backed up by technology so that employers and agents know quickly who’s in the country and who isn’t.”

He also opposes any amnesty program for those who have entered the country unlawfully, saying it would be “a terrible mistake. In fact, we need to make clear that people in the country unlawfully are never going to get an amnesty …”

Efforts need to be made, Talent said, to identify industries where there are a shortage of workers and promote training and employment opportunities for young Americans in those industries.

” … If we did all those things, then what you would see is the employment opportunities for those in the country unlawfully would dry up and they’d go home. I mean they are here to work — most of them. I don’t blame anybody for wanting to come to the United States, (but) if they can’t find jobs here, they’ll go home …,” he said.

Talent also asserts that drilling for oil can be done in an environmentally sensitive manner in Alaska and would help reduce this country’s dependence on importing oil from other countries.

“It would make sense, wouldn’t it? I mean what other country in the world has 10 billion barrels of oil in its boundaries that it knows about and doesn’t try and get them? … This is not a liberal or conservative thing,” he said. “Obviously, we ought to get the oil that is in our boundaries — obviously — and to me not doing that, it just shows that people are not dealing with the reality that my constituents have to deal with. Now long term, can we rely on oil? No. I’m the father of the renewable fuel standard, which was the bill of rights for ethanol and biodiesel because it requires the oil companies to buy 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel, which they’ve always resisted buying it because they didn’t produce it.

“Now they have to, and this is the reason why you’re seeing springing up all over Missouri and the Heartland all these ethanol and biodiesel plants. The number of E85 pumps has quadrupled since this bill passed. Now it’s still too low, but very soon you’re going to be driving with a substantial ethanol blend. You may not even know it, but you’re going to be, and within a short period of time, you’re going to have the option of buying a car with a flex-fuel engine and filling it up with E85. It will happen within a couple of years …,” he said.

Talent said the Combat Meth Act that he sponsored with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is eliminating meth labs.

“We have, I think, really put a big dent in the meth labs. Most meth in Missouri was made through local labs and that very soon is not be going to be the case any more because they can’t get the pseudoephedrine as easily as they used to … The law that we passed takes the cold medicines from off the shelves and puts them behind the pharmacy counters,” he said. “It does that nationally. It’s very significant, and we’re expecting a 70-percent drop in meth labs nationally because that’s what the states that have done this have gotten initially. And what you would see with states is they’d get a big drop and then it would start to rise again as the meth cooks figured out how to go to other states. Like Oklahoma gets a big drop and then they figure out, well, we can just go right across to Missouri or Arkansas and get it. Well, they can’t do that any more because now it’s a national standard.

“What we still have to do, though, is we have to do better with interdiction of shipments across the border. That’s why a security fence would be so good — one reason a fence on the border would be so good,” he said. “We need to get the registry onto a computer, and the state has a plan to do that. This is the logbook that you sign. The state has a plan to do that, and we’re getting federal funding to help with that. And we need, among other things, we need better treatment protocols because we have thousands and thousands of people who have been addicted, and if we don’t start getting them off the drug and effectively off the drug, it’s obviously very bad for them, but they’re just going to be a burden on everybody else the rest of their lives. So we need a better treatment than we’ve got.

“But we’ve taken a big step, and if you talk to law enforcement people, this is the first time ever when they feel like we’ve got some momentum and we may actually be winning the war against meth,” he said.