Thursday, February 29, 2024

Rep. Rouzer sends letter expressing concern about Yemen blockade, discusses foreign policy with PCD

U.S. Representative David Rouzer, who represents North Carolina's 7th congressional district, speaks against the "hoax" investigations brought against the Trump administration, including recent reports that the U.S. Postal Service made policy changes that may delay mail-in ballots in coming months. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
U.S. Representative David Rouzer spoke to Port City Daily about foreign policy in the Middle East. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

NORTH CAROLINA —  A local Congressman recently sent a letter to the Biden administration calling for action to address the Houthi blockade in Yemen, which he views as inextricably linked to broader issues in U.S. foreign policy.

David Rouzer (R-NC) has served as the representative for North Carolina’s 7th district since 2014. On Jan. 30, he sent a letter with three members of the bipartisan supply chain caucus — Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-SD), Colin Allred (D-TX), and Angie Craig (D-MN) — to U.S. Defense Secretary Loyd Austin, State Department Secretary Tony Blinken, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to express concerns about the consequences of supply chain disruption and urge action to restore safe passage in the region.

“In recent weeks, attacks by Houthi rebels on commercial ships have resulted in major ocean carriers diverting routes through the Red Sea and instead sailing around the Cape of Good Hope,” the letter states. “These attacks, conducted by pirates and supported by the Iranian powerhouse, are out of revenge for Western support for Israel. We cannot allow these bad actors to punish our nation and cripple our supply chain without swift recourse.”

The Houthis are a Shia Islamist political and military group in Yemen that has conducted dozens of attacks on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November. The U.S. and U.K. have since launched a series of airstrikes to target the group in retaliation.

The Houthis say their actions are in response to Israel’s ongoing military operation in Gaza; the group demands a ceasefire and an end of the blockade on Gaza before ending their strikes on shipments in the Red Sea. 

The supply chain caucus members noted approximately 20% of global container shipping passes through the Red Sea and Suez Canal. 

The Houthi attacks have caused commercial ships to reroute along the Cape of Good Hope on the coast of South Africa, which is approximately 6,000 miles longer than their former route. It takes about 10 extra days of travel time and $1 million in additional fuel expenses.

The letter cited cost escalation as a top concern, recalling the impact of past supply chain disruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic and from blockages in the Suez Canal. It also noted insurance rates have spiked for ships traveling through the conflict zone.

The Congress members requested the Special Maritime Commission — an independent U.S. agency charged with oversight of U.S. maritime commerce  — ensure any shipping rate increases are “reasonable, targeted, and transparent” and are not unnecessarily inflated.

Port City Daily spoke to Congressman Rouzer about the situation on Monday; a full transcript of the discussion is available at the bottom of the article.

Asked if he believes the supply chain disturbance could impact the Cape Fear region, Rouzer said he thinks the entire U.S. economy could be significantly affected if the situation is prolonged; he noted a number of interest groups had raised their concerns to him about the supply chain disruption on Capitol Hill.

“What’s it going to mean for their future business prospects?” he asked. “Do we have the capacity in the United States to deal with a major jam up of goods in our ports like we saw during the pandemic? It just creates a lot of uncertainty and, of course, business in general does not like uncertainty.”

Rouzer’s views on Middle East policy

PCD asked Rouzer if he viewed U.S. airstrikes on Yemen as part of the solution for the issue. He said he didn’t want to prejudge recent military actions yet because there is a lot he did not know and believed there would be more action in coming weeks.

Rouzer also connected the Houthi attacks on commercial ships to the Biden administration’s 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Congressman argued it was carried out in a manner showing a “real signal of weakness to the world” that emboldened U.S. enemies.

“I really think the Biden administration needs to reset the table in a major way to let all of our adversaries around the world understand very clearly that we are not to be messed with,” Rouzer said.

He added “firing off a missile here or there” wouldn’t be sufficient.

“I think it needs to be substantial in a way that Iran really feels it,” Rouzer added. “Because Iran is funding  —  these are all proxies of Iran.”

The characterization of the Houthis as Iranian proxies is not universally agreed upon. Yemen scholar Helen Lackner, a visiting fellow at the European Union Council of Foreign Relation, argues the group is independent, but has grown closer to Iran in recent years due to the Houthi-Saudi conflict. She also states the Houthis — an “extremely authoritarian and autocratic regime” lacking public approval — have recently gained support from the Yemeni population due to their pro-Palestine stance in the ongoing conflict. 

Rouzer said Lackner’s arguments may hold some merit, but he still views Iranian support as essential to the current situation. He spoke in favor of international sanctions against Iran to prevent them from providing military support to other groups in the region. 

Rouzer also noted that U.S. ally Saudi Arabia — heavily implicated in Yemen’s current situation — has long been concerned about Iran’s regional influence and its nuclear ambitions.

In 2015, almost a decade before the Houthis began recent attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of Arab countries in an air campaign against Yemen. 

The Saudis feared the Houthis could gain control of the country after they forced former President Abdrabbah Hadi to flee amid public unrest. The U.S. provided logistical, intelligence, and armament support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen. From 2015-2019, the U.S. supplied 73% of Saudi’s arms imports. 

The United Nations describes Yemen’s situation as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The Saudi-coalition’s blockade on the country caused a severe famine contributing to what International Children’s Emergency Fund regional director Geert Cappelaere called a “war on children.”

Human rights organizations have repeatedly denounced the Saudi-led coalition for war crimes against Yemeni civilians. As to whether Rouzer is concerned about U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia in consideration of these human rights violations, he said:

“It’s a complex world. We don’t live in a perfect world by any means. And the Saudis have traditionally been a very good ally of the United States. And the Middle East is a very, very complex place, you know, for sure. And I think the point I want to underscore is the more the world fears America, the safer the whole world is.”

Other lawmakers tried to stop U.S. involvement in the Saudi-Houthi war through the 2019 bipartisan War Powers Resolution; President Donald Trump vetoed the bill after it passed both chambers.

The War Powers Resolution is a federal law aimed at checking the executive branch’s ability to engage in armed conflict without Congressional approval. In 1973, Congress overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto to enact the joint resolution amid concerns about the Nixon administration’s secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. 

The Biden administration argues its recent strikes on Houthis are in accordance with the 2001 and 2002 authorization for use of Military Force Act. It granted the president the right to use military action against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. A number of lawmakers have criticized the authorizations as excessively broad and recently renewed calls for Congressional approval before military action.

Rouzer voted against the 2019 bill as well as another bill invoking the resolution to stop U.S. military involvement in Syria.

“I think the president should have the flexibility to do what he needs to do when he needs to do it,” he told PCD.

Rouzer said he did not foresee the U.S. formally declaring war on another country at the moment, but admitted it was a possibility if the situation escalates. A University of South Florida national poll in November found 82% of respondents concerned the Israel-Hamas conflict could lead to a broader Middle East war.

“You have to understand perceived weakness invites war,” the Congressman responded.

Alternatively, Adam Weinstein — deputy director of Middle East policy at the Quincy Institute, a think tank which describes its foreign policy philosophy as based on military restraint, diplomacy, and cooperation with other nations — told PCD he believes the post-9/11 wars have contributed to geopolitical instability rather than security.

Weinstein — a former marine who deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 —  argued large-scale infrastructure investment in countries of strategic interest to the U.S. would generally be more effective than military action.

“I don’t think remaining in a quagmire of war for more than two decades projects strength,” he said. “I know that folks like to connect the withdrawal from Afghanistan to everything from the Houthis to Ukraine, but it simply doesn’t work that way.”

Notably, the withdrawal from Afghanistan — which Rouzer cites as an example of perceived weakness — was preceded by the Central Intelligence Agency’s support of the Afghan mujahideen, the predecessors of the Taliban, from 1979 to 1992 in Operation Cyclone. 

Other examples of U.S. foreign policy actions contributing to instability in the Middle East — the CIA uses the term “blowback” for the unintended consequences of a covert operation — include the U.S. and U.K’s coup of Iran’s democratically elected prime minister in 1953 and recent support for Al Qaeda affiliate groups in Syria’s civil war.

The Afghanistan Papers published by the Washington Post showed public officials consistently lied about their progress in the war — the longest in U.S. history — for over 18 years.

Rouzer criticized the manner in which the withdrawal was carried out, including the Taliban’s takeover of Bagram Airfield.

“The whole thing was totally, completely botched,” he said. “And, then, like I said, we were working with the Afghans to have a survey of all the rare earths and other minerals that are so needed, and now China has got it all.” 

Afghanistan is estimated to possess at least $1 trillion in mineral deposits including lithium, cobalt, copper, gold, and lapis lazuli; an internal Pentagon memo said Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium”. A 2017 White House statement said American companies would help develop the “materials critical to national security” while also “defraying some of the costs” of U.S. assistance in the country.

Historically, critics of U.S. foreign policy such as General Smedley Butler have argued the U.S. has used force to exploit foreign country’s resources. The allegation raised its head recently in 2019, when President Trump said U.S. troops would remain in Syria “only for the oil.” 

“Syria is not a friend of Israel, not a friend of America,” Rouzer told PCD. “You know, they’re very closely aligned with Iran too. And there’s nobody taking their oil for just the purpose of taking their oil that I know about.”

The International Court of Justice recently ruled that it is “plausible” Israel is acting in violation of the genocide convention. Rouzer does not believe U.S. military aid to Israel should be contingent on avoiding civilian casualties and infrastructure and said he thinks Israel “has every right to defend itself,” arguing Hamas and other Palestinian leaders are to blame for the current state of affairs.

Alternatively, Weinstein criticized the Netanyahu administration for “inflicting mass civilian casualties” and argued current Israeli policy is not only a tragedy for Palestinians, but is damaging public opinion of Israel as well. He said the U.S. should use its leverage to promote genuine attempts for a ceasefire to de-escalate tensions in the region.

“I don’t think anything can excuse what Hamas did at a moral level,” Weinstein said. “But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that if a large population is confined to a small area, and they don’t have a future, it makes it easy for groups like Hamas to take advantage of those sentiments.”

Weinstein’s think tank is also critical of what President Dwight Eisenhower described as the military industrial complex — the relationship between the military and defense contractors — and argues it exerts disproportionate influence on the U.S. foreign policy debate. Quincy cites defense-contractor funded think tanks as an example, which often provide expert analysis for media outlets and Congressional committees.

“I think the military industrial complex — people sometimes view it as a conspiratorial phrase,” Weinstein said. “I think it’s quite clear that it exists and the trouble is that conflicted or conflicting interests have been normalized in Washington.”

The Pentagon has repeatedly failed to pass an audit to comprehensively account for its nearly $1 trillion budget.

Rouzer acknowledged there is waste in every government agency, but said “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fund the department of defense.”

In December, Congress passed an $866 billion national defense budget for 2024. However, analysts such as Winslow Wheeler — who worked on national security issues for members of the Senate and the Government Accounting Office for 30 years — argue the true sum totals over $1.4 trillion.

Watchdog groups such as the Project on Government Oversight criticize potential conflicts of interest among congress members charged with overseeing the defense budget. Notably, a number of congress members including Rouzer — who holds up to $15,000 in Boeing — own stock in defense contractors.

Rouzer does not view the holding as a conflict of interest; he stated his financial advisor handles his investments and his ownership in stocks is a very small percentage of his portfolio.

Transcript of PCD’s conversation with Rep. Rouzer:

PCD: I wanted to talk about your position and actions you’ve been taking regarding supply chain issues through the Houthi attacks in Yemen, and then the broader foreign policy issues connected to that. So I watched your hearing — and I guess the first thing since we at Port City Daily, really try to target in on the local impact — do you believe these supply chain issues in Yemen will affect businesses in the Cape Fear region?

Rouzer: Well, I think the whole economy could potentially be significantly affected. It just depends upon how many more attacks we have and what’s going to be the long term effect. You know, if you don’t have the availability in the Red Sea, and you’re having to divert all those routes, you know, through and around the Cape of Good Hope, for example, which is where most of them are being diverted now. That adds time, it adds fuel cost. You know, time is money. And so it certainly is going to have some impact on upward pressure on inflation, which has been a big issue, obviously, the last couple years. And certainly one that the Federal Reserve is working hard to try to constrain. But we in Congress have not provided much help in that regard with all the excess spending that we’ve had in the last couple of years. And so, all this comes at a time when consumers are really feeling the pinch. And I guess that’s point number one. Number two, I think it’s unfortunately a reflection of a failed foreign policy. I’ve always been very concerned that especially after the pullout of our troops in Afghanistan — and the way that was carried out, that we lost 13 servicemembers, tragically. We had basically identified all the raw earth material that’s so necessary for the development of so many things, including antibiotics, our weaponry, etcetra. China now has all that. It was just a real signal of weakness to the world the way that was carried out. And what transpired with that. And so I think all of this is directly related, in that when our enemies perceive weakness, you know, they go to work.

PCD: Very interesting. Yeah, I definitely want to tie back into that broader — it really is taking place in a much broader geopolitical context, especially with power competition with China and everything. Just for one more question directly related to the Coast Guard and maritime transportation subcommittee session recently. You mentioned you heard from industries all across the board about that issue. Did any specific constituents raise that or any specific companies?

Rouzer: I don’t remember specifics, but I know that in my conversations, and lunches, you know, other gatherings, all kinds of different interest groups that are on Capitol Hill are concerned about this long term. Because, the uncertainty that it presents, what’s it going to mean for the cost of goods? What’s it going to mean for their future business prospects? Do we have the capacity in the United States to to deal with a major jam up of goods at our ports like we saw during the pandemic? So, it just creates a lot of uncertainty and of course, business in general does not like uncertainty.

PCD: Absolutely. Yeah, I know, you mentioned, for example, special permission requests, a few other solutions like that. I wanted to ask your opinion of the current military strikes on Yemen, the US strikes, do you see that as a part of dealing with this issue? Or just what’s your opinion on that?

Rouzer: Well, I think overall, we wouldn’t have this issue if we didn’t have the Houthis, you know, firing off their missiles. And whether it’s because of our defense of Israel, or whether it’s because they view America as timid in our response, I’m not sure the exact answer, I think it’s more all of the above. I really think the Biden administration needs to reset the table in a major way to let all of our adversaries around the world understand very clearly that we’re not to be messed with. And you start messing with commercial container ships, no matter whose country they’re from, that we’re going to take issue with that. And certainly going to take issue anytime they target our military personnel, which by the way, I think we’re closing in on 200 attacks, maybe more, on our military, whether it’s in Syria, Iraq or anywhere else. And so I don’t know the exact number right off the top of my head because it changes day by day, but I’m pretty certain we’re close to 200 at this point. And you’ve got to have a strong response. Whether this administration is making the right response, I don’t want to judge at the moment. Because there’s a lot that I don’t know, and I’m sure there’s a lot that they’re going to do in the next few days, perhaps a few weeks that — so I don’t want to prejudge their efforts. But I do know that we need to reset the table and you don’t reset the table by firing off a missile here or there.

PCD: So you’re saying a broader effort?

Rouzer: Yeah, I think it needs to be substantial in a way that Iran really feels it. Because Iran is funding — all these are all proxies of Iran.

PCD: So on that though, from some of my research, there is debate as to the precise nature of Iran and the Houthis’ relationship.

Rouzer: Yeah, Iran likes to say, oh, you know, they’re doing that on their own, that they wouldn’t be doing anything if they weren’t funded by Iran.

PCD: No, this Helen Lackner, this scholar of the Houthis raised an interesting perspective that I’d love to hear your comments on. She says that the Houthis and Iranians have become closer since the Saudis started, you know, bombing Yemen, I believe it was around 2014. And before that, their relationship wasn’t as close. And she also said that the Houthis had a very low approval rating in Yemen. You know,  she described them as authoritarians and this type of thing but said that, in this sort of extreme situation where there’s kind of a pro-Palestinian sentiment among the Yemeni population, even if they do not like the Houthis, that it’s actually strengthening the Houthi control over the country. If you have a comment on that or anything you want to push back on?

Rouzer: You know, Saudi Arabia has always been concerned about Iran’s desire for nuclear capability, because of the instability it would create in the area. There’s no question about that. There is no question that if Iran was bankrupt and had no money, as they were a few years ago, due to the international sanctions and the embargo and their oil etcetera. The Houthis and all the other proxy groups of Iran wouldn’t have near the cash they have today. So, I think it’s one of those cases where a little bit of everything is true. And there’s all kinds of alliances that form you know, what’s the old saying, the friend of my enemy is my enemy.

PCD: It shifts around a lot. 

Rouzer: Or the enemy of my enemy is my friend is the other way to say it.

PCD: In the years before this, the US was providing heavy military support, and the UK and some other countries, to Saudi Arabia while it was at war with the Houthis. Are you concerned about providing military support to Saudi considering human rights issues?

Rouzer: It’s a complex world. We don’t live in a perfect world by any means. And the Saudis have traditionally been a very good ally of the United States. And the Middle East is is a very, very complex place, you know, for sure. So, I think the point I want to underscore is that the more the world fears America, the safer the whole world is. And I don’t believe anybody really believes at this moment in time, particularly our adversaries around the world that America’s in the most dominant, strongest position.

PCD: I do think America’s position has diminished somewhat in recent years. But there’s a counter argument that some of the, you know, the war on terror in various countries, destabilized those countries in a manner that was not beneficial to U.S. interest, for example, in contributing to the refugee crisis in Europe. So part of that would raise the question of your opinion on the War Powers resolution, you know, military action by the executive branch without congressional approval. For example, Yemen has been described by the UN, I think it was back in 2018, as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. And I guess the question is, is there enough public debate on these foreign policy decisions without legislative congressional approval for these military actions beforehand?

Rouzer: Well one thing, I certainly believe this administration, our president needs to do a much better job of is just getting on TV and explaining to the American people why Ukraine is important, why defending Israel is important in those discussions, and that presentation to the American public, quite honestly, it’s just not taking place. And so it makes foreign policy much more difficult, in terms of marshaling the resources necessary to keep the world as safe as possible and to defeat our enemies. It makes it tougher when the American people don’t understand exactly what’s at stake. And that has to be presented. The President has the bully pulpit to do that. He is the one person as commander in chief that has the responsibility to articulate why his policies are what they are, some of which I support, some of which I don’t, but he’s not made any competitive case to the American people on why we need to be involved anywhere. And there is a very compelling case to be made, I think, on all these fronts. And I think that’s part of the issue internationally for this administration and for our country is our adversaries see that he’s not making the case to the American people either. And I think that’s the problem and he needs to rectify it. And rectify it very, very quickly.

PCD: I understand that. But I find that counter argument interesting that wars can breed further extremism. You know, this view that Yemen was a humanitarian crisis beforehand, or after the Iraq War —

Rouzer: Well, I think fundamentally, I really believe, that fundamentally those that wish America harm, that are hostile to any democratic form of government — they only understand one thing, and that’s strength. And when they perceive that America and her allies are not strong — that’s when they go to town and do their work. That’s when they start, you know, firing missiles at container ships, that’s when they start, you know, all activity that is destabilizing to the world. So, I think that’s a fundamental point. You know, you can argue, well, — ‘if you didn’t do this, if you didn’t do that.’ I think one of the reasons why we are where we are is this administration has taken the position that they did not want to antagonize anybody, that they did not want to promote anything. Well, that’s viewed as being timid by our adversaries. That’s viewed as weakness by our adversaries. And so it just emboldened them even more. You know, the world is not an easy place. These issues are not black and white. But I do think that the one thing our adversaries fundamentally understand is strength and weakness.

PCD: Okay, I think it’s an interesting perspective, but with the war powers resolution. Did you have a specific opinion on that?

Rouzer: Well, I think the president should have flexibility to do what he needs to do when he needs to do it. We voted on a new AUMF not long ago, as it relates to Israel in particular. That basically authorizes the use of military force, and I’m not sure where the Senate is on that. But you know, I don’t see the United States declaring war on anybody at the moment. But that could that could change if things escalate dramatically, at any point, and it certainly is possible.

PCD: Yeah, like that’s the concern is these strikes growing into a broader Middle East war.

Rouzer: You have to understand perceived weakness invites war. I mean, that’s when wars happens is when your enemies feel that you’re weak and not up to it and have no staying power. 

PCD: But could that be an endless cycle if the root causes are not addressed?

Rouzer: You got  — This is a world of good and evil, you know, not to simplify or over simplify it. But fundamentally that’s the case and you know, there’s only one thing that evil respects and that’s strength. So, you know, I think this administration has really portrayed itself to be weak. In all these realms, even the — what we send Ukraine. I mean, Ukraine eventually gets what they’ve asked for, but not until months later. And it’s because this is administration had viewed, providing certain weapons and other and other other donations of us support as being provocative. And then they would eventually give them what they asked for. But, again, time is money, and time is also lives.

PCD: I understand that with Ukraine, I understand there was a failure of audit to account for a billion dollars in military aid recently. This is another concern. Like the Pentagon has failed to pass an audit. 

Rouzer: And rightly so. But again, its not a perfect world. And we want to defeat the Russians. We want to defeat Putin. And Russia has taken a lot of casualties. I think 300,000 of theirs are dead. You can multiply that by two and that’s probably how many that are injured. But they have a huge population base to pull from. Ukraine does not. And so —

PCD: But do you feel a better solution would be to not have you know that many deaths of Russians or Ukrainians? For example —

Rouzer: I’d say, I think had we not had the disastrous pull out in Afghanistan, which showed the world that — or at least the perception is that we were incompetent, weak and have no staying power. Had that not occurred, I don’t think Putin would have ever invaded Ukraine.

PCD: That’s interesting. Although with Afghanistan, it’s like — while the pullout definitely had issues. The — for example, the Afghanistan papers published in the Washington Post, showed a lot of evidence of malfeasance and deception to elected officials about the status of that conflict. You know, and the question is, were they even making gains against the Taliban? If the military solution to that conflict was the appropriate method of dealing with that issue? Especially going back further to, you know, like Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan back in the 80s, where the US funded groups that would later on become, you know, extremist, kind of the origins of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. And I guess that links to the question of arming these groups that later become US enemies, including Al Qaeda. Like for example, in Syria, the Obama administration’s operation timber Sycamore, with over a billion sent to Syria, you know, a lot of that went to al Qaeda affiliates, like Al Nusra. So I guess —

Rouzer: You know, like I said at the outset, it’s not a perfect world, but we don’t need to be given away Bagram Airbase, you know, there in Afghanistan like we did. There’s no telling how many of the players that were there, were actually on the planes that were coming over here to America. The whole thing was totally completely botched. And then like I said, we were working with the Afghans to have a survey of all the rare earths and other minerals that are so needed, and now China has got it all.

PCD: But do you think that might be — for example, there’s been discussion of using Syrian oil — for the United States to be in another country and take advantage of their resources through military force? Would that not be opposed to the United States’ democratic principles of sovereignty and, you know, not taking things through violence?

Rouzer: Well, you know, Syria is not a friend of Israel, not a friend of America. You know, they’re very closely aligned with Iran too. And there’s nobody taking their oil for just the purpose of taking their role that I know about. But again, I think the fundamentals here are you have peace when you have strength. And when your enemies fear you, the world is a much safer place. I don’t think that’s the case now. And I think it’s manifested itself in a multitude of ways. Not only the fact that we have real challenges with China and of course, their threat to take Taiwan, we have a real challenge with Russia taking Ukraine. We have a real challenge in helping to bolster the defenses of our greatest ally in the Middle East in Israel. Which is why we’re going to pass a standalone Israel only [aid] probably later this week in the House to make sure they have the funding they need. Because they’re getting to a point of dire straits I’m afraid. Every enemy around there is emboldened in a major way. And then that translates also to the supply chain issues with shipping. All of this is interconnected. And I think all of it is the result of a failed foreign policy quite honestly — and I’m not, you know, trying to be overly you know, argumentative about that or or or, you know, undermine what the administration is trying to do — but I just think that they’ve shown a lot of weakness and this is the result.

PCD: I got you and I’ll definitely fairly portray your view on that. Just to be totally transparent. I feel that it goes back longer, the whole middle of Middle East conflagration.

Rouzer: Again, it’s a complex world. I mean, it’s, you know, individual families have a lot of complexities in their relationships. You know, not everybody gets along all the time. You know, some people, some groups, some countries hold grudges. You know, human nature is human nature. But the one thing our enemies do uniformly respect is strength.

PCD: I got that. I just think they also respond to, you know, they take civilian casualties and just like you spoke about the complexities of families, someone that they loved is killed. It’s likely that they will become radicalized. Like actually, Yoav Gallant, the defense minister of Israel told Kristen Gillibrand, he thought Gazan youth would become extremist even if there was no radical extremist religion because of the conditions there, the economic conditions.

Rouzer: I mean, that’s what they’re taught too. I mean, you had Palestinians that were not affiliated with Hamas going over and murdering Jews on October the seventh. It wasn’t just Hamas murdering them, it was regular ordinary Palestinians that were going over and murdering them. You know, they are brought up to hate the Jews and Israel.

PCD: Do you think that could be — both sides have a much longer history that has fed into that hatred. I mean, for example, there was the recent International Court of Justice, South Africa, charged Israel with violations of the Genocide Convention. The ICJ said it was plausible. And their case had a ton of statements from high level Israeli officials, making comments, you know, about the entire Gazan population in regards to military action. Do you have an opinion on that, on that ICJ ruling by chance?

Rouzer: Yeah, I mean, I think Israel has every right to defend itself. I’ve been to Israel a couple different times. And the one thing that stands out to you is, nobody around Israel is worried about Israelis coming over and murdering their people. You know, everybody there was concerned about those outside of Israel coming into Israel and murdering the Jews. And you see that when you’re at the border, the border fence. I mean, the concern is, is all one way.

PCD: The only reason I push back on that is — I’ve been to Israel too, and the West Bank. You know, my time in Israel was — I spoke with a lot of IDF generals and stuff and got that general view — but when I went into the actual West Bank and saw the conditions there, it was a much darker situation. Did you spend any time —

Rouzer: Yeah, I did and their conditions in the West Bank is a direct result of their governance. And quite honestly, in my opinion, you know, whether it was Arafat or now Hamas, you know, I don’t think they give a lot of care towards the living conditions of their people. I mean, their motive is to destroy Israel. And, and always has been. So, you have a people that have you know, sought peace for a long time. History shows that those who are opposed to the Jews prefer extermination. I mean, they want them wiped off the face of the earth. And in the case of Iran, tying it all back to Iran, they call Israel the little Satan and America the big Satan. So as soon as Israel goes — which I don’t think that that will ever happen, but let’s say it did — we’re next. So you know, this isn’t going to stop just with Israel.

PCD: I hear you. I just see it going back further in history, you know, back to like 1953 when the United States was involved in a coup of the Iranian government. You know, and I think these kinds of things lead to the conditions where something like the extremist Iranian group can take hold there — and what I brought up the — have you gone on two trips to Israel?

Rouzer: I went with the freshman class and I was Tillis and several other members of the Senate some time later.

PCD: I got you. And that was with the American Israel Education Foundation?

Rouzer: It was. The second trip I don’t honestly recall because that was organized on the Senate side.

PCD: I got you. I just understand that that is a sister organization of AIPAC. Which is why they may you know why you travel there give you a —

Rouzer: Yeah, I follow what you’re saying. History I mean, history shows very clearly that there are people on this earth that want the Jews annhilated.

PCD: I certainly think that anti semitism is an extremely serious issue. I just think the ongoing war in Israel is increasing that.

Rouzer: I mean, the counterpoint to that. What is Israel supposed to do? Not do anything after they’ve been attacked?

PCD: Well, I guess there was things like the Fulbright plan from the 70s to have a two state solution with full time UN peacekeeping forces.

Rouzer: But the two state solution only works if both parties want a two state solution. 

PCD: But what about the —

Rouzer: When the goal of one party is to annihilate the other party, you’re never going to have a two state solution.

PCD: So the my pushback to that, respectfully, would be that, for example, Likud, the party of Prime Minister Netanyahu, — in their original charter, they use similar language to ‘from the river to the sea’, — meaning there have been a lot of constituents within Israeli leadership, who have wanted to have more territory or annex more territory repeatedly.

Rouzer: Well they wanted to annex more territory to ensure that their population remains safe. I mean, there’s a lot that Israel won in various wars that they gave back. And, you know, I think there’s some discussion in Israel, of you know, was that a mistake? You know, given the animosity that continues to be fostered against him.

PCD: But even with the, in the West Bank, you know, there’s approximately 450,000 Israelis who have moved there — that the US State Department has, you know, has criticized heavily in repeated administrations, arguing that that is inflammatory and can be an obstacle to long term peace. And I know there’s a lot of internal debate in Israel about that as well. But now with this Gaza conflict, there’s also things like the Intelligence Ministry document speaking about plans to  move the Gazan population down into Egypt and settle into the former Gazan territory. And when I’m talking about the long term and short term solutions to the conflict in Israel — and you know, we’re talking about good and evil, and these types of things — I understand that in Gaza now the health infrastructure has been almost totally destroyed as well as the university infrastructure. So do you think there should be conditions on US military aid to Israel regarding civilian casualties or civilian infrastructure being destroyed?

Rouzer: Yeah, no. I think Israel needs to do what they need to do to protect themselves. And, you know, it’s an unfortunate truth that Hamas built these tunnels underneath the hospitals and other major centers. You know, use basically their own population as human shields for their evil deeds. And you know, it’s not a simple and easy world by any means. But, you know, Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East. They want peace long term. They know they’ll never have peace as long as Hamas is around and their other enemies around them feel emboldened. So we need to give them everything that they need to defend themselves. And we will do that, and I anticipate we’ll have that vote in the House this week.

PCD: That — about Israel wanting peace. I just point to AIPAC’s previous lobbying for U.S. support in various wars including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and increasing hostilities with Iran. So there’s a perspective that Israel is also on the offensive in the Middle East in a lot of situations. Do you disagree with that?

Rouzer: Well, if I’m Israel, I’m concerned about everything across the board. And you’ve got to do what you need to do to defend yourself. So anyhow, I very strongly supported Israel, the aid package that we’re going to pass here in the House later this week. And I hope the Senate will take it up very soon and we’ll get it signed into law. And get Israel the support that they need, so that they can defend their country. 

PCD: Do you have any concerns about AIPAC’s influence on US foreign policy or lobbying from defense contractors?

Rouzer: No. I don’t know of anything specific that would cause me any concern about AIPAC. You know, they treasure the alliances that they have with the United States. We have shared values obviously, they’re our number one ally in the Middle East. And you know, they deserve our utmost support. You know, what transpired on October the seventh  Israel was two or three times the severity of Pearl Harbor if you look at the number of people in their country that were murdered that day, given their population size.

PCD: Yeah, October 7 was definitely horrible. I absolutely agree with that. I just take the perspective of — previous civilian casualties in the lead up to that on both sides. I mean,, but they’re larger in, you know, Gaza from the 2014 or 2009 War. Where I mean, the human shields argument, where I would challenge that is other countries also have military infrastructure near civilian infrastructure. I mean, even in Tel Aviv or in the United States. And I don’t think that —

Rouzer: It’s pretty telling though that they build their tunnels, and have their key operations basically centered right below hospitals and other major population centers. And there’s no telling how many miles of tunnels they have going all over the place. I’ve been in some of those tunnels that the IDF had secured. And, you know, it’s an amazing network of tunnels. That very clearly, you know, shows you what their focus is. It’s not on their people. It’s on going after Israel, they take all the aid money they’ve ever gotten for the most part and put it into those tunnels. So with that, I gotta run it’s ten after four and I need to sign off at four.

PCD: I really appreciate you talking to me. The only other question I want to ask is about congressional stock trading. If you have an opinion on Congress members owning stock in federal contractors. A recent watchdog — I don’t think you’re a big trader from what I saw — but a watchdog report showed you had the fourth highest returns of any Congress member. 

Rouzer: You know, I saw that and we’re still trying to figure out how they come up with that, because I didn’t even have a trade in 2023. I don’t know how they — what it looks like they do is they take one stock in particular, that my financial advisor bought long before I was ever even in Congress. And if you take that one stock and assume that I sold it at its peak in 2023, you could argue that would have been the return. But I didn’t sell it. I didn’t even have any sales in 2023.

PCD: I got you. I look up, you know, everybody’s campaign finance and stocks and stuff, all the elected officials. And I guess the most recent one from 2022 was up to 15k and Boeing. I don’t know if you still own that, but I just want to ask if that could be a potential concern at all — it’s not very much a lot of money, but —

Rouzer: I haven’t sold Boeing and Boeing is probably the worst it’s ever been right now. If I had to guess. I mean, you know, given the blowout of their door on the plane. But anyhow, all those were bought — I don’t remember when Boeing was bought — but it’s very little money. I have a total of about $35,000 in stocks. It’s a very, very, very, very small percentage of my portfolio.

PCD:  I got you. Well, yeah, I just wanted to —

Rouzer: I think there’s maybe ten. I got like five grand on average in each of them. I mean, it’s nothing. That’s the other thing with that watchdog group or whatever they call themselves — by the way, nobody can get up with them. I would love for a journalist to call them and ask what their methodology is.

PCD: I tried to get in touch with them. Yeah, it’s difficult.

Rouzer: I think their whole deal is about making, you know, getting people to click on their deal and pay for the subscription where they say they give you more of the information or however they word it. But I think it’s more of a money making thing for them than it is any kind of watchdog group.

PCD: I got that. If I even write anything or include anything in that I’ll definitely put your response and push back to it. But, I guess it just leads to the question of what Dwight Eisenhower described as the military industrial complex, you know as defense contractors having an incentive for increased military involvement in other countries and the concerns that poses. But I really appreciate all the time that you shared to speak with me and provide your perspective.

Rouzer: Yeah, all I can say on that issue is you know, my financial advisor handles all that. I don’t even know what he’s done until after he does it. As far as any of my investments. As far as federal contractors or anything else. I don’t know the law well enough to you know, have any comment, you know, on that. I do know this, whatever an individual member of Congress does, I mean we report it. And by law, we have to report it. And so, its pretty simple from that perspective,

PCD: Yeah, I guess it’s just the question of if the Pentagon is allocating these resources, like you know, we talked about spending by the Biden administration that could have potentially caused inflation — with that trillion dollar or whatever, budget every year, that’s big federal spending, is it being used in the best possible way? You know, and is it leading to, you know, I know you’ve voiced a lot of support for veterans. Are these actions you know, hurting them or potentially leading to —

Rouzer: What actions? I lost you. 

PCD: Military actions in various countries throughout the Middle East and broader world.

Rouzer: You’re just talking about the way money is allocated?

PCD: No, I’m saying, well, earlier we discussed, you mentioned spending by the Biden administration as a potential contributor to inflation?

Rouzer: Well, I’m talking about the direct payments, I’m talking about the long term unemployment people were getting. I mean, everything created inflation, lack of workers created inflation too — added to inflation cause the employers had to have to pay workers so much more just to get them back in the door. All that is being passed on to the consumer. I can’t go anywhere and get lunch, breakfast, or dinner and not pay twice what I used to pay. And it’s a direct result of the excess spending domestically here in this country.

PCD: I was raising the, you know, perspective that that defense budget is a huge part of federal spending. And if that pentagon and — and I’m sorry, if I’m taking up more of your time since you already said that you need to go.

Rouzer: I mean, there’s waste in every agency in government but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fund the Department of Defense. We would be in world war three if that happens.

PCD: Yeah, well, hopefully we can talk more about all this and I appreciate it.

Rouzer: Take care.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

Want to read more from PCD? Subscribe now and then sign up for our morning newsletter, Wilmington Wire, and get the headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.

Related Articles