At South Carolina forum, Kasich calls for more Navy combat ships

Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks with the media in the spin room after the Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena on Aug. 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.


By JACK TORRY | The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 18, 2015

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Republican presidential candidate John Kasich called for building as many as five aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy, a move that would cost billions of dollars at a time when the Ohio governor says he also wants to balance the federal budget.

In a forum Monday on national security and international affairs before a decidedly hawkish crowd of more than 150, Kasich elaborated for the first time on how many new ships he wants to add to the U.S. Navy if elected president, saying “at the minimum we ought to try and build up to 300."

“We have got about 10 carriers now,” Kasich told former CNN reporter Jeanne Meserve, who moderated the forum. “My goal would be to get us closer to 15. You’ve got to have the ability to project power when you get there.”

Speaking to reporters after the event, Kasich said adding an additional five aircraft carriers would be done “over time. It’s not going to be done in a day. It has to all be done calmly and over time.”

Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Kasich has called for adding more ships to the U.S. Navy, which currently has 272 combat ships. But with the newest U.S. aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford, costing anywhere between $6 billion and $10 billion, Kasich’s shipbuilding plan would make it even more difficult to balance the federal budget.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the annual federal deficit is expected to climb from $485 billion in the 2014 federal spending year to $1 trillion by 2025.

By increasing defense spending, Kasich would be forced to either trim domestic spending or restrain the rapid growth in the federal health and retirement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Kasich called for additional defense spending in a state where the military is popular. South Carolina has eight military installations and defense spending contributes at least $20 billion a year to the state’s economy.

Although Kasich’s presentation was stylistically restrained, his message was blunt and hawkish. He urged President Barack Obama to step up military attacks against Islamic State militants who hold large sections of Iraq and Syria while supplying weapons to the more moderate Syrian rebels trying to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The attacks on western civilization by ISIS are horrific, and for the life of me I don’t understand why we have not worked aggressively with our allies to go where we need to go with boots on the ground and destroy these people,” Kasich said. “Because this is an attack on our civilization.”

Saying that “the time has come to act,” Kasich dismissed a question asked by Meserve that Americans are weary of sending any more soldiers to the Middle East. Instead, Kasich said “ Americans understand what this threat is. I think when presented appropriately, as long as we’re not going to be over there in some nation-building capacity. Go take care of the problem and come home.”

He did say that U.S. soldiers sent to the Middle East would have to be part of an international coalition.

Kasich’s internationalist approach is likely to be embraced in South Carolina, which holds its Republican presidential primary next winter after the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

The winners of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary have tended to be staunch internationalists such as Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008, George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992, and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Pat Buchanan’s brand of isolationism never resonated here as he lost to Bush in 1992 and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas in 1996.

After the event, Kasich attempted to clarify his comments Sunday on CNN when he said he “would never have committed ourselves to Iraq” in 2003, implying he would have opposed President George W. Bush’s decision that year to send U.S. forces into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.

Instead, Kasich told reporters if there had been reports in 2003 that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, “of course I would have been against it. Look, you do 100 interviews and people take things out of context.”


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