US Congressman Joe Wilson: United States Should Follow Bulgaria's Fiscal Policies
Exclusive interview of US Congressman Joe Wilson for the Bulgaria-US Survey of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency); Wison is a Republican member of the US House of Representatives, founder and chair of the Bulgaria Caucus at the US Congress.
Addison (Joe) Graves Wilson was born on July 31, 1947, in Charleston, South Carolina. After graduating from the High School of Charleston, he received his undergraduate degree from Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and completed his law degree at the University of South Carolina. A real estate attorney by trade, Wilson was a founding partner of the West Columbia law firm Kirkland, Wilson, Moore, Taylor & Thomas.
His career in public service officially began when he served on the staffs of South Carolina legends Senator Strom Thurmond and Congressman Floyd Spence. As part of the visionary Ronald Reagan administration, Wilson was Deputy General Counsel to the United States Department of Energy Secretary and former South Carolina Governor, Jim Edwards.
Wilson served in the United States Army Reserves in 1972-1975, and then in the South Carolina Army National Guard. In the summer of 2003, Wilson retired as a Colonel, having served as a Staff Judge Advocate assigned to the 218th Mechanized Infantry Brigade. At the time, he was the only active Guard member serving in Congress.
Before being elected to the United States Congress in 2001, Wislon served seventeen years, with perfect attendance, in the South Carolina State Senate where he was elected Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, the first Republican Chairman since Reconstruction.
In the House of Representatives, Wislon serves on the House Armed Services Committee - where he serves as Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Military Personnel - the Committee on Education and Labor, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He was appointed by the Republican Leader to the highly influential Republican Policy Committee and works as an Assistant Republican Whip. He is the founder and Co-Chair of the Bulgaria Caucus, and also a co-chairs the Afghanistan Caucus, the Kurdistan Caucus, the Americans Abroad Caucus, and the Victory in Iraq Caucus.
How did you decide to start the Bulgaria Caucus in the US Congress and where does your interest in Bulgaria stem from?
Indeed, I was very fortunate to be an election observer for the International Republican Institute for the June 10, 1990, election in Bulgaria. It was really exciting for me to see and meet the people, to see the beautiful country, the culture, the architecture, the ancient artifacts.
I thought, “What a wonderful country!” It reminded me so much of my home state of South Carolina. We beaches to the east, we have a beautiful interior with the capital Columbia, and we have mountains to the west.
So I fell in love with Bulgaria and the people right away. And then I was very grateful I ultimately was elected to the US Congress in 2001, in a special election, and one of the first things I did was create a Bulgaria Caucus. We have different country caucuses here in Congress.
The intent of a country caucus is to provide for good contacts between the Congress and members of the Bulgarian National Assembly (Parliament), with the Bulgarian government and citizens, and also for Bulgarian-Americans, for them to know that there is a caucus, whose members and leadership are available to any citizens from Bulgaria and persons of Bulgarian heritage – who by the way have been very successful in the United States.
I have also been very fortunate because I have had the chance to work closely with Bulgarian Ambassador in Washington, DC, Elena Poptodorova. She is very dynamic, I am very grateful that her son George was an intern working at our office here. So we have an internship program and are happy to have college students from Bulgaria and around the world.
It has been a dream come true going back to 1990 to see Bulgaria admitted into NATO. I was in the White House with Bulgarian Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg at the time, and I also so grateful to have been at the Bulgarian Embassy when the EU flag was raised. I've seen Bulgaria come a full circle as a very important part of Europe and a great partner of the USA.
How does contemporary Bulgaria seem to you from your perspective in terms of the political system, economy, civil society. Obviously it is still changing but what's you thought of Bulgaria now?
I am very excited for Bulgaria. I was there in 1990 and I have to tell like I had stepped back in the 1930s. The people were dynamic but the system to me was very stale. Now, on my multiple visits, and the last time I was there was two years ago, but I always had a hope to visit the Black Sea so I did get the opportunity to visit Burgas and Sveti Vlas.
It is all so beautiful, and I am just so happy for the people of Bulgaria to see world-class construction, architecture, lighting, landscaping. The infrastructure is in place for development. In fact I represent some of the world's greatest resorts and I have told my constituents about this development on the Black Sea, which makes us all better.
I am very hopeful. I also visited the joint US-Bulgarian base at Novo Selo, and it was a dream come true to me to see young Bulgarian troops and American troops together at a cappucchino bar in the middle of the base, and to see friendships being developed.
Having mentioned the defense and military cooperation, what do you say to those critics that Bulgaria has become a kind of a satellite to the US, much the way it was with the Soviet Union in the communist era? Do you think this is a fair comparison? In general, what are the underlying characteristics of American-Bulgarian relations today?
It's very clear that we are partners, and Bulgaria is not at all a satellite. We all know that the Warsaw Pact was maintained by force but what we have now is free and democratic nations. It is up to the people of Bulgaria to determine who they want to be, and I am so proud of them today. As in the 1920s and 1930s, when they were a very vibrant part of Europe.
Then, I see a great opportunity for friendship between the USA and the people of Bulgaria but it is not one based on force, intimidation or totalitarian tactics. It is based on mutual benefit.
In my home state we are glad to have foreign direct investment. We have BMWs. Every X5 and X6 in the world is made in my home state of South Carolina and I was happy to see X5s and X6s when I was in Bulgaria. This is direct trade. German investments in the United States producing BMWs and then sold in Bulgaria. Over and over I see opportunities for business.
In fact, the economy policies of Bulgaria I have cited at Congress as an example of what America needs to do. America should be following the fiscal policies of Bulgaria – and that is to freeze the pensions and wages of persons in the government, to reevaluate state investment projects, to cut government spending by 15%.
In fact, in the most recent campaign, I urged that our American government be reduced by 20% and to follow the model of England with new Prime Minister David Cameron, and the model of Bulgaria where you cut the budget to grow the economy, to grow the private sector for small businesses which create jobs in both America and Bulgaria.
What would you say about Bulgaria's role as an ally of the USA in the past decade? The defense cooperation is very close – Bulgaria had troops in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan, and we are NATO allies. Should Bulgarians feel 100% certain of the US commitment to Bulgaria's national security?
I am very grateful because in the new Congress I will be the chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, and I will work to promote a better quality of life for our service members and veterans. We look forward to working with Bulgaria. I actually visited with the Bulgarian commander our troops in Iraq.
I am a military veteran myself. I served 31 years in the Army guard and reserve, and I have four sons serving in the military of the United States. My oldest son was a field artillery officer in Iraq for a year working with Bulgarian troops.
My second son is a doctor in the Navy and works with the SEALs and the rangers that are in Iraq. I also have two other sons, one served in Asia for the National Guard and my youngest son is an engineer with the National Guard. I take very personally the military service, and it is exciting to me when they get to become friends and comrades with people from Bulgaria.
Just in August I was Afghanistan, and I felt as if I was in Bulgaria because in the middle of the base there was a beautiful Bulgarian flag.
What are the prospects for the US/NATO missile shield in Europe? Do you see indications that Bulgaria might host elements of the shield?
This is a real change with the midterm elections in the USA. The Republicans have traditionally been very strong on national defense. This is really the reason I joined the Republicans when I was in high school. I believed in a strong national defense supporting at that time Barry Goldwater with the view, and ultimately, Ronald Reagan, that we can succeed in Central and Eastern Europe by peace through strength.
The good news is that with the Congress Republicans support missile defense. We know Iran is a threat. The missile capabilities of Iran today put the cities and communities of Bulgaria within range , also Greece, Romania, Ukraine. Our new ally, another great new ally that we now have – India – is also with the range of Iran.
So we need to have a missile defense system, and by having an effective missile defense system, this will be encouraging the people of Iran to work for regime change in that country. They will know that money is being wasted on missiles that we have a defense system to counteract and protect the people of Bulgaria.
And this is a new development because, sadly, the Democrats are not in favor of a missile defense system. The current administration has been dragging its feet but the Republicans have been working hard to fully fund a missile defense system, and work with our allies such as Israel, India, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, all of us have a real interest in an effective missile defense system to stop the ability of Iran to threaten the people of the region.
How do you see the importance and role of Task Force East for US national security? Do you think Bulgaria and Romania might at some point replace Turkey as the most important US allies in the region?
I see cooperation of the American military with Bulgaria and Romania, and of course, our long-term relations with Greece and with Turkey itself. A real indication and reminder to me about our association with Turkey is here in Washington – I would invite everybody to come and visit and see that in my office you will be greeted with a beautiful Bulgarian flag right in the middle of the office so you will know you are in the right office – but right here in downtown Washington is a reminder of our alliance with Turkey is the Korean War monument to over 50 000 Americans who were killed in that war, which also commemorates our allies and the fact that freedom is not free. Right in the center of the monument is a tribute to Turkey. So for over 60 years Turkey has been a valuable ally to the USA.
So I think that we should have a very positive relationship with Southeastern Europe to include Turkey, and we want the best for Turkey. The stability of Turkey is very important to Bulgaria as well.
The expectations for massive American investments in Bulgaria seem to have not materialized fully. What do you think is needed to have more intensive trade and investment and economic cooperation?
The American economy is not growing as quickly as it should. But we believe in the principles of Ronald Reagan where you cut taxes to allow the private sector to create jobs. That will create a greater market here in the US consumer market for products to be made in Bulgaria and imported in the USA. I told you how proud we are about the BMWs made in South Carolina. I want to pay a tribute to the Bulgarian-American AmCham.
I have worked very closely with the AmChams around the world. They have a very important role for business people, Bulgarian and American, and, actually, international businesses – from England, Germany, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia – all of them can work together as members of AmCham to create a positive business climate which respects the sovereignty of the people of Bulgaria and respects the people of Bulgaria but also creates development, which is also beneficial to the world economy.
Bulgarians are looking forward to the day they will be included in the US Visa Waiver Program. Do you think that will be any time soon?
I appreciate you bringing that up – because I have some many persons bringing that up, and I am looking forward to working on this issue with the Ambassador Poptodorova and with the government of Bulgaria, and this is, again, mutual.
This is a mutual challenge – that we in America also have – we need to have very secure passports with biometric data. We are facing a common enemy – Islamic, extremist terrorists, who are very highly educated, very well-financed, and so both Bulgaria and the US, the EU, all of us must be ever vigilant because there are people trying to destroy our civilization.
So we know – and I point out the model of Bulgaria – where people of Christian faith, of Islamic faith, and of Jewish faith live together – and we do not need to have this kind of conflict, a global war on terrorism that is occurring today. So we have to be ever vigilant and I look forward to working with Ambassador Poptodorova, the government of Bulgaria, the State Department because we want to have people from Bulgaria visit and learn about the United States, and people from the United States learn about Bulgaria.
I can tell you, it was just awesome to me during the my first visit to Bulgaria to see the remains of the ancient civilizations of Thrace, Greece and Rome. My goodness! And you got the right climate. It is very similar to the climate of my home state of South Carolina. So I see a very bright future for the people of Bulgaria.
The Republicans just defeated the Democrats in the US midterm elections. What were the reasons for that? And going further – do you expect this devastating defeat to affect President Obama's chances for a second term?
I think that the Republican success stems from the fact that the Republicans have traditionally supported limited, constitutional government in which the people actually have more power than the government.
Also, we promote expanded freedom. We want individual responsibility, not the government to determine people's lives. The majority of the people in USA have been found through political analysis to be center right. Sadly, the current administration has gone far to the left, expanded the role of the government and created a situation of what I call big government.
In America people would always prefer limited to big government. The President ran on a platform in which he emphasized limited government but he then has emphasized big government. I am so excited to see the changes in American politics. In my home state we now have for the first time since 1876 Republicans have taken all state-wide offices. And I have to say something I am very proud of – my oldest son Allan has been elected Attorney-General, and he himself has visited Bulgaria and is a big friend of Bulgaria. The Attorney-General of South Carolina is a big friend of Bulgaria.
I want to restate to how grateful I am to have been reelected. The American political process is very fluid but it is one that requires that the elected officials be accessible and accountable to the public. So I never take my position for granted, it takes a lot to be reelected.
But I am also grateful to be in a position now with the chairmanship of the subcommittee on the armed services committee to be there as a friend of Bulgaria, to promote Bulgaria as a partner of the United States. Also, I hope to be serving as a ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and so I will be there also to promote Bulgaria as a great friend and partner of the people of the United States.
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