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reason: So how does that play out in relation to Iran? Should the U.S be isolating Iran through trade sanctions? Should they be engaging them through open trade? What’s the best way to work toward some kind of positive resolution both for people in Iran as well as the United States?
Amash: Iran is a much more real threat. They speak out against the United States on a regular basis; it’s pretty clear they’re trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Sanctions that are directed toward preventing them from getting weapons of mass destruction, I think those sanctions are useful and helpful in the short run. I’m not sure you’d want to use them for 20 years.
But there are other sanctions that are targeted at the people of Iran. Those are not beneficial to the United States. If I felt Iran was a genuine threat to the United States, I would give the president authorization to do what’s necessary.
reason: I assume that you think that Americans should be able to trade freely with Cuba?
reason: Should we be able to trade with Iran in the same way? Subject to certain restrictions on military technology or something? Would that be a better situation than the one we’re in now?
Amash: I think so, but again it depends on what you’re trading with them. I think there should be efforts to prevent any sorts of weapons, especially weapons of mass destruction, from entering Iran. Trading handbags and those sorts of things, that’s not a threat to the United States.
reason: Is what you’re saying about a libertarian foreign policy getting through to your colleagues in the Republican caucus? You hear Republican think tanks saying: We need to have a certain amount of the budget going to defense, we can never cut spending, etc.
Amash: I think it actually is. If you look at some of the newer members in Congress, if you look at Thomas Massie [(R–Ky.)], many of the new members, they have a different perspective on this. I wouldn’t say that they all have a libertarian perspective on foreign policy, but you have maybe three dozen who lean in that direction. I don’t think you had that 10 years ago.
The message of “spend, spend, spend” on military spending doesn’t make sense. We have a huge national debt, and the biggest threat to our country is to let that national debt grow. Eventually, when we have a situation when we need military spending, when we actually need the money to go to our military to fight a major war, we won’t have that money. Why would we burn that money now when we don’t have a major threat to the United States, instead of saving the money so that when we do have a major threat, we actually have it? Then we might have a defense that is even bigger than it is now, but it would be justified because there’s an actual threat to the United States.
reason: You mentioned that your mother is from Syria. Your father is from Palestine. He moved to Michigan in the late ’60s—
Amash: In ’56.
reason: Talk a little bit about how the experience of having parents who were immigrants to America. How does that inform your position on immigration?
Amash: Immigration is an important thing for this country. Everyone at some point, for the most part, was an immigrant; they came here from somewhere else. It’s important to have a regular flow of immigrants. The biggest problem is having a welfare state. And this is the problem that Europe has—it’s not that they have a large immigrant flow into the countries, it’s that when you have a large welfare state, there’s not as much assimilation into the culture. So what’s happened historically in the United States, because we haven’t had as strong of a welfare system as they do in Europe, [s0] people come here and they assimilate, they adapt, they go to work, they become a part of the culture, and they become Americans, and that’s what we’d like to see going forward.
reason: Let’s talk a little bit about your intellectual underpinnings. Where did your interest in Austrian economists—or in Frederic Bastiat, the French journalist and thinker—come from?