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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 November 2006, 13:04 GMT
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On the Politics Show, Sunday 05 November 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed Tom Ridge, former Republican Homeland Security Secretary and Governor.

Tom Ridge
Terrorism is a tactic, and people have been using terrorism as a tactic for millennia.
Tom Ridge

JON SOPEL: Tom Ridge, your party the Republicans have long controlled the political terrain. The polls seem to be indicating that that's changing.

TOM RIDGE: I think if you believe the polls as they're written and printed today it would seem that there's a chance that the Republicans will lose the House of Representatives and barely hold on to the Senate. But I also have confidence in the Republican's ability to turn out voters on election day but right now it does appear to be some perilous times for the Republican party, primarily on the issue of Iraq.

JON SOPEL: So, what does it mean for President Bush if you did lose control of either house or both?

TOM RIDGE: Well I think it certainly complicates both the international and the domestic agenda that he would try and has tried for six years to promote. It might drive an effort to be more bi-partisan, in order to achieve some of our mutual goals but I do think it would certainly complicate matters as they relate to Iraq, because the Democrats are clearly winning on the notion that if you elect us we disagree with the President with regard to Iraq.

Now they haven't said what they do as an alternative but the fact that there's so much anxiety out there and we bring the war to the television, to the living room and the kitchens every day, there's a certain anxiety about what's going on in Iraq and obviously it has affected the electorate.

JON SOPEL: Do you see a way ahead? What is the answer?

TOM RIDGE: Well I think what we've done, first of all, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was in of itself a good thing to do for not only Iraq but the region. I think we are coming toward a turning point and President Bush has certainly recognised the need to consider the change of direction when he appointed former Secretary of State, Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton, a great Democrat, to see if there was any bipartisan approach to deal with Iraq and within our country and I would say perhaps designating a change of course over there. So I think these recommendations will not be forthcoming until after the election so it's really not going to affect the election.

JON SOPEL: You were the first head of homeland security, post set up by the President in the wake of 9/11. It talked about Iraq, do you think that Americans feel safer in the world today than they did after 9/11?

TOM RIDGE: I think they should feel safer but whether or not they do remains to be seen, they should feel safer because the collaboration and partnership to deal with these terrorists is much more significant, much stronger, reinforced every single day.

I know that America looks different to the terrorists because we've embedded more security measures but there remains an anxiety and an uncertainty in the air and if you believe as I do that this is a phenomenon, this is a norm that we're going to have to deal with for the next several decades, it's something that I'm not quite sure that Americans have accepted as the new norm. We're dealing with it but it takes a while to adjust psychologically.

JON SOPEL: Sure, but when you say that there's a war on terror, people think well a war, you either win a war or you lose a war. What you seem to be describing is a war that is just on-going.

TOM RIDGE: Well I think probably there's some wording that has been mis-used - terrorism is a tactic and people have been using terrorism as a tactic for millennia. But it's really a war against these extremists, these Jihadists who emboldened by support of a religion and their perverse interpretation of the Koran, feel like it is their religious duty to - they accept the responsibility of being suicide bombers or doing some of the things that we've seen in Afghanistan and Iraq and that phenomenon, that mind-set, is not something that's going to be reduced in the near future no matter what military action is, the diplomatic action, the social intervention, the economic intervention, that's something the civilised world is going to deal with for the next several decades.

JON SOPEL: But the job of Secretary of Homeland Security is not so much to beat the cause of it, to win the argument, it's just to stop them getting in?

TOM RIDGE: You're right, a very succinct analysis of what our job was, we had to play defence. You got diplomats dealing with the issue you got the military dealing with the issue but our job was to try to make it more difficult for terrorists to enter into our country. Make it more difficult for them to penetrate our borders, to do the same to us again as they did on 9/11.

JON SOPEL: There's a recent report out in the UK that said that we are now in the United Kingdom, the number one target for Al Qaeda. I just wondered whether your success has made the United Kingdom more of a target?

TOM RIDGE: Well I don't, you know, whether you're number one or number two, if you're in the cross-hairs... and I think we would be together in the cross-hairs because of who we are, our tradition alliance, we're connected by values, we're connected historically for many, many reasons and I don't think Britons feel whether they're one or two... you've seen with July 7th and July 21st and everything else you are - have been a target, you will be a target ironically because of your historic relationship with the region and historic relationship with Pakistan where we know a lot of these cells were embedded you're - you've been conceivably been a greater target than perhaps the United States depending on the time and depending on the strategy that they chose to use.

JON SOPEL: You're now no longer at the Department of Homeland security, but I think your work carries on in another capacity.

TOM RIDGE: Yeah, I've started a little firm that's both domestic and international in nature what I've done with my twenty five years in service when I was Secretary of Homeland Security in the Government of Pennsylvania - built relationships with experts and my job was to work with countries or companies or individuals who have need of this particular expertise to solve problems. We do that both domestically and overseas.

JON SOPEL: I just wondered whether President Bush might have called on you to solve some of these midterm problems?

TOM RIDGE: Well I've been out campaigning with some of my Republican colleagues and it's a - but this is a very difficult environment, I use the word "toxic" and one of the challenges that we have in this country, particularly the incumbents who support the President is that they know there's plenty of opposition to the war in Iraq but I would think the challengers have been pressured to say you might be opposed to the Iraqi policy - what is the alternative? What do you see is the future course of action that would not be disastrous and would be consistent with our interest as a country?

JON SOPEL: Of course that was a legitimate point of you to make. What about the point that I've heard expressed that the Republicans are relying on their core issues, the "hot button issues" I think the phase is. Opposition to abortion, opposition to gay marriage, opposition to stem-cell research, I mean is that the Republican party you're comfortable with?

TOM RIDGE: Well that's certainly not the Republican Party that's going to make a difference in this election. I think the primary issue in this election is Iraq and what party is best equipped, has the answers to dealing with, not just the situation in Iraq but the overall threat of terrorism and obviously the President and his team is focusing on that and very appropriately so.

JON SOPEL: But if you look at some of the propositions that have been put on balance in all sorts of key States, they're to do with gay marriage; they're to do with stem-cell research. Do you approve of that?

TOM RIDGE: Well, you know I think my party would, in my judgement, would be better off, those are tough, controversial, very emotional issues and that appeals to a certain part of our political base. But right now, in this day and age, it is not something I thinkż. That will get our base out but the majority of voters are looking to this election on issues not related to that. So while that may drive a certain number of Republican base out it won't get the balance of the Republicans out, nor do I think it generates the kind of thoughtful support that we need, as a national party in order to retain both the House and the Senate.

JON SOPEL: Let me just be clear about that because that is fascinating. You seem to be saying that those issues actually might drive the more thoughtful people away - maybe to the Democrats.

TOM RIDGE: Well, I think there's a couple elections where the whole notion of stem-cell research has been introduced, not just by the Republicans, the Democrats have introduced it. But there is so much confusion. This is a very technical issue, whether it's embryos or adult tissue, it's - I don't want to get in to specifics, it's a very confusing issue for thoughtful people and for some people it's almost a knee-jerk issue, it's a yes or no and they don't distinguish.

But for most Americans, it's confusing, it's difficult and I still think that most Americans are looking to bigger issues, economic issues, security issues, defence issues, those kinds of issues to make up their mind and I think Iraq and Iraqi policy and policy against these terrorists will ultimately drive most election results.

JON SOPEL: Tom Ridge, thank you very much for being with us.

TOM RIDGE: My pleasure. Thank you.


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The Politics Show Sunday 05 November 2006 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.

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