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Retired Gen. Lloyd Newton Endorses Hillary Clinton For President

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a chance this hour to talk through the way the major party presidential candidates would approach national security. Scores of retired military officers endorsed Donald Trump yesterday. We're going to question one this hour. And we have also reached a retired military officer who is now announcing his support for Hillary Clinton, General Lloyd Newton. His nickname is Fig Newton, by the way - served in the Air Force. He was the first black pilot in the Thunderbirds, the Air Force aerobatic team, and later retired as a four-star general. He's on the line from Georgia. General, good morning.

LLOYD NEWTON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Is this a leap for you politically to support a Democrat?

NEWTON: No, not at all. I've done that before. As a matter of fact, I reported - or supported on both sides of the political aisle, as a matter of fact.

INSKEEP: So why Hillary Clinton?

NEWTON: Well, I - I've really thought about this over a period of time and particularly after listening through the primaries. And after serving in a military, we find that we really need a commander-in-chief with great experience, someone who is steady and someone who's been there before, who can make these kind of critical decisions. And all of that is really based on the complexities of the world today.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that, because Hillary Clinton highlights her experience. Her critics say the experience is the problem - the specific acts that she was associated with. As secretary of state, she supported U.S. intervention in Libya. That hasn't worked out well. She, of course, supported President Obama's early policies in Syria. They - they have not brought that situation to much of a conclusion - much of a conclusion. She tried to improve relations with Russia. That hasn't worked out very well. Now, granted, it was a difficult situation that President Obama inherited. Let's be fair there. But she was secretary of state. What part of that record does she own?

NEWTON: Well, you know, like I said, this is a very, very complex world, and those were certainly very, very complex issues that you're dealing with. We can look back in time and see where we did make progress with all of those entities that you just spoke of. That doesn't say that it's going to stay there forever, but you just have to continue to work those issues. This is unlike any other time in the history of our country where these kinds of complexities that you deal with, you're not just dealing with a nation state, but you're dealing with all of the other actors that are there as well. So...

INSKEEP: But if you think about Libya or Syria, these are instances where the United States has tried to get involved, but very reluctantly and in a limited way. And things have gotten worse.

NEWTON: Yeah, I understand that. But again, because of those complexities, that's what helped to drive this to get worse. A lot of folks thought that, for instance, we should put troops on the ground in Syria. And I just think those kinds of critical decisions that are being and has to be made - you just have to be careful how you do that. To me, the experience that Hillary Clinton has, as compared to her opponent, certainly will help her to make those decisions much, much better than Mr. Trump can.

INSKEEP: Well, we would say - we should say that Hillary Clinton wants a more aggressive foreign policy. I think that's fair. Specifically with Syria, she wants to take some steps that President Obama has avoided - for example, a no-fly zone over parts of Syria. Are you comfortable, General, with more U.S. military engagement in the Middle East?

NEWTON: I think, as we look at these and as time goes on, we will find ourselves getting more and more engaged. Again, you have to make those critical judgmental decisions in connection with our allies - just how far we would need to take that. I'll tell you, Steve, what really concerns me is my colleagues and American - young Americans being killed in various places where, you know, we may not need to be engaged at that point at that time. That's why it's critical to have someone who can make these great decisions.

INSKEEP: Well, would you be comfortable with Americans being killed in the war in Syria?

NEWTON: We're never comfortable with Americans being killed. However...

INSKEEP: Well, let's not use the word comfortable.

NEWTON: OK (laughter).

INSKEEP: Let's - is it worth - is it worth the price, is what I'm asking, General.

NEWTON: Well, it's worth the price to, you know, carry out our foreign policy objectives and supporting our allies and people and, of course, great people around the world.

INSKEEP: General, one other thing. You know that FBI Director James Comey called Hillary Clinton extremely careless in handling classified information because she set up private email servers as secretary of state. The Trump campaign has made that a central part of their message in recent days. What does that incident say about your judgment, in your view?

NEWTON: Well, I think the secretary certainly has said that it was a mistake for her to have that particular server. But again, they didn't find anything criminal about this. It seemed like it was a good idea at the time. Obviously, it wasn't. And so what that tells me is, like we all are, we're human. We made a mistake. And she moved on from there. That doesn't take away from all of the other great work that she's done not just as secretary of state, but as a U.S. senator and all of her life.

INSKEEP: And do you think that she can handle the basic work of national security well, even though, in this instance with classified information, you agree that she didn't?

NEWTON: I know that she can handle this extremely well. She can certainly handle this much better than her opponent can because of that experience which I spoke of. I testified before the senator when - I mean, before the secretary when she was a senator. And I know the kind of penetrating questions she can ask and how she gets right to the issues.

INSKEEP: General, thanks very much, enjoyed it.

NEWTON: Yeah, I really enjoyed it very much. Thanks so much.

INSKEEP: General Lloyd Newton is a retired four-star Air Force general who just announced here on this program his support for Hillary Clinton for president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.