Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has been among the Senate’s strongest proponents of a robust national defense. In his role as Republican Whip, he is now leading the charge against efforts to shortchange our Defense budget, and warning of potential dire consequences for national security.

Kyl spoke at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday as part of its Helms lecture series, where he discussed national security and the launch of Heritage’s Protect America Month.  He explained why the federal government’s constitutional obligation to provide for the common defense must remain a bedrock principle of American governance.

Asked in our exclusive interview what might happen if the impending automatic sequestration cuts slash $500 billion from the defense budget – in addition to the $487 billion dollars already slated to be cut over the next ten years – Kyl said it would amount to “shooting ourselves in the head,” a reference to a metaphor first offered by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

“You can save the money in other ways,” Kyl explained. “We’re not talking about not saving the money. Were talking about doing it in an intelligent way, by setting priorities, reducing spending elsewhere so that you don’t have to have the across the board cuts.”

He also expressed concern about a rising tide of isolationism in the United States, even among conservatives. Kyl insisted that America “cannot just retreat behind fortress America.”