October 2007

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In Their Own Words
• Rep. Duncan Hunter

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Rep. Duncan Lee Hunter (R-CA 52).
In Their Own Words

Interview with Congressman Duncan Hunter
Republican Presidential Contender from California.

-- Joe Magid

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), represents California’s 52nd District, which includes San Diego. First elected to Congress in 1980, he has not faced serious opposition since. His district leans Republican 45% to 30% Democrat. Hunter received 65% of the vote in 2006. Hunter became chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in 2002. On October 30, 2006, Hunter announced his intention to consider running for the Republican nomination for President in 2008. Hunter formally announced his presidential candidacy in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on January 25, 2007.

PJV: During the last Congress, when he learned of instances of religious intolerance on the part of one or more Air Force chaplains, Rep. Steve Israel introduced an amendment to the Pentagon budget that would require military chaplains to show "tolerance, respect and sensitivity to service members of all faiths." According to Rep. Israel, you and other Republicans on the Armed Services Committee objected to that language. Can you explain why it is that you and your GOP colleagues objected to that amendment?

I supported an amendment that said chaplains would be allowed to pray according to dictates of their own conscience, and the reason that I think it is a positive way to put it is simply this: if you end up with a phone book of regulations, you are going to end up with chaplains who I think will be deterred from praying according to the dictates of their own conscience. I think you’re going to have people wondering what they can say, what they’re allowed to say, whether the audience is the right one for their particular overall message. And you are going to end up with chaplains not doing what they have done for 200 years, which is simply pray according to their own consciences. It would have a chilling effect on chaplains of all faiths.

PJV: I can appreciate that position, but it was my understanding, and correct me if I am wrong, that there was some language similar to this in some of the military rule books, if you will, that they are supposed to follow already. Is that not the case?

Well, what happened was that after you had the Air Force brouhaha out in the Air Force Academy, the services came up with very fixed sets of regulations. The net result of those regulations, in my estimation, was that chaplains did not know what they were supposed to do, what they were allowed to do. And I think that some of them felt at that point that it was going to essentially relegate them to the role of simply being counselors, not being able to talk about God, not being able to talk about things. And so we eliminated those regulations and new regulations were promulgated and we simply went back to what we have done for 200 plus years, which is let chaplains pray according to the dictates of their own faith.

PJV: You are running for President on what is characterized as a conservative platform, as an alternative to some of the currently better-known candidates such as Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, each of whom have been accused of significant flip-flops on issues such as abortion. Why do you feel that you would make a better choice for Republicans and all Americans for President than either of these two candidates?

Rather than compare myself to the other candidates, and you know there is a whole crop of them out there, what I have been doing in my campaign is simply layout the cornerstones of my campaign, which include strong national defense -- and I have been, as you know, chairman of the Armed Services Committee for the last four years, and I’ve been a member of that committee for the last six years – I know what it takes to defend America; an enforceable border -- I built the border fence in San Diego and I wrote the law that the President signed October 26, 2006, which extends the San Diego fence 854 miles across the smuggler’s routes of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; and lastly, bringing back high-paying jobs the United States pushed offshore with bad trade deals. I think we have had fracturing and pushing offshore of the industrial base of this country, which is a major source of our prosperity, our economic stability, and also our military security, because a great deal of that industrial base accrues to the benefit of American security and it helps us provide the military equipment that we need in time of war.

Those are the three major cornerstones of my campaign.

PJV: Fred Thompson has recently made his formal announcement of his candidacy for President and has been touted by some as the conservative "savior" among a group of candidates that so far apparently has not generated a whole lot of excitement. Do you consider the former Senator a significant challenge as a "true" conservative?

I would just say that I welcome him to the race, but I won the Texas straw poll a couple weeks ago, September 1, at the Texas state convention. Fred Thompson was the closest competitor and I beat Fred Thompson 2:1 in that particular forum. I won 41% of the vote; Fred got 20.5. Now Fred obviously has very good name identity nationwide, but I think that my issues, and I’ve described some of them to you, strongly resonate with the American people and I think with enough exposure and with enough hard work, I can move ahead and move into this pack of better-known candidates and, ultimately, move ahead of them.

PJV: Thompson is also running as what he is saying is an outsider, as 26-year veteran Congressman, do you think you are vulnerable to his outsider image?

I think if folks look at my record, I have increased America’s security, I have increased the size of the Marine Corps, I’ve added to our armored protection for our troops in the field, I’ve influenced the scope and capability of our missile defense system and I have done a lot of things that have aided the security or improved the security of the United States and that’s been a function of being a member of Congress.

I think that being a member of Congress can be a two-edged sword. It can be a source for criticism by others, but it can also be a source of strength. I think in my case it is a source of strength. I have also, as I have said, built a fence that reduces the smuggling of people and narcotics in our San Diego sector by more than 90%, and wrote the law that will extend that fence across the major exposed portions of the southwest border. That is something the American people want. So the American people want somebody who can get things done, and I think the accomplishments that I have achieved on the Armed Services Committee and in Congress, and the accomplishments that I’ve achieved on border security help me, they don’t hurt me.

PJV: Moving on to more current events, you fought in Vietnam and your son fought in Iraq [and is now in Afghanistan] --- given that close connection to both --- do you see any parallels between the two conflicts, these are things we can learn from or things we can be avoiding?

I think that the liberal Democrats have looked desperately for the next Vietnam for the last 30 years. As I reminded [MSNBC talk show host] Chris Matthews the other night, he was [Speaker of the House] Tip O’Neill’s aide when Tip said that El Salvador would be our next Vietnam.

And the answer is no, there is not a similarity between them, between Vietnam and Iraq. There may be only one similarity and that would be that Vietnam was lost in Washington, D.C., not on the battlefields of Vietnam. So there is not a similarity in the battlefield, but there may be a similarity in that the liberal politicians in Washington, D.C. have the capability of losing the war against terrorism.

PJV: You have stated your support of the President’s strategy in Iraq. Do you believe the strategy is working?

Here is what I think. This is not a complicated thing. We’re following the same basic pattern we’ve used for 60 years to expand freedom around the world. Number 1, you install a standup free elections, a freely elected government. We’ve done that in Iraq. Number 2, you standup the military capabilities, military apparatus that is capable of protecting that freely elected government. Number 3, the Americans leave. Right now, we’re on the second phase of this operation, which is standing up the Iraqi forces. That is comprised of 131 Army battalions, and as those Army battalions become more battle-hardened and capable, they can rotate into the battlefield and displace American heavy forces on the battlefield, at which point our forces can come home within other places in central command.

In my estimation, the Iraqi government will hold. It’s a quasi-government, it’s somewhat inept as most of these governments are, but I think that government will hold and the eye will hold.

PJV: Do you have any concerns about sectarian influence or infiltration into the Army units? There are obviously sectarian issues in Iraq and there are concerns among some of the military folks in Congress and elsewhere that some of the militias are having their people be among the people being trained into the Iraqi units, and whether or not when we do leave, whether they will in fact remain loyal to the central government as opposed to their individual militia or the sect that they belong to.

There are sectarian sentiments on every street corner in Iraq, but to say it in a positive way, the Iraqi army is one if the few institutions in Iraq where you have leadership, consisting of Kurdish leaders, Sunni leaders and Shiite leaders in military leadership positions. So what you actually have is an Iraqi military, which has leadership coming from each of the three major communities. That is a plus. And I think we have an excellent chance of the Iraqi military maturing as a professional force, which is primarily a professional military, and only secondarily consisting of elements from the three communities mentioned.

PJV: If you were President today, would you handle things any differently than President Bush is handling things at this point?

Well I think the key is, I think that Gen. [David] Petraeus -- this is generally a battlefield operation, but also one in which our military leaders on the ground there need to understand fully the political situation in Iraq -- and I think Gen. Petraeus is well-suited to do this. He has a lot of experience there, and primarily what we want to do is follow that leadership and listen to our military leaders.

PJV: Are there diplomatic efforts you would pursue if you were President that might not be being pursued right now?

Well, here’s what I’ve recommended to the President. I’ve recommended that we put increased emphasis on getting Iraqi military units into the fight; that is, the 131 battalions that comprise the Iraqi army, insuring that all of them get at least a three- or four-month tenure on the battlefield. I think that’s an important requirement, so that when they move forward to displace American units they’re going to move forward with some capability, and proven effectiveness.

PJV: Recently Barack Obama said that is there was actionable intelligence as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, that if he were President, he would order military action without prior Pakistani approval. Would you do the same?

First of all, I think Mr. Obama did not understand what’s been done so far. The Pakistanis have now moved 100,000 forces, 100,000 troops, to that area that lies on the other side of the Afghan border and that’s the area that we know large elements of al-Qaeda, and presumably some of the top leadership in al-Qaeda, including potentially Osama bin Laden, are located. So Mr. Obama is clearly not undertanding that the Pakistanis’ themselves have moved 100,000 forces to that area, including a division from the Indian border, which is quite capable. So, when you have an ally that is supporting you, and we are working together in cooperation with the Pakistani military in that critical border area, you don’t announce that you’re going to invade the country. So I think that was a statement made by Mr. Obama without an understanding of the real situation.

PJV: Just to make sure I am correct, you are pretty much content with the way things are now in terms of depending on the Pakistanis to deal with the situation there?

I am not content. We need to make a continued and increased effort, but we need to do it in cooperation with the military, with the Pakistani military, which are themselves pursuing al-Qaeda inside Pakistan.

PJV: Obviously our readers are very concerned about the situation that Israel faces, given the current results in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the results of Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah, and Iran’s nuclear program, do you think Israel is safer today than prior to our invasion of Iraq?

The technological developments by the terrorists, and states which have adverse intentions toward Israel, including Iran, their technological development and their pursuit of nuclear weapons is a danger to the entire world. And that danger exists regardless of what America’s Iraq policy is. I think we may have to preempt up to some point the nuclear development program that Iran is currently undertaking. We cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear device. And we would hope that sanctions would be effective, but at this point they have not been effective, and we may have to act at some point with force, but we cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear device. That would be my position.

PJV: You talked earlier about enabling free and fair elections as one of the cornerstones of American policy to spread democracy, what might we do differently given the results of elections in the Palestinian territories with Hamas and in Lebanon with Hezbollah?

We have to be careful about what happens when the people elect a government that includes a policy of Israel not having a right to exist. We need to maintain our close relationship and support of Israel while working with others in the area to come to peaceful terms. Israel should not have to give up any land and we need to continue to work to improve Israel’s defenses, such as with the missile defense program. We can’t let Iran get nuclear weapons.

And we need to continue aggressively to develop defensive systems, which can protect Israel’s and America’s forces in that region. Missile defense is now more critical than ever.

Previous Interviews

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