Congressman Duncan Hunter on Iraq, Iran, and his presidential run.
HH: MSNBC news reporting at this hour that U.S. air strikes have targeted suspected al Qaeda operating in Somalia. And we’ll talk about that now with our next guest, Congressman Duncan Hunter, 52nd Congressional district of California, friend of the program, running for president, as well as ranking minority member on Armed Services. Congressman Hunter, what do you make of that news, that we’re shooting at al Qaeda in Somalia?
DH: Well, Hugh, I obviously don’t have…I’m up here in New Hampshire right now campaigning, and I don’t have all the data on exactly all the targeting information, but I can tell you this. We are now the dominant country in the world on what I would call precision air power. And when you merge that precision air power with our newly expanded intelligence capability telling us where the bad guys are, that usually produces a bulls-eye, and it sounds to me like that’s what we’ve got. So we’ll know when we get the after action briefings tomorrow and the next day, but it sounds like we’re not doing bad.
HH: Any hesitation on your part for using American force in the Horn of Africa?
DH: No, and we’ve got a…we have a fairly large Marine contingent in Africa right now. There’s a heavy al Qaeda presence in Africa, and that’s…when we talk about the Global War On Terror, that’s what makes it global, is that we’ve got a lot of presence of al Qaeda in lots of places beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. And you know, this is a war in which there’s not going to be any surrender on the Battleship Missouri. It’s going to be a long, difficult war, and a lot of our success is going to depend on those two things that I mentioned. One, our intelligence apparatus, and we’ve expanded that a lot, not only in the CIA, but also in the Department of Defense. And coupling that with our ability to hit a precise target, that is to send a JDAM, a joint direct attack munition, or a laser-guided bomb, into a precise target and take out individuals or groups who are against the United States. That’s going to be a key to our success in the war against terror.
HH: Now Congressman Hunter, of course, everyone in California knows you, and especially listeners to the Hugh Hewitt Show know you, but a lot of people were surprised when you announced that you were going to make a run at the presidency. Explain to people your thinking, and what you’re going to build your bid on.
DH: Well Hugh, thank you. Listen, I want to serve the American people and lead this nation. And you know, I think perhaps your opening to this show, with talking about this strike, is a pretty good reflection on why I think I’ve got a chance to win this thing. You know, national security often takes a back seat to lots of other issues. And there’s been eras when the national security was important to maybe 20-30% of the people, and everybody else cared about other issues. Because we are right in the heart of the war against terror, national security is going to be a dominant issue for the next five to ten years. I’ve spent my career in Congress, 26 years on the Armed Services Committee, working national security, the last four years as the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. I’ve led the fight to increase the size of the Marine Corps and the Army, and the last four years, I’ve increased this precision strike power. Working with my colleagues, we’ve more than doubled the precision strike power of the United States over the last four years. We’ve now deployed the first missile defense, it’s a small missile defense, but the first missile defense since Ronald Reagan made that great speech in 1983. So security is going to be important, and I am very interested in national security. And the importance of coming into this new era of terrorists with high technology, with enough American strength, to be sure that we hold a secure place in the world. And lastly, you know, I built the border fence in San Diego, and we wrote this law to extend that San Diego fence across 700 miles of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And you know, I think the border fence now, and border security, is no longer primarily an immigration issue. Since 9/11, it’s a national security issue, and I can tell you the double fence that we’re building, which is now the law, it’s the law that we build these 700 miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, that’s going to have a major effect in increasing the security of our homeland, of the United States. So I think I’ve got some issues, Hugh, which are now timely issues for the American people. And I think everybody is a long shot when you’re running for the presidency, but I think I’ve got a chance.
HH: Now I would like to talk to you about Iran for a second, Congressman Hunter. If the President of the United States, George Bush, comes out between now and the election and says based upon the best intelligence our community has, the Iranians will have nukes unless we act, so tonight I’ve acted, and I’ve ordered intensive bombing of their facilities, would you support him?
DH: Yes. If we get down to the point where we have to utilize the military option, and that’s the option we never take off the table, we’re going to have to do it. Now what the…right now, the open program that the Iranians have, that this so-called cascade of 164 centrifuges that refine and enrich the fuel that would be used for a nuclear weapon, if they increase that to 2,000 or 3,000 or 4,000 centrifuges, where they could make, they could actually create some nuclear devices in fairly short order, and they couple that with these fears that they have been acquiring, that actually developed a nuclear blast inside the weapons grade material, if they get to that point, then it’s going to be very dicey for the United States. We hope that we don’t get to that point. But one other thing, Hugh, that I think the American people should think about and reflect on. A lot of people have said we shouldn’t be in Iraq right now. Believe me, with Iran pursuing nuclear weapons, if Iraq…if Saddam Hussein was still in power, and he looked over at his arch-enemies, the Iranian, and you know he killed over 500,000 of them in the Iran-Iraq wars, if he saw them proceeding down this nuclear path right now, you can bet he would be now pursuing nuclear weapons, and we’d be facing not one, but two pathways to nuclear systems.
HH: Congressman Hunter, before we go back to the campaign, I want to pin you on one article in the Sunday Times of London yesterday, which reported that Israel has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities using low-yield nuclear bunker busters, and that in fact unless we act, they will with this plan. Did you read that story, Congressman Hunter?
DH: No, I didn’t read it, but I’ll tell you, if it was open and in the London Times, it’s probably not the real story.
DH: I say that simply because the Israelis hold their real cards very closely to their chest. It may be, but chances are if it’s in the newspaper, it’s not the real story.
HH: Let’s get back, then, to the campaign. Have you established a presidential campaign exploratory committee, Congressman?
DH: No. What I’ve got is I’ve been campaigning…in fact, I’m in New Hampshire right now, and I just got back down from talking to the Union Leader, a major paper in this state, and the Concord newspaper, and I did Fox News here yesterday in Manchester. And I’ve been out campaigning among the people in the malls, and touring factories, and having a great time here. But I’m going to establish, I’m going to announce formally at the end of this month, between the 25th and the 30th of January, and it will probably be on the 25th, will be the official, formal announcement into the race. So…
HH: And have you got a website up yet?
DH: Well, I’ve got a website with my political action committee. It’s called www.peacethroughstrengthpac.com. And if you go to that, Peace Through Strength Pac, and I borrowed that from Ronald Reagan, Peace Through Strength, if you go to that, you can pull up the commercials that I’m running right now in South Carolina. I’m running commercials on our trade imbalance with China, because we’ve got a one-way street with trade with China. They’re cheating on trade, and they’re using the money that we’re giving them, the hundreds of billions of dollars a year that we are sending them, to buy weapons systems. And China is stepping into the superpower shoes that Russia is leaving. So I’ve got a commercial that is devoted to that subject, and you can pull it up, and you can look at the commercials on that website, Peace Through Strength PAC.
HH: Now Congressman, today Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, raised $6.5 million dollars for his presidential campaign in one day, in a big event that they rolled out at the Boston Convention Center. Can you compete with that kind of money which McCain and Giuliani are also expecting to raise?
DH: You know, I’m not going to have as much money as these guys. But what I do have is a message that resonates with the American people. And the other thing is, I don’t need as much money, because I think some of the other guys are going to have to pay a lot of money for consultants to develop a conservative image, and I don’t need to pay for those consultants, because I’m already a conservative. So I’m going to save a lot of money in terms of campaign staff, and I think I’ve got a great issue. I’d make the issues that I have right now, border security, a two-way street on trade, not giving our jobs away to China, and a strong national defense, I think that those issues will resonate with the American people, and I think I’ve got a chance. And the great thing about it is, the first primaries are in New Hampshire, where I’m at right now, with 1.2 million people And of course Iowa and South Carolina. If they were in a state with 35 million people, where you’re only relationship is through a television set, then the TV ads would be the name of the game, money would be the name of the game, and it would be very difficult for me to get the message out. In a small state, where you can get momentum early, I’ve got a chance. So my best wishes to Mr. Romney, and it does sound like he’s got a pretty good apparatus running. I wonder if he would give me a small loan, just through the Iowa caucuses.
HH: (laughing) Congressman Hunter, we look forward to talking to you a lot over the next year. Good luck up there in the snows of New Hampshire, and thanks for checking in with us.
End of interview.