PEACE THROUGH STRENGTHDuncan Hunter: U.S. Cut Military Too Deeply

This special issue of HUMAN EVENTS focuses on national security issues and the need for the United States to maintain its military might in the interest of preserving the freedom and safety of the American people.

The federal government does many things today that the Constitution does not authorize. At best these actions are frivolous or more properly the domain of state and local government, at worst they breed government dependency and diminish individual liberty. A government faithful to the Constitution would seek to eliminate these programs or return them to a subsidiary level of government-sending back squandered federal revenues to over-burdened taxpayers.

National defense, however, is the primary constitutional responsibility of the federal government; and appropriately funded national security programs are indispensable to our safety and freedom.

Peace Through Strength

It would be not merely ironic, but tragic, if even while facing a record annual budget deficit of $480 billion, and even while entertaining the creation of a massive new federal entitlement program in the form of an ill-considered Medicare prescription drug benefit, the government neglected to invest sufficiently in national security to protect the safety and freedom of Americans.

Ronald Reagan’s motto in the Cold War was: Peace through strength. This is a timeless truth. Avoiding war requires demonstrating to potential enemies they have no hope of defeating you. Victory in the Cold War demonstrated again the truth of the maxim.

Already, 14 years have passed since Nov. 9, 1989, when the East German regime abandoned the defense of the Berlin Wall, and the German people tore it down, piece by piece.

Remarkably, the ultimate victory over the Soviet Evil Empire was accomplished without a shot being fired.

Nonetheless, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Americans began to forget the lesson of peace through strength. Some entertained the Utopian notion that the age of conflict had passed. Through the 1990s, the United States dramatically reduced the scope of its military forces.

One example: Elsewhere in this issue (see page 19) it is demonstrated that at one point during this year’s Iraq War half of the active U.S. aircraft carriers (6 of 12) were in the Persian Gulf or Eastern Mediterranean taking part in that conflict. Another five were being cycled through U.S. ports. Only one was in the Pacific. Had a second crisis arisen then in Asia-involving perhaps China or North Korea-the United States could not have brought as many resources to bear there as we did in the Gulf.

Do U.S. military capabilities today match the threats and commitments confronting the U.S. today? We brought that question to House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.). Hunter, an Army veteran of Vietnam, served in the 173rd Airborne and 75th Army Rangers. He was first elected to Congress in 1980, and has served on the Armed Services Committee since his first term in office. The following is an edited transcript of an October 21 discussion Hunter had with HUMAN EVENTS Editor Terence P. Jeffrey.

You argued in a report you published last year that the United States mistakenly drew down its military capabilities in the 1990s.

HOUSE ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN DUNCAN HUNTER: We had 18 Army divisions in 1991. Today we have 10. So, when Bill Clinton left the White House we had cut the Army at that point almost in half. We had 24 active fighter air wings in the Air Force. Today we have 13. So, we cut our tactical airpower almost in half. We had 546 ships in 1991. Today we are down to 300. So, we cut the ship force massively. I think it’s clear that we’ve cut our force structure too deeply, and that’s being reflected in the op tempo and personnel tempo that’s required now to support our commitments around the world.

We are more than two years past September 11th. We’ve had two wars since then. We’re still down?

HUNTER: Well, we’re still down in terms of force structure. On the other hand, we’ve done a lot of things right. We fought very effectively in Iraq and we showed excellent flexibility in both the Iraq theaters and the Afghan theatres. We combined what I would call some of the old, some of the new. We had most of our aircraft capable of carrying precision munitions, which they used with great effect. And yet we also had heavy armor that moved quickly, that in fact took many of the key positions in Iraq before they could be blown by the enemy.

It’s very instructive: We just had a hearing on this today, that some of the old systems-that is armor systems, for example-were extremely effective. No Americans were killed, for example, in our heavy fighting tanks.


HUNTER: One came off a bridge, and one was struck in the seams in the thunder runs in Baghdad, but the crew survived that. It was disabled, but the crew survived. But outside of that people who were in those tanks were not hurt by the firepower of Saddam Hussein’s people. So, the point is that many of the new systems that we have now have proven themselves. At the same time, we’ve revalidated many of the old systems.

I think the lesson for America is we need to have broad military capability. There is the ability to stop a conventional assault; the ability to fight guerilla warfare; the ability to fight the war against terror; and, also, the need to meet the growing threat of missile attack.

There’s been some commentary and also some anxiety that although we did splendidly in winning the initial war, taking Baghdad, eliminating the Iraqi military conventionally, we are now continuing to lose troops on the ground in Iraq. What does that reflect? Does that reflect some incapability in the military itself, something about our tactics, or just something about the nature of the conflict we are in?

HUNTER: I think it reflects that just as we live in the Nation’s Capital, and we have enormous police forces here, we still lose roughly 20 people a month, murdered. We lose about 49 people a month in New York, at last analysis that I did. And about 54 people a month in Chicago and Los Angeles. So even though we have high technology in terms of crime stopping and we have very robust police forces in those cities, you can’t keep a single individual from taking a weapon-in the case of Iraq it’s RPG’s, which are very effective. Basically, they’re the follow-on to the old American bazooka-and going to a roadway and firing it at a convoy of American vehicles.

So, two people out of twenty-five million people in Iraq can cause American casualties and can make headlines. The lesson to us is that we must work on that, do everything we can. On the other hand, we must also put it in perspective.

Do we have sufficient forces there to get us through to the point where we have a stable government in Iraq?

HUNTER: Yes. I think putting more forces in there does not solve the problem of stopping these attacks where you have handfuls of insurgents of old Baathists, who were making the sort of attacks I just described, the RPG attack, the mine detonation, things like that.

Might it create more targets and be counterproductive?

HUNTER: You certainly would have more people moving around. But that wouldn’t help us solve those attacks. We need to have better intelligence. Interestingly, the thrust of the hearing we had this morning with a number of our experts was that we need more human intelligence. We need to have people inside the room when a decision by a terrorist element is made to attack Americans. That’s always the best deterrent. Know what they’re going to do. That is something we are working toward but it takes a long time to rebuild our intelligence capability.

Are you satisfied with the performance of the intelligence community leading up to the invasion of Iraq?

HUNTER: Well, that’s a very broad question. I think it doesn’t make sense for us to torture ourselves over how this could have happened. I think it’s instructive that the people who carried this out have a history of keeping their cards very close to their chest and being able to maintain secrecy in operations. That’s a fact.

And if we were going to try to improve…

HUNTER: And we have a very limited penetration of those elements. It’s been made more difficult by their admission procedures.

We find out they may even have spies at Guantanamo.

HUNTER: Well, during our struggles against radical groups in the Middle East, some of those groups required that in order to gain admission you had to kill somebody. That made admission something that was not achievable for American operatives. We weren’t going to send American agents out to shoot somebody to gain admission into a group.

So in terms of intelligence gathering among Muslim fundamentalist terrorists there may be an absolute threshold beyond which we cannot get through?

HUNTER: Well, it’s very difficult. It’s also very difficult in places like Korea. So we have to understand that it is going to be tough to penetrate those groups. We have to understand that, do the best that we can, use as much in terms of what I would call outside intelligence, national technical means, and understand we have an inadequacy that is very difficult to address in those areas.

No matter what we do, no matter how much money we spend, we can’t count on having a robust intelligence presence in these radical groups.

Inside of Osama bin Laden’s tent?

HUNTER: It’s just very difficult to do.

Are you worried about the morale of the U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq today and their families back here at home?

HUNTER: No. Not the ones that I’ve talked to. I was over early in May, we have a number of groups coming and going. It’s difficult duty. I was a GI once, and there’s lots of things, lots of discomforts, especially compared to the conveniences of being in the United States. On the other hand, I think that their dedication to the mission is strong. I think it’s important for Americans, too, to give some value to the effort, and to some degree the criticism of the cause is a devaluing of the effort and the people who contribute to it.

People can’t say I love the troops but what they are doing is a total waste of time.

That argument doesn’t work?

HUNTER: Right. But that’s a theme you hear from some quarters.

That’s an argument that would demoralize our forces?

HUNTER: Certainly, if the forces felt that was the attitude of America. Thankfully they don’t. There are enough people who support them and back them and also back the cause. I think one thing that Americans do appreciate, they understand that it’s been a couple of years now since 9-11 and there have been no further strikes in the United States-which has surprised a lot of people.

One thing we did that I think contributed to the safety and security of this country is the aggressive posture that our President took. We killed these guys at 10,000 feet elevation in the high country of Afghanistan, at a hundred yards with rifles, we came after them.

There were people in nooks and crannies of this globe who opened the door and there were the Americans coming to get them, with serious intent. They never dreamed that would happen. They had been lulled by their own propaganda into this idea that Americans were not tough, that we wouldn’t persevere, and we disproved that. They understand how tenacious we are.

They awakened the sleeping giant.

HUNTER: Well, not just the sleeping giant but people in our Armed Forces, who are outstanding soldiers, who are tenacious, who are tough, who are mission oriented and who have great capability.

I saw one picture that was taken by one of the recon guys of the 10th Mountain Division on top of the Whaleback in Afghanistan. It’s a picture taken from about 15 feet away of an Al Qaeda sentry standing on top of the ridge with a .51-caliber machine gun enclosed in plastic next to him. He’s got his arms folded and he’s looking down on the valley below-and the American recon guy is about 15 feet away from him, behind him, taking the picture.

He went all the way back down the mountain with that picture with them never knowing we were there. So, the image they had of America of a country that didn’t have the wherewithal to really come after them and engage them in a tough, hard-fought campaign disserved them.

As you know, the people who work to secure our border, including in your congressional district, are courageous hard-working law enforcement officers. But I wrote a column earlier this year-and the San Diego Union-Tribune also wrote about this issue-about how a guy came into a hospital in the San Diego area, and the Border Patrol thought he might have died of radiation sickness (see “Middle Easterners Sneak In From Mexico”). Youseff Balaghi was his name. They have deployed radiation detectors on the Border Patrolmen down there. Do you believe we’re doing enough to secure the southern border?

HUNTER: No. I think the one method of choice to come into this country illegally is the land border between the U.S. and Mexico. You go down to the border on a regular basis, you’ll see many people from China, from Libya, from Syria, from Iran, from the four corners of the Earth. You come to Mexico as a pass-through point for entrance into the United States.

It’s now easier to come across the land border than it is to come into LAX at an airport.

By the way, they discovered that this guy Balaghi did not die from radiation sickness, but they did check him for it. He was from Lebanon.

HUNTER: But, certainly, we need to know two things: Who’s coming into our country, and what’s coming into our country. And that means we need to have better capability to X-ray these massive numbers of cargo containers coming across on a daily basis.

What about troops? Do you have any interest in putting troops on border?

HUNTER: I have troops on border. I have had for years. I’ve been funding an average of 150 to 200 National Guard and reserve troops in San Diego County, building the border fence, for the last ten years. We’ve built 54 miles of fence.

But they can’t actually intercept illegal aliens coming across?

HUNTER: Well, they are building the barriers that are stopping them.

They can help in the overall cause.

HUNTER: Let me tell you, since we built the triple fence in San Diego, the 14 miles of triple fence, nobody, nobody, has successfully climbed it. I call that better than helping.

So if we had more fences like that-

HUNTER: We need to have more fences. You need to have two things on the border: You need to have a barrier and you need to have enough people to man them.

Are you confident we have sufficient capability that if the North Koreans were to come south, or the Chinese were to go across the Taiwan Strait, and we had to deal with the conflict in the Middle East, that we could do both of those at once at this point?

HUNTER: A two-war scenario is a very tough one to execute. You need to have lots of airpower. You need to have lots of the so-called C4ISR assets, such as Intel planes, our observation and surveillance capability. You got to have lots of tanker capability.

And you don’t think we have enough of that right now?

HUNTER: I think we need more.

We need more to be safe-

HUNTER: We need more to have the margin that I would like to see. And I think we should meet the two-war scenario.

Last week, the Chinese for the first time launched a man into space. Do you believe that the Chinese space program represents a military threat to the United States and its military assets?

HUNTER: If you read the Cox Report [issued by the House Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China, which was chaired by Republican Rep. Chris Cox of California], what some of our biggest companies did was give information to the Chinese missile program, launch vehicle program, with respect to satellite launches, which was relevant to not only the space launches but also to military launches, because the same boosters carry the warheads that are aimed at American cities as carry satellites. And the exchange of information between two of our biggest companies and the Chinese was damaging to our country.

So should the American people and American leadership be worried that the Chinese space program is a military threat?

HUNTER: Absolutely. Anything that can move a domestic payload into space can move weapons into space.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.