Duncan Hunter

Duncan Hunter


Newsletter from February 20, 2015


WHAT’S IN A NAME, MR. PRESIDENT?  There’s still much confusion around the President’s refusal to identify Islamic extremism.  In recent remarks, the President stated that we mustn’t be politically correct when battling terrorism.  Yet he refuses to say Islamic extremism.  Make sense?

After serving three tours as an officer in the Marine Corps, I can say—as many others can also attest—there’s no such confusion on the battlefield.  The threat is clear.  The enemy is obvious.  

Worth a look: Check out my latest interview regarding the White House summit on violent extremism.  I also spent time with KUSI on the same issue, and reiterated the importance of strong and decisive leadership in combating the Islamic State. 

JORDAN COMMITTED TO ISLAMIC STATE DESTRUCTION.  A new dimension in the battle against the Islamic State was introduced through Jordanian airpower—a direct response to the death of a Jordanian pilot.   The same day that news broke of the pilot’s death, I met with the King of Jordan, as did other members of the House Armed Services Committee.  In that meeting, the King channeled Clint Eastwood, referencing and quoting a scene in a movie to fully describe his feelings and intent.  I talked a bit about this to Byron York.  And as for my take-away from the meeting, watch more on what I had to say, courtesy of Real Clear Politics.   

RESOURCES NEEDED—NOW.  That was one of several direct messages from the King.  And a big part of delivering these resources requires breaking down bureaucratic impediments that are either delaying or blocking the transfer of equipment and technology.  Soon after, it came to my attention that the Administration denied a license request to provide Jordan unarmed drone platforms used strictly for intelligence and surveillance.  This capability, of course, is essential to any battlefield action.  I immediately contacted the White House to express my concern and urge a reversal—more on this here.   

RECENT EVENTS HAVE ALSO DEMONSTRATED THE NEED FOR A NEW HOSTAGE POLICY, one that permits an all-government approach without prompting infighting and turf wars.  I’m soon offering legislation on this front.  In fact, Politico recently covered my proposed legislation in detail—and there’s definitely good buzz generating.          

DO AVERAGE SOLDIERS TRUST THEIR LEADERSHIP?  That’s an important question.  New poll results indicate that only 27% of the military thinks senior leaders look out for their best interests.  Should it be any surprise why?  Check out my take, written for The Daily Beast.  

DID INVESTIGATORS REALLY GO THROUGH THE TRASH OF A MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT?  Unfortunately, that answer is YES.  Allegations against another soldier were the cause—but actions like this always reverberate through the ranks.   There’s even an account offered from a Marine in-the-know, which is definitely worth a read.  

REMINDER: MY OFFICE CAN ALWAYS HELP—here’s just one example recently reported by 10 News.  A local family in Costa Rica experienced a rafting accident and, as the report shows, they desperately needed help.  Fortunately, we were able to intervene and provide assistance.  The family is back in the U.S. – and I’m grateful the recovery is going well.      

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Average Soldiers Don’t Trust Their Generals and They Have a Point


A survey last year showed only 27% of the military felt senior leaders looked out for their best interests. To fix the morale crisis generals need to stop acting like politicians.

Through a decade-plus of war, America’s military men and women, and the families that support them, have experienced their share of hardships. Separations through multiple deployments and the inherent dangers of combat are enough to press the emotional and physical limits of even the strongest individuals.

For some of these faithful defenders of America’s interests, there have been difficulties far beyond the battlefield—difficulties not imposed by any enemy or the distance and time that separates them from their loved ones. Most ironically, the assault against them—intended or not—can sometimes come from within the military institution for which they fought, bled and sacrificed so much.

It’s no wonder why there’s concern for morale in today’s force. Just recently, outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he too is worried about the decline in enthusiasm, and he believes it will take some time to reversing the mindset and perspective of the force.

There’s no single reason for the decline in morale, although some reasons are more pronounced than others. Take for instance the question about whether “senior military has my best interests at heart.” In 2009, 53 percent of respondents answered yes. By 2014, only 27 percent answered affirmatively.

One recurring complaint involves what many service personnel perceive as the excessive politicization of the military during wartime, giving rise to high profile prosecutions, excessive punitive actions and decision making that is at odds with the best interests of service personnel. So much so, instincts necessary in combat have been replaced with second-guessing and hesitation, matched by a growing sense of distrust among the ranks.

The examples are plentiful. So too are the excuses—often given in defense of ambiguous and restrictive rules of engagement—that seem to ignore the realities of war or the fact that in combat, split-second decisions must be made for the purpose of preserving lives and attaining objectives.

In one case, a Special Forces soldier, Major Matt Golsteyn, was investigated by the Army for more than a year and a half under the suspicion that he violated the rules of engagement and illegally killed a known enemy fighter and bomb maker in Afghanistan. The allegation was presented through informal channels to the Army, which went to extraordinary lengths to investigate Golsteyn. The Army tried to turn up anything it could, but was unable to find one piece of evidence to corroborate the allegation.

Today, Golsteyn is still waiting for the Army to make a determination about his future. He’s been sidelined, his Special Forces recognition stripped, all while a guessing-game has ensued about what will happen to this decorated warfighter. Even the men who served under Golsteyn have been threatened at times, with the Army going as far to promise them full immunity several times over. None of them had anything to say.

If that wasn’t enough, the combat valor awards that Golsteyn received for heroism— including a Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross—were recently revoked by the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh. It’s McHugh’s belief that if the nominating and approving authorities were aware of allegation, Golsteyn would never have been awarded two of the Army’s highest awards for valor.

How unfortunate. The career of a decorated soldier and everything he has accomplished over a nearly fifteen-year service career has been taken away. The reason: an allegation that the Army was never able to substantiate.

That’s no way to treat one of America’s top soldiers.

There is also Clint Lorance, who is serving 19 years in military custody for giving an order to engage several fighters. The Army argues the individuals were not a threat, but evidence denied to Lorance’s legal team could prove differently. That same evidence may have been withheld by the chain of command for reasons that are still being examined and sure to be raised on appeal.

The case was reviewed and Lorance’s command was cleared of any wrongdoing, but there is still no explanation about why the Army refuses to produce the criminal investigation report and other information. Perhaps Lorance was not the best soldier, which may in fact be true, but is he a murderer who deserves nearly two decades in prison? Unlikely.

Another incident involves a soldier who received the Medal of Honor, but only after a major fight. That soldier, Will Swenson, found that his nomination for the top valor award was reportedly “lost” after he criticized commanders for denying him and others air support in Afghanistan out of concern for the rules of engagement, leaving them stranded. Swenson and his men fought their way out of danger, but not without taking casualties.

Swenson’s nomination was finally recovered and he received the award years after being nominated.  However, events that transpired during a period of investigation are unspeakable, giving credibility to the idea that the Army resisted the award at every turn.

In fact, Swenson’s overall experience was so bad that the Army was forced to alter its process for Medal of Honor nominations and for the Secretary of Defense to issue him a direct apology. What most people and soldiers in particular took away from the whole episode was a warning not to criticize—when permissible—the chain of command for its failures.

Again, that is no way to treat America’s military heroes.

In another incident, several severely wounded Special Forces soldiers were twice nominated for Silver Stars, the second time coming after the initial paperwork was lost. The Army had said the awards were downgraded, but years later, a mistake by a private contractor provided information on the Army’s top award recipients. Within that listing, the soldiers in question were all listed as receiving Silver Stars. The Army responded that a “typo” by the contractor might have caused the error. What they didn’t say but was discovered sometime later was that there was an unrelated disagreement with the nominating officer.

A typo? No way. A poor excuse? More like it. All at the expense of soldiers who deserve better.

These occurrences certainly differ in their severity, but each is useful in demonstrating the pursuit of political ends to situations that begin with the battlefield actions of America’s sons and daughters who willingly and selflessly put their lives on the line. Unfortunately, there are many more incidents like these, which have only served to make servicemembers more suspicious of their leadership.

The services—and the Army, in particular—must look inward. There must be a desire to initiate a cultural shift that reassures service personnel that the institutions under which they serve won’t let them down, and they will receive the support—whether through legal, administrative or operational channels—that is worthy of their service. They want to know their best interests won’t be disregarded.

More than ten years at war and distressed budgets are sure to have an effect, but there is no denying the fact that a problem of equal size exists that’s been brought on by a propensity to question the actions and judgments of young men and women tasked with carrying out dangerous missions. With the right leadership from within, this could be the easiest change to make, and perhaps make the biggest impact. 

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Hunter Statement on Military Compensation and Retirement Commission Report


With the release today of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission report,  Representative Duncan Hunter commends the Commission for its substantive recommendations.  Representative Hunter also commends the commission—and General Peter Chiarelli, in particular—for recommending improvements and coordination among DoD and VA drug formularies, with specific focus on assisting those with PTSD and TBI.

“General Chiarelli has been instrumental in raising awareness on the importance of taking action to address discrepancies in VA and DoD drug formularies,” said Hunter.  “For those who are injured and those who rely on the continuation of effective treatments for PTSD and TBI, this is one improvement that demands a high level of attention from Congress.  Our heroes deserve a system that works to support their medical needs—and I’m grateful for General Chiarelli’s leadership on this front.

“I look forward to reviewing the rest of the Commission’s recommendations as we prepare for important work ahead.”

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A Newsletter You Won't Want To Miss...


BIG NEWS FOR SAN DIEGO AND MARITIME TRANSPORTATION—Legislation I authored to reauthorize the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Maritime transportation—an important piece of the San Diego regional economy—is now awaiting the President’s signature after nearly two years of collaborative work between the House and Senate. 

Southern Californians are very familiar with the mission of the Coast Guard and the economic contributions of our shipyards and commercial operators, and I am especially grateful for the opportunity to represent their interests and fight on their behalf.      

TRUTH STRANGER THAN FICTION—In September, four Turkish nationals who identified themselves as members of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front/Party (DHKP/C) were apprehended in Texas after crossing the U.S.-Mexico land border.  Oddly, a judge recently ordered that two of the individuals be released, which the Secretary of Homeland Security described as not his “preference.”  And there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Secretary either challenged or attempted to resist the order under his authority.  

The Department of Homeland Security then lost track of the subjects, who were recommended for terrorist watch lists at the time of their apprehension, only to learn later that they fled to Canada, where they are now requesting asylum.  Read more on this and my reaction

SIREN: JUDGE RULES OBAMA IMMIGRATION ORDER UNCONSTITUTIONAL—A federal judge yesterday took a swipe at President Obama’s plan to ease deportations for as many as 5 million illegal immigrants, ruling it unconstitutional.  The significance of the ruling cannot be overstated and even though this is the first salvo in a legal battle that is sure to continue, the decision sets the stage and tone for an even bigger clash ahead. 

A CIVICS 101 LESSON FOR THE WHITE HOUSE—The judge overseeing the case ruled that by taking executive action to curb deportations, the President is violating the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of separation of powers and the “take care clause,” which requires the executive branch to execute and enforce laws passed by Congress. 

OMNIBUS CLARITY—Legislation passed by Congress to fund the federal government over the next year, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, has been chided for funding the President’s executive order.  The bill does not fund amnesty, nor does it clear a lane for the President’s plan. 

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service—a crucial resource available to members of the House and Senate—stated that the President’s plan could continue in the absence of an appropriation or during a government shutdown, due to the fact that program funding relies entirely on user fees.  Either a change in law is required or funding must be withheld through alternate means. 

Here’s a bit of a primer, courtesy of the Washington Examiner: “Can Congress defund ‘executive amnesty?’ It’s not that simple.”

WORTH MENTIONING—an amendment to deny funding in the Omnibus for the President’s plan—which I cosponsored—was ruled out of order and therefore not offered during floor debate.

THE UPSIDE: The legislation does fund the federal government through the rest of the fiscal year, but the Department of Homeland Security is funded only through January and February of the coming year. 

With new Senate leadership on deck—and the presumption of favorable court rulings, with one in hand already—the stage has been set for a confrontation on Homeland Security appropriations in the first months of the next legislative session that starts in January.  So stay tuned.    

A NEW CHAPTER IN THE HISTORY OF MT SOLEDAD was written this week when legislation was sent to the President that includes a provision I offered to preserve the embattled San Diego veteran’s memorial.  For nearly three decades, the memorial has been contested in state and federal courts as a state-sponsored endorsement of religion.  My provision transfers the memorial to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, a private entity, and thus removes any association or ownership by the federal government. 

The Associated Press recently called the Mount Soledad fight one of the “nation’s longest-running church-state conflicts.”  Once the President puts pen to paper and signs the legislation, which is on his desk at this very moment, the process for transferring the memorial can begin.   Is this the end of the conflict?  Let’s hope.      

SERVING YOU: Just a reminder, my offices are available to assist individuals and families on many levels.  Having trouble with a federal agency?  Need assistance navigating a federal program?  Planning a trip to DC?  My offices can help.  All services—with the exception of purchasing flags—are provided at no cost.  Check out my website at www.hunter.house.gov for more information.   

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No More Russian Engines on American Rockets


An invisible battle is raging between those who believe the U.S. military should rely only on secure defense suppliers and those who are willing to turn a blind eye, in the interest of globalization, to the dangers of foreign dependence.

Despite endless examples that include counterfeit semiconductors and Chinese rare earth magnets in the Joint Strike Fighter, there is still a preference within the Defense Department to promote an industrial policy that fails to recognize an increasingly dangerous world.  One area of particular concern—and perhaps where the warning signs are most prevalent—is America’s overdependence on Russian suppliers to support our national security space launch capability.  

Through the United Launch Alliance, or ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Air Force, NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO, all utilize rockets made with Russian engines (the RD-180) for a multitude of critical national security-related missions. Incredibly, this reliance on Russia to support American launches will remain until at least 2020, by virtue of a long-term, exclusive contract with ULA.

The U.S. military maintains deep and expensive financial ties to Russia through its ongoing purchase of RD-180 engines. These engines are made by NPO Energomash, a Russian state-owned company. Even worse, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is currently under sanction by the U.S., controls the company and recently mocked the United States by suggesting that we send our astronauts to the International Space Station via trampoline, instead of using Russian spacelift.

If there was ever a time to end our financial support of Russia’s rocket industry, it’s now. The U.S. already has real alternatives in place. And given Russia’s threats to stop delivery of the engines, the U.S.-Russia joint space-lift venture must not drag on any longer.

The reasoning goes beyond deep embarrassment over lining the pockets of Russian tycoons with American taxpayer dollars. There is a far more serious threat to U.S. national security, while domestic innovation and job creation are undermined in the process. Rogozin stated as much when he said “the sales of engines for…rockets in the United States favor Russia as the profits go directly for technological modernization of [Russian] enterprises.” Even worse, Rogozin taunts likened Russian engines to a “broom for an American witch.”

More recently, Alan Estevez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, testified before the Senate that “the long-term U.S. national security interest would be enhanced by shifting from the RD-180 to next generation U.S. engines.” Agreed—the dangers under the status quo are too serious to ignore.

Of deep concern is a potential decision by Russia to withhold delivery of the RD-180. Under that scenario, critical launch operations planned by the Air Force, NASA and the NRO, which monitor and maintain our defense systems, would be jeopardized, leaving the U.S. ever-more vulnerable to a resurgent Russia (not to mention other adversaries).

While designing and producing a launch-ready rocket takes considerable time and money, there is an immediate solution. California has the largest private rocket company in America and it has been producing liquid rocket engines for over a decade, working side-by-side with the U.S. military on a number of successful missions.

Even so, much of problem right now rests squarely on the shoulders of the Air Force and other U.S. military institutions that continuously uphold the ULA’s monopoly over U.S. military launches. It is understandable to want to utilize the product they know best (the RD-180), but it is unfathomable that we would not use rocket engines made here in America.

Fortunately, there is an immediate legislative remedy in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015 that prevents the Department of Defense from purchasing additional Russian engines. Most importantly, this provision immediately enables the Air Force to begin future engine purchases with strict focus on American-made engines.

It is foolish for the U.S. to rely on a Russian regime that is totally dismissive of a peaceful world order.  A fix is needed—and needed fast.

Americans don’t need a new Cold War to know that dependence on Russian space launch capability is bad policy.

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Death of Bin Laden: SEALs are heroes but Team Obama should have shut up about mission details


Navy SEALs are disciplined, tactical and menacing warriors within the U.S. Special Forces community. They are often at the tip of the spear, operating in the shadows and conducting dangerous missions worldwide, and they have achieved much success: from hostage rescues, to ship and oil rig assaults, to perhaps the most publicized and well-known of them all--the death of Usama bin Laden.

The mission that led to bin Laden’s death is back in the spotlight now that one of the SEALs involved in the operation has identified himself as the shooter. 

Much of the attention is sourced to criticism of the shooter on the basis that this revelation violates the SEAL code and the sacred trust forged among operators. FOX News and other media outlets have also faced some criticism for reporting individual accounts from members of the elite SEAL team that killed bin Laden.

This criticism is misdirected.

SEALs have a right to address this issue amongst each other. That is a right that comes with wearing the Trident—the famed and hard-earned insignia worn by SEALs. For the Obama administration and the Defense Department in particular, there is no ground solid enough to support the condemnation and warnings directed at the shooter or any other SEAL involved in the bin Laden mission.

To think these SEALs were first to divulge unknown or protected information is a mistake. Was it the SEALS that strategically leaked details of the mission or claimed credit for killing bin Laden? No—it was not the SEALs. It was White House aides that began leaking mission details.

Just days after the operation, the New York Times published a graphic of bin Laden’s compound and depicted the order of events—including SEAL movements. Another report from the New York Times that same month referenced “a dozen White House, intelligence and Pentagon officials” who described the operation.

None of the leaks were sourced to the SEALs themselves.

Not everyone was pleased about the publicity. That included Robert Gates, who was serving as Secretary of Defense at the time. Gates was rightfully irked by the leaks and made a recommendation to Tom Donilon, then-President Obama’s national security adviser, suggesting that everyone “shut the f--- up.”

Gates was ignored, obviously. 

Not long after the bin Laden raid, a Hollywood movie was in the works and the director and film crew were given unprecedented access to ensure the most accurate portrayal was provided.

This all points toward a troubling pattern with the administration: do as we say, not as we do. The rightful recipient of individual frustration is the administration itself, for its inability to keep quiet. 

The story behind bin Laden’s death is no doubt spectacular and will continue to be told, but different expectations can no longer be imposed on the shooter and other former SEALs who tell their version of events.

Under normal circumstances, if information was not disseminated publicly, criticism of the SEALs in this case would be justified. Also, if at any point, classified information is released or secrets on tactics and technology are revealed, no reasonable defense can exist. However, at least right now, the latest first-hand account of bin Laden’s death has neither revealed information not already publicized by the administration nor has it given America’s enemies greater insight. What it does is remind us that behind every rifle sight is an American who is proud to serve his nation and willing to do the unthinkable.

This latest personal account from a now former SEAL is a continuation of the storyline already been told through the media, documentaries and a movie.  Though the shooter, as does any SEAL or special operator, must take extreme care not to expose operational details that could in anyway undermine future operations.  

There is real intrigue in the heart-pounding play-by-play from someone who was actually there, whose body and mind were invested in the operation.  On that aspect alone, there’s extraordinary interest in his experience.  

The most important question to ask is whether it’s wise for government officials to release classified mission details at all. 

The answer is no. 

The administration, among all entities, should lead by example on this front and not create double standards, as they have.

The shooter and his teammates are all heroes for what they did. That is how they deserve to be recognized.

Even so, it was a mistake for the administration to release so many mission details. This should be the real lesson-learned and more appropriately the focus of aggravation. And if ever a similar situation is presented, there is no better advice for bureaucrats to follow than what has already been given by Secretary Gates: shut up.

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Hunter urges U.S. Attorney to investigate Desert Line Railroad


Washington DC – U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, in support of an investigation into the Desert Line railroad and the current lease agreement with Pacific Imperial Railroad (PIR).  Currently, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) leases the non-operational Desert Line to PIR.  A collection of evidence—now with the U.S. Attorney for review—raises serious questions and concerns about the lease agreement and PIR’s activities.

“The evidence that has accumulated against PIR and Desert Line lease is troubling,” said Representative Hunter.  “The railroad is a public asset and anytime there are allegations or there is evidence of unlawful activity in a situation like this—it is necessary that the proper legal authority determines the facts through its ability to obtain relevant documentation and testimonial evidence.  Among other things, PIR has falsified and misrepresented its assets to attract investors while the company remains on the profitable side of the lease agreement. 

Representative Hunter’s letter states, in part:

“Whenever a public asset is either being misused or mismanaged, or as allegations are presented, it is critical that the necessary steps are taken to ensure the public trust is upheld and the asset in question is neither a liability nor exists to perpetuate unlawful activity.

“The Desert Line will be an international railway on a troubled land border.  An operational Desert Line, even with security protocols in place, can still facilitate criminal activity, including drug smuggling, into the U.S.  A functional Desert Line must be safe and secure—and it is absolutely necessary to fully determine the capability of PIR to effectively maintain and operate the railroad.”      

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Reps. Hunter, Murphy to host panel discussion on broken mental health system


Discussion to highlight HR 3717, bipartisan legislation authored by Murphy and praised nationally and throughout San Diego

El Cajon—U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter will host a public forum this Friday, October 10, in El Cajon, to discuss the quality of America’s mental health system with local stakeholders, mental health providers and family members.  Hunter will be joined by Representative Tim Murphy (PA), a leading advocate for mental health reform and author of bipartisan House legislation, HR 3717, the Helping Families in Mental Health Care Crisis Act.  

Murphy is widely considered an expert on mental health issues given his background as a psychologist specializing in child and family treatment, as well as a Naval psychologist treating wounded service members with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.   Murphy’s legislation, HR 3717, is considered the most comprehensive overhaul of the mental health system and has received nationwide support from newspaper editorials, physicians and parents of children with mental illness.   

“Whether the focus is children, parents, veterans or the homeless, the quality of mental health services this nation provides must be improved to better support individuals in need of help,” said Hunter.  “And far too often, the opportunity for early intervention and treatment is missed, putting individuals and families at a tremendous disadvantage.   I’m proud to be an initial supporter of the Helping Families in Mental Health Care Crisis Act and I’m especially grateful that Representative Murphy has agreed to discuss the importance of his legislation with leaders and members of the San Diego community.”

The discussion will begin at 1 PM PT on October 10, 2014.  The location is the East County Chamber of Commerce, 201 S Magnolia Ave, El Cajon, CA, 92020.   MEDIA IS ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND.

In part, HR 3717 encourages states to adopt specific “need for treatment” standards and eases the shortage of inpatient psychiatric hospital beds by reforming a Medicaid billing policy that prohibits federal payments for mental health care at facilities with more than 16 beds.  


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Budget cuts should not weaken security


In 2011, I presented a question to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates during a budget hearing with the House Armed Services Committee. To get to zero threat, I asked, what would be the annual cost of the defense budget — $1 trillion, $2 trillion or more?

Gates scoffed. He responded with no estimate and made no attempt to justify why such a figure could be difficult to determine. Instead, he said that, “nobody lives in that world” and dismissed the question on the basis that America is “never going to get to zero threat.”

True. Threats will always exist, and it is near impossible to predict the full extent of global security threats that could emerge years from now. Three years ago, Gates could not have predicted the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) advance in Iraq or even the situation in the Ukraine.

In one sense, the world is different than it was three years ago. In another, not much has changed: China, Iran and North Korea are no less dangerous; the terrorist threat still exists; and cyber intrusions are a regular occurrence.

Regardless of the lens through which the world is viewed, there is one single and indistinguishable similarity: The U.S. will continue to face an array of global threats.

Will China halt its militarization? No. Will North Korea suddenly change course? Don’t count on it. Will Iran acknowledge it is better to be in the good graces of the international community than pursue its nuclear ambitions? Wishful thinking. And will terrorism at the hands of Islamic radicals suddenly wane because that is what Americans want? Not a chance.

Achieving zero threat is not feasible, clearly. That is not to say, however, that the simple act of fully assessing risk should be avoided.

Determining America’s national security priorities should not be treated as a budget-driven exercise, as is currently the case year-in and year-out. In other words, our strategic objectives are adjusted and condensed to conform to the availability of defense dollars. More appropriately, determining strategic goals should be the first order of business, ahead of budgetary goals. Not only is it a more effective way to determine costs over the long term, it allows for better prioritization.

America will always need a Navy, but the size of the naval fleet matters for force projection. Right now, the Navy is more than 200 ships undersized. Naval officials are on record that a fleet of over 500 ships is needed to meet global mission requirements. 

America will always need an Army and Marine Corps, but resources are stretched dangerously thin and end strength is declining. Top military brass has repeatedly warned about the encroaching difficulty and potential inability of the Army and the Marine Corps to engage on more than a single front.

And America will be relying even more on air power, while the broader inventory of airframes is both shrinking and aging. American air power is sure to remain a ferocious and trustworthy weapon, regardless. It’s the ground lost to China and other nations in development and technological advancement that is most worrisome.

Each of these illustrates choices and trade-offs. Do we choose more ships over bombers? How about fighter aircraft? How many soldiers and Marines are enough to meet full operational demands in two theaters or three theaters? To know for certain, it helps to understand the match between threats and cost.  

There are many reasons for a strong national defense. Budget cuts should not create gaping holes in U.S. security, as long as they are done with precision and forethought. The across-the-board cuts brought on by sequestration are creating long-term consequences that, over the remaining years of reductions mandated by law, could be disastrous. So too is the notion that assessing the full scale of risk, in order to put in proper perspective both current and future defense needs, is illogical.

The improbability of achieving zero threat cannot be mistaken for the necessity to understand what that takes. Maybe once the concept is fully grasped, we can begin the process of developing smarter budgets that account for current and long-term threats and guarantee the U.S. military is always at its most prepared and effective. 

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It’s Time for Better Options for Rescuing US Hostages


The deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff give good reason why the Islamic State group must be crushed. Though less apparent in these tragedies is what the U.S. government must do differently to support Americans in captivity – specifically those held in hostile territory.

At this very moment, there are Americans in the custody of extremist organizations from Iraq and Syria, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. No different than what Foley and Sotloff experienced, these individuals are under constant threat and their lives are at risk every day.

The U.S. does not pay ransoms and is unwilling to make concessions with terrorist organizations. There is sometimes an opportunity for a rescue mission, but not always. And when a rescue is not feasible or unsuccessful, there is a presumption that other options are generally within reach to bring these Americans home. That assumption is wrong.

The unfortunate reality is that alternate efforts are not systematically developed and rarely exhausted when introduced. The problem is not a shortage of creative thinking – there is plenty of that already. The real problem is the lack of leadership and the fact that no single institution or line of authority exists within the federal government to support captives. 

This often results in recovery operations with limited organization and difficulties due to the involvement of multiple government entities with varying degrees of interest and purview.  The White House, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the FBI, the Pentagon and the military services are almost always uniquely involved in some way. Mostly, for non-uniformed individuals, it is the State Department and the FBI that lead operations despite possessing limited assets and access to the captor network.

One of the most vivid illustrations of this dynamic involves Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. To compete with the State Department-focused prisoner swap and to disassociate from infighting, a separate cell was created within the Pentagon – led  by experienced and battle-tested individuals – to develop non-combat oriented solutions, more formally known as non-kinetic options, to do more than just recover Bergdahl. The objective was to recover all Americans held in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

The planning produced viable options that included no ransom payments to terrorists or disproportionate trades. The cell focused on Pakistan as the key element and presented ideas that leveraged Pakistan’s security apparatus and its influence with various captors. 

The proposals were briefed, only to be passed over and ignored by mid-level bureaucrats. The ideas never reached the secretary of defense and they most certainly never reached the president, who approved the prisoner swap without knowledge of additional efforts under consideration within the Pentagon. The proposals were shelved and there has been no attempt or interest to reintroduce them. Some have application beyond Afghanistan-Pakistan and could prove useful for Americans held by the Islamic State group.  

In the case of Foley, Sotloff and others, the Defense Department has taken a backseat the State Department and FBI. But as proven by the cell that developed non-combat options for Bergdahl, it is the Defense Department that is best positioned to lead these efforts.

This starts with directing a single line of authority through the Defense Department, empowered by the president, to maintain control and oversight, and guarantee efforts are properly developed, coordinated and sufficiently resourced. Further, the authority would pursue the full range of options – military and diplomatic. And a process should also be established to determine the most appropriate lead-department or agency for cases in non-contested areas.

The U.S. cannot stop the Islamic State and other organizations from taking Americans captive, unless these groups are decimated altogether. That day may come, but until it does the U.S. should not sit around and wait while there are Americans in enemy hands and the threat exists that more might be taken captive.  

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Contact Information

223 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone 202-225-5672
Fax 202-225-0235

Congressman Duncan D. Hunter represents California’s 50th Congressional District consisting of East and Northern County San Diego. In 2008, Hunter was elected to his first term in the House of Representatives, succeeding his father, Duncan L. Hunter, who retired after serving 14 consecutive terms in Congress.

Hunter is a native of San Diego. He graduated from Granite Hills High School in El Cajon and earned a degree in Business Administration from San Diego State University. Hunter worked to pay for his education by creating websites and programming databases and ecommerce systems for high-tech companies. Immediately after graduation, he went to work full time in San Diego as a Business Analyst.

Soon after our nation was attacked on September 11, 2001, Hunter quit his job and joined the United States Marine Corps. Hunter entered active service as a Lieutenant in 2002 and excelled in the area of field artillery, much like his grandfather, Robert O. Hunter, who was a Marine Corps artillery officer in World War II.

Over the course of his service career, Hunter served three combat tours overseas: two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. In 2003, Hunter deployed to Iraq with the 1st Marine Division. Hunter completed his second tour in 2004, where he and his fellow Marines were at the center of combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq.

In September 2005, four years after he quit his job and joined the Marine Corps, Hunter was honorably discharged from active military service and started a successful residential development company. Still a Marine Reservist, he was promoted to the rank of Captain in 2006, and to the rank of Major in 2012.

Less than two years before Hunter was elected, he was recalled to active duty and deployed to Afghanistan. Hunter returned home after more than six months on the front lines and, with the support of the San Diego community, became the first Marine combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan elected to Congress.

Hunter is a strong conservative who is committed to strengthening national security, enforcing our borders, creating opportunities for American workers and protecting the interests of taxpayers. He is also a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, protecting traditional marriage and the rights of the unborn.

Congressman Hunter and his wife live in Alpine, California. They are the proud parents of three children: Duncan, Elizabeth and Sarah.

Serving With

Doug LaMalfa


Tom McClintock


Paul Cook


Jeff Denham


David Valadao


Devin Nunes


Kevin McCarthy


Steve Knight


Ed Royce


Ken Calvert


Mimi Walters


Dana Rohrabacher


Darrell Issa


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