Jeff Latas is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Arizona’s CD8. What will probably catch people’s notice about Jeff is that he is a veteran, as is his son Jesse. Jeff is one of a group of about 40 veterans running for Congress this cycle, the Band of Brothers. What Jeff would prefer to catch your attention is his bold stands on energy policy and environmental protection and his training as an aerospace engineer. Either way. Jeff is a man of parts, and he wants to be your representative in Congress.
Jeff is 48, husband to Salette for 26 years, and father of two – 6 if you count the dogs, which they are inclined to do. Salette and Jeff were an ROTC romance, having meet at boot camp. Jeff lived in Arizona while attending UofA, where he received a BS in Aerospace Engineering. He later attended University of Central Michigan while in the service and achieved a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Jeff spent 20 years in service to his country flying F-15E Strike Eagles for most of his career and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross on the 3rd night of Desert Storm, as well as 4 air medals, and 9 aerial achievement medals. Jeff retired from active military service in 2001 and took a job as an airline pilot for Jet Blue.
Jeff lives in district 8, and has been a registered Democrat since he could first register to vote at age 18. This is his first attempt at government office, besides student government, and the first political campaign he’s been involved with. Jeff feels that his best qualification for office is his ability to grasp how disparate policy areas, such as defense, energy and environment, interlock. Jeff describes himself as an agnostic who endorses the Gaia hypothesis, and thinks that evolution is a scientific fact.
In his personal charitable giving, Jeff and Salette are supporters of animal welfare causes, such as Foundation for Animals In Risk (FAIR) and pit bull rescue, as well as Defenders of Wildlife and Save the Children. I think it says a lot about someone when they support causes which help protect those who can’t protect themselves. The only magazine that Jeff subscribes to in print form is ‘The Nation’, and the last book he read was ‘Running on Empty’ by Pete Peterson.
I found Jeff to be a credible and well-informed candidate with an open mind, strong principles, and can-do attitude. On the logistics of his campaign, Jeff is realistic, but optimistic. He knows that he is facing at least one, and possibly two primary challengers who likely have the ability to raise much more money that him. He points out that he getting a lot of professionals volunteering for his campaign who are providing many of the services, such as PR and video production, for free that others will have to pay for. Jeff says he’s not really sure how much his campaign has raised so far, but I would guess it to be around 25K – one tenth of what Gabby Giffords reported for the last quarter.
Jeff has a lot of credibility and expertise on military and foreign policy issues; probably a good deal more than any other candidate in the race of either party. For this reason I dwelt on those issues in this interview. Jeff would probably accept that label, but would also be quick to point out that the centerpiece of his campaign is energy policy and environment. This a new and bold strategy for a Congressional campaign, which usually center on bread and butter domestic issues such as jobs and economic development in the district, or on headline issues which the public is focused on, such as Iraq or immigration, at the moment. It will be interesting to see if the electorate responds to a candidate whose central message is changing our energy economy. In the right hands, Jeff’s theme has the ability to become the center of a powerful narrative that touches on nearly every aspect of our society. We’ll see if Jeff is up to the challenge of getting voters to dance to his tune.
Jeff sometimes talks like a fighter jock in the locker room, so the interview has a few bits with slightly salty language. I didn’t think it right to scrub Jeff’s natural demeanor from the transcript. He is who he is. The transcript has been edited for brevity (and it’s still really long!) so some of the back and forth and surplus has been removed, but it comes close to a verbatim transcript. This interview with Jeff Latas took place on March 9th 2006.
M=Mike Bryan, J=Jeff Latas
M: What makes a truly great representative? Mo Udall-great?
J: The ability to take their vision and enact it. To actually make the changes they intend to make.
M: Whom do you admire most outside of your family?
J: I knew you were going to ask me about things I hadn’t thought about. In the political realm, the names that come to mind are Howard Dean, Russ Feingold. But then, there’s other people who influenced me in my career, like John Glenn, Neil Armstrong. I’ve always admired explorers.
M: What life experiences prepared you to represent the citizens of CD8?
J: The most obvious is my military experience, because we have such a concentration of active and retired military personnel here. I think the 9th largest military population of any district. Also, my environmental concerns and desire to emphasize alternative energy.
M: What do you think you are a better choice than the other candidates?
J: Because of my convictions. I had strong beliefs getting into this race before Kolbe announced his retirement that this nation was going down the wrong path. This was a way that I might have some effect on changing that course. I believe in my positions and I’m willing to fight for them regardless of who the opponent might be.
[Latas was one of three Democrats to file their candidacies before Kolbe announced his retirement: the other two were Francine Shacter and Dwight Leister.]
M: What committees do you intend to lobby to be on?
J: Obviously, I would be interested in being on the military affairs committee. But as for lobbying, Energy is one of the places I’d really love to go. That’s where my calling really is, because getting off of oil affects so many things. I would also look at getting into environmental issues.
M: What’s your view of the NSA domestic surveillance scandal?
J: We really don’t know exactly what has happened. So I reserve my opinion a little, however, the idea that my telephone calls can be monitored just because I’m talking to someone overseas is obviously an invasion of my privacy without due process being done by getting a warrant to do it. I think at this point it needs to stop. My understanding is they haven’t caught any terrorist suspects by doing this monitoring. Being in the Pentagon as I was I know there’s a lot of things that can’t be shared with the public, and there might be some things regarding this program that are too sensitive for us to know at this point, but publicly I don’t think anyone’s been caught as a result.
M: How do you feel about the Senate and House both voting not to investigate the program?
J: That bothers me. That was a party run vote that when along party lines. I think it ought to be investigated, you bet.
M; Would you vote for impeachment of Bush, Cheney, or other Administration officials and under what circumstances?
J: That question’s obviously coming up and I will say that HR635 [Conyer’s bill to initiate an impeachment inquiry], I would support that at this point. Impeachment’s a touchy issue. It is damaging to our government, whether it’s a Democrat or Republican. But if laws have been broken, it doesn’t matter who you are, you should be held responsible.
[Jeff also signed on Russ Feingold’s resolution to censure President Bush as a citizen co-sponsor]
M: How do you propose to incentivize the market to change over from oil to other sources of energy and feedstocks?
J: We need to give efficiency-indexed tax incentives to individuals for solar cells and high-efficiency vehicles. We also have to give tax breaks or subsidies incentives to industry to develop alternatives and do R&D. We can also mandate government purchases and investments meet efficiency targets. We can make grants to universities to help develop new technology, for instance hydrogen from solar energy. Here in Arizona we can really boost our economy with alternative energy such as development of hydrogen plants without using fossil fuels: solar or otherwise. We need to figure out how to make conversion of energy to hydrogen storage more efficient and from alternate sources. Right now it’s about 1:1 with fossil fuels, so that isn’t really helpful.
M: The 800 pound gorilla is private finance – wall street, banks and pension funds – needs incentives to invest in these new technologies. How do we get financial capital out of the rut?
J: 1977-1980 we reduced our oil requirements from the Middle East by 87% at the same time the GDP went up 27%, so it’s obviously healthy for this economy to get off of oil. Those were test-case years. It works to get off oil, regardless of what people say. There were other reasons we had high inflation at that time, but it’s good for us to get off oil. You are going to boost the economy with new industry that’s generate new jobs, and make our school systems better because we’ll need new professionals to solve the problems we have to address. I don’t have the answer how to make these things, I have a vision of how to go that direction based on my engineering experience that these things work. There’s a lot of nay-sayers out there, but there were people who said we’d never go to the moon. We can do this. We have to political will to get off oil now. Bush even said so in his State of the Union.
[I don’t fault Jeff for missing the point of this question, but he did. He answered as if I asked him how to get Wall Street on-board politically, when what I wanted was ideas for how to get Wall Street to lead the way by actually investing in alt-fuels and conservation. The question of how to get Wall Street thinking in terms of long-term sustainability is one that some of the greatest economic minds have not yet cracked.]
M: So the way out of the downward spiral of outsourcing is energy innovation?
J: Exactly. Those are the kind of jobs you can’t ship overseas. I will say China’s a big threat if we don’t get our heads out of our asses right now. China’s going to be the dominant alternative energy technology producer because they are working on it right now because they can’t meet their energy needs with just oil.
M: How do we fix the medical care system in this country?
J: 5 million people are losing their health insurance every year. It’s because of declining income, people are getting poorer and people can’t afford health care and eating at the same time. Which one would you drop? We have to stop that downward spiral of income; that will help. However, Universal Healthcare is something we have to address. We have to insure everyone in this country. There’s obviously a cost; the Hillary plan would cost about 1 trillion dollars. I use this plan now. Tri-Care is based on the ‘94 study and the military leaned forward and went with Tri-Care. I pay $460 a year as a retiree and it’s the best insurance I’ve seen. Of course, they [the GOP] is trying to raise that now. We’re looking now at ways to fund a plan right now. If we have the will we can afford it and in the long run it will be cheaper for all of us.
M: Will there still be a role for private, for-profit insurance?
J: Yes, I think that we need to keep private plans available for people who want them. We want to make it affordable for the lower end, at have option of government or private at higher income levels.
M: What about the Medicare Drug plan?
J: Any time you have the pharmaceuticals companies writing the legislation – it’s boondoggle for the pharmas. We can fix it. The VA can negotiate prices and the prices are lower than part D. It’s costing us 50 billion a year, and though my mom’s drugs did go down, that’s the case for most. It was a fiasco the way it was implemented and in that there are companies now making bigger profits because of it.
Why are many of these drugs cheaper in other countries. I’m told it’s because we’re paying the large R&D costs in this country; but why can’t we share those costs among all countries?
M: We have Clean Elections in Arizona, and it is likely to expand to other states. Would you want to see it Federalized, and would introduce such legislation?
J: You damn right I do. You bet, in a second. I honest believe the reason you get Tom Delays and J.D. Hayworth’s, and all those other corrupt, er… allegedly corrupt, individuals is because it all comes down to how they’re financing their campaigns. The sooner we can get away from that, the more power to the people.
M: Would you be in favor of an independent ethics body overseeing Congress?
J: Why not? Why should a Congressman decide the rules of ethical behavior for himself? We need an objective means for determining proper behavior. I don’t have any problem with that.
M: What sorts of new initiatives would you be in favor of to protect our environmental quality?
J: First we need to enforce the old laws, like the Clean Air Act. We need to be careful and enforce the Endangered Species Act; we can’t afford to lose the act to the present legislation in Congress now [intended to make enforcement action more difficult]. We need stronger regulation on water quality.
M: Would you support take-back laws on more products here in the U.S. like computers, televisions, and cars, etc.?
J: Yeah. Especially those products containing hazardous wastes. It makes sense.
M: What about OSHA
J: It’s under-funded and there isn’t enough enforcement.
M: What do we do about reducing carbon emissions?
J: That’s my main platform. We need to get off petroleum. That’s why I got in this race; with ecology in mind, asking how can I make my world a better place? How can I have an effect? By trying to get this nation aware that we can have a better society without oil.
Once you realize that, then you start seeing all the connections between national security, foreign policy, war and oil. Many of our problems over the past 40 years are connected to that.
I honestly believe that if we would have followed what Jimmy Carter started, there would never have been all this military activity in the Middle East. He realized back then that our dependence on the region’s oil was a national security issue. But then, Reagan moved into the White House, and gave us a shift toward corporate controlled America, and oil companies gained considerable political influence. The genesis of all our security problems now is based on our need to sustain our economy with oil.
M: We’ve have these spectacular collapses due to corporate malfeasance and mis-governance in recent years. What can Congress to fix that?
J: You’ve got to give the people more political power to restore the balance. Lobbying, campaign finance, corruption, it’s all connected and you don’t have the people getting enough say. A lot of these problems will be aided by letting regular people have more say in government.
We also have to look at those companies that are doing things right, like my company, Jet Blue, and Costco, and reproduce those successes.
M: How do you intend to deal with the hot button GOP issues; abortion, gay marriage, immigration. How are you going to turn those issues into positives for you instead of for the GOP?
J: Like I’ve been doing for the last 6 months.
Abortion ought to be rare, legal, and safe. You have to have all three, or you can’t have any. If it’s not legal – it’s not going to be safe. And there will probably just as many as there are now. Only 16% of the American population think that abortion ought to be illegal in all cases. 84% of us believe that abortion should be an option. Nobody wants an abortion, but they do want the choice.
Gay marriage. What the hell business is it of mine if two people should love each other? Marriage is an old religious term. Government should recognize only civil unions, no matter who you are. Let the churches recognize marriage however they want. Marriage shouldn’t be the government term. Nobody’s religion, except my own, should dictate how I act in my private life.
M: What about restrictions on adoption by homosexuals?
J: Prove to me that it’s bad. Show me the proof. I know plenty of families that have a man and woman where the kids are totally destroyed by the time they’re grown. So I it’s a truly loving family, I don’t care if the parents are gay or not, those kids are going to come out as a benefit to society.
M: Illegal immigration. Some people say they’re creating a crime wave, using up taxpayer resources, destroying our culture, injecting their language into our government and even trying to re-conquer the United States.
J: Obviously there is a real concern about using government resources in order to provide schools and medical treatment and such services. But there are certain cases where illegal immigrants pay their own way through their taxes. Some of that is failing to get back here to the states where the money is being spent, however. This issue needs close study of the facts. There might need to be a ‘fencing off’ of certain funds from those revenue sources, so that it can be sent back into the local economy where the impacts are. For instance, the state prisons here that are owed money for holding criminals who are Mexican nationals.
The immigrants generally are helping our society out and benefiting us greatly. I think much of the negative rhetoric is used to conceal that simple fact. A lot of it might be hate-based and prejudice… I’m not willing to say that someone like Randy Graf is a bigot, but there are definitely people who are bigots who are attracted to this issue.
M: What role do you think that the military should play in border defense and homeland security? Especially the US/Mexico border?
J: Up until about a month ago, I’d of said that’s not the military’s business. They’re not trained to do that. The mission profiles are 100 years old. I don’t see Mexico or Canada looking to invade us at this point. The military is not for keeping migrants out of the country.
There are things I want to investigate further now. Is the Mexican military so corrupt now that some of their units are actually escorting drug smugglers and coyotes [immigrant smugglers] and taking their cut? That’s a worry of mine. It’s happening in Texas, apparently. I don’t think we need to put M1s [heavy battle tanks] on the border, but we need to address it to the Mexican government saying. “This needs to stop, or you WILL see fighters [military planes] patrolling our border. Because if we see a threat from your military, you’ll leave us no option.” That is a threat that we must deal with in a ‘big stick’ sort of way.
M: What sort of technological fixes for border security might be useful?
J: I think reaching out underdeveloped countries to the south is the long-term solution to the border issue. Funding enforcement for sanctioning employers also needs to be funded. The enforcement arm for employers funding has gone to basically nothing. We need to get at the white-collar criminal activity of our own people. That is going to put pressure on the legislature to change the immigration laws and make it more realistic when corporations begin to feel the pinch. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinks we need increase the number of people coming across the border. We need to have people crossing in a more orderly and efficient manner, so the illicit crossing will decrease significantly, making it much easier on our enforcement agencies on the ground to do their job to apprehend the criminal element that’s crossing the border.
M: We need to increase the number of H2B [seasonal and temporary] work visas?
J: I’m not sure about the details of which visas. But, we have about 66,000 issued now. That probably needs to go up to about 500,000. And we need to readdress immigration law itself and allow easier access for immigrants to cross the border to help sustain our economy, as well as contributing to our society.
M: What would you consider funding as far as technological fixes (i.e. sensors, drones, walls. Etc.)
J: If we do the things I talked about crossing will decline in number and we can sustain with our current border patrol and technology. We might no have to do anything. I don’t know if those U-CAVS [pilotless drones] are really doing the job their supposed to be doing. You fly missions out there and they’re seeing hundreds of people cross the border. The agents go out and the chase one group, hundreds of others get by meanwhile.
In the short term, maybe we do need to increase some sensors. I don’t know that you need more agents. If you’ve been down there, the place is crawling with agents. The people down there who actually live on the border feel that the agents that are working it can be more threatening than migrants that are coming across. They cut fences, shoot dogs in defense of agent safety. Migrants do it too, of course. But more agents are not going to help. Building a wall is not going to help.
M: The Homeland Security Agency now a contract out to bid for a 25 billion dollar fiber optic system all along the border to detect vibrations as subtle as the footstep of an immigrant.
J: Well, Jeez, how many cattle are the going to get arrested by border agents? The trouble is how well tested are these systems people want to put on the border? Those we have now have false signals all the time costing huge amounts of man-hours. Technology is not always the right answer. Before I would approve such things, I want to see serious studies that we the people can get our hands on, proving they’re effective.
M: Drug prohibition. A failed policy?
J: Yeah. I think it’s definitely failed. All throughout the 1990s we were spending lots of money on the ‘war on drugs’; didn’t do a damn thing except waste that money. The way we are approaching illicit drugs in this country is a failure. It’s not that difficult to obtain illicit drags in this country, so we need to approach it completely differently.
M: Would you be in favor of reforming the mandatory sentencing of drug offenders?
M: Would you fund treatment and diversion programs?
J: Yes. Incarcerating someone is a hell of a lot more expensive than treatment, regardless of how many times that person has to go back through rehab. So this is a cost issue, as well. People who addicted to drugs need help; they don’t need to be thrown in jail – even if it is Rush Limbaugh. (laughs)
M: What values should we bring to the fight against terrorism?
J: Well, terrorism can be view differently depending on the culture. I’m sure Hamas views Israeli attacks on the Palestinians as terroristic, as well as our bombing of Iraq all through the 1990s. To me, terrorism is when you try to instill fear in people. I don’t know that’s what we intend when we do military operations, whether I agree or disagree with what we did. We didn’t bomb groups of people, we were trying to take out certain targets. Mistake got made. And I’ll be the first one to admit innocent people died, and that’s absolutely wrong.
We have to, as a nation, demonstrate what real civilization should encompass, and that means dialogue with different cultures, it means respecting different cultures, and understanding what their motivations are. One we start sticking our nose in the business of Islamic law and fundamentalist governments we might see in the Middle East, it’s only going to inflame that region, because they look at us affecting their values as well. So we need to go back to a Christian love model – do unto others – and show we don’t want to hurt them, we want to respect them, and find our what they want in return. If that’s just to go away; we go away.
M: What about rule of law, and torture, etc.?
J: What we are doing in Gitmo inflames the rest of the world to no end. We have a set of laws we follow, yet we are treating these people as if there were no laws. That is not what this country is about; we are a country of laws. And we ought to figure out we’re going to give those people their day in court.
Torture does not work. That’s proven. We’ve had these people for three years and we’re still thinking we can get information out of them. To me, that just doesn’t make any sense. Torture just doesn’t work.
M: What’s your opinion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
J: Six months ago I thought there was good progress being made. I hope to see that progress continue. Obviously, with Hamas taking control, and Sharon out of the picture, I hope both groups maintain their dialogue. I hope their problems don’t escalate into more violence in the future.
M: What can Congress do to assist in the peace process?
J: We don’t deal with terrorists. So until Hams renounces terrorism, we can’t deal with them. However, that does push them into a situation where they are going to make deals with Iran, Syria, Russia. We are pushing them toward the more fundamentalist side. I think we could reach out to Hamas in direct talks in the correct circumstances and recognize that they are now the legitimate government of Palestine.
M: Should we conditionalize aid to Israel on progress on a settlement with the Palestinians?
J: Possibly. We do support Israel with a considerable amount of aid and that irritates the Arab people. It doesn’t look fair. Israel has to behave themselves too. Israel did get out of hand in 2001-2002. They came down with an iron fist. Sharon was seeing that tactic was not going work and started to pull back, and withdraw some from the West Bank, things actually got better. We have to consider how much of this business between Israel and Palestine is actually US business. That is between two other states, and us getting in the middle of that doesn’t make us look like a good actor either. Because is we favor one side over the other, it’s a lose-lose situation.
M: Iran is emerging as a possible crisis with its alleged nuclear weapons program. Can military force actually resolve this issue?
J: (Laughs) No. Bombing the facilities over there is only going to make matters worse. The bet thing to do is to go back in time and erase that line ‘Axis of Evil’ from the President’s State of the Union address. We invaded the country next door to Iran. That’s got to make them feel they’re next. We allowed another country of the ‘Axis’, North Korea, to develop a bomb and did basically nothing about it. So of course they are going to push hard now because they saw somebody else get away with it while they saw somebody who didn’t have WMD get invaded. The logic there is obvious. I know something about the facilities in Iran. Military action would have only limited effect on stopping their plans.
M: So you wouldn’t support use of military force?
J: No. We have to have better dialogue with the Iranian. We actually alienated some of the reformers over there who now see us more as a bully now. Whereas just 6 years ago we had made some progress toward to more liberal Iranian state, and that’s gone now.
M: Would you support economic sanctions through the UN.
J: Iran should not be allowed nukes. As well as Egypt, and Israel, and Pakistan… you see where I’m going?
M: You think GWB is a hypocrite in terms of the NPT and proliferation policy?
J: Yes. You’re referring to the India deal [to provide nuclear power generation technology outside of and in violation of the NPT terms]? There may be some things the public doesn’t know. The current situation between Pakistan and India has defused considerably considering just three years ago they were ready to start dropping nukes on each other. I don’t know exactly what technologies he [Bush] is talking about [selling to India] because obvious they had the technology to develop nuclear power and weapons. I don’t know if it’s more efficient or cleaner technology they’re considering. I would like to know more about that and what exactly is in that package.
M: How important is Non-Proliferation to the security of America in the future?
J: Very important. I would love to see sometime in my life where we live in a county that has no more nuclear weapons. I thought we were on that road in the 1990s, but with the current Administration that progress has come to an end.
M: What are the greatest security threats we need to be able to address now and in the future?
J: Rogue nukes. Port security, to catch radiological threats. We also need to look at countries like China, they have been developing ICBM and cruise missile technology. Meanwhile we are getting bogged down in occupation of Iraq. We need to be able to address asymmetric threats from China, maybe Russia. We’re sucking all our money into readiness, equipment maintenance and replacement, just keeping our equipment running. Our airplanes are falling apart, we’re working ‘em so hard. And we’re throwing 160 billion a year into Iraq.
M: Being as you want to be on the Energy Committee, and they are responsible for DOE and funding nuclear threat reduction programs, such as that advocated by Kerry in the last election, what funding will you seek for such programs?
J: I would push to reduce our nuclear arsenal. I would definitely make it a priority to get funding for nuclear threat reduction [loose nukes and securing nuclear materials for making weapons] back on track. I would also look at modernizing our nuclear arsenal by renegotiating the treaties that currently restrict us from developing the latest nuclear deterrents that are more humane, specific and very effective against chemical and biological threats. We could have a stronger and more humane deterrence with less weapons.
M: Should we reduce the size of our nuclear deterrent and what size is sufficient?
J: Zero is sufficient. I would like to see us get to that. I think we need to take a leading role in saying we can still be a strong nation without WMD. We are a promoter now of WMD. Everybody uses us as a model. If we can be a strong America and protect the rights of our people without WMD, I think that is the way we have to lead.
M: Is National Missile Defense [Star Wars] as viable and useful program and would you continue funding it?
J: The technology is very expensive. I don’t know if it’s going to be a viable program in the long-run. It’s a technological challenge. It does keep an escalation of countries like Korea from developing short-range, and even long-range, ballistic missiles. If we can sit there and pop them off, we don’t need a deterrent force of destruction. We can take care of those types of weapons in a defensive posture.
This is where I’m going in terms of a strong defense. If we do have a viable, workable, affordable system, it’s something we ought to consider for our own protection from countries that are rogue. However, I don’t know that’s really the biggest threat. Suitcase bombs are much easier to deliver.
M: Do you think the US should be the first to deploy space based weapons as recommended by the Rumsfeld Commission?
J: Weaponry is not allowed [by treaty]. There are [non-weapons] systems that can promote peace. First strike weaponry is – no. Not first-strike, not at all. Then you get into an escalation situation. It’s not the way to go. The best way to go is to outsmart your enemy without spending money.
M: Does the ‘Bush Doctrine’ of preventive warfare have any place in American military doctrine?
M: Give me your position on Iraq.
J: We should never have invaded Iraq and we need to get out. I join John Murtha in his plan to re-station fast-reaction air and ground forces in friendly countries such as Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, etc. However we should not go into Iraq unless the Iraqi ask for help. We have to be able to quickly analyze the treat they face, too. Only if their democracy is being threatened, but we don’t need to be stepping into the middle of a civil war, or trying to snuff out the Sunnis, for examples. We don’t need to take sides except to defend democracy.
The urgency to invade Iraq was false and very misleading. It should be investigated by Congress under HR635, to determine the real motive of invading Iraq. I don’t believe that WMD was the real motive.
[There was some drill down discussion between Jeff and I of the new book by Pape, “Dying to Win” I have left out. Pape’s conclusion is that suicide terrorism is a nationalist phenomenon inspired by military occupation of what the terrorist organization considers its homeland by a people of another faith whose government is democratic. I suggested that placing our troops in neighboring Middle Eastern countries could still inspire suicide terrorism against American targets. We agreed that reaction might depend on whether the Middle Eastern country is democratic. For instance, would stationing ‘over the horizon’ forces in Turkey inspire suicide terrorist attacks against us by Turks? Personally, I think there is about 0% chance that Turkey would allow us to base there for that purpose, so the issue is purely academic. Some of the locations suggested by Jeff, like Qatar and Kuwait, are very much not democracies, and I maintain that should we base in those countries, our troops will be perceived as occupiers not only by natives of those countries, but will still be perceived as occupiers by many Iraqis, defeating the purpose of basing them outside the country. ]
M: The war in Afghanistan is usually viewed as justified by the connections between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but do you share that view? And is the on-going occupation by our troops still justified?
J: We really have done much in Afghanistan except having a few firebases over there. I don’t think we are doing as much in actually securing the country as people might think. The hills are still pretty much left to the Warlords. The Taliban still has a little foothold. The Taliban’s support for Al Qaeda was a direct threat to our national security. That’s been proven.
We need to promote democracy over there, but we need to let the Afghanis develop their own form. It should not sponsor threats to our civilization. Same thing with Iraq. We should do our best to help them develop into states that seek peaceful solutions.
M: Do you support the continued basing of US troops in Afghanistan?
J: At this point, yes. I would like to pull out of the Middle East altogether eventually.
M: What the hell went wrong with the Pat Tillman investigation? What does the cover up say about the military’s leadership culture?
J: I would like to know. I’m waiting to see what the investigation reveals. With Abu Ghraib and even some things I’ve seen myself, there is a certain amount of cover-up that happens. I see a lot of our military leaders that shrug it off as, “war is hell.”
M: Is a certain part of it careerism?
J: Yes, it is. There are certain standards we have to uphold. In a friendly-fire incident like Tillman’s, a lot of them are just mistakes.
M: Do you have any specific critiques or concerns about the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2006 [a Defense Department planning document produced every 4 years which envisions the next 20 years of defense policy]?
J: It’s puzzling that we are going to spend 600 billion with the Iraq supplemental and we can only go after one war at a time. Whereas we had 270 billion in the last QDR and we could fight to regional wars. So there’s something being said here the way an occupation drains the life out of a strong defense. That bothers me. R&D is the future of our security and we dropped the ball on being able to out-think our enemies.
M: Does it bother you that Northern Command, an operational command, now includes CONUS, whereas it used to stop at the border? Americans now live in a war zone.
J: After 9/11 when the fighters took off to do the intercept, they were thinking the Russian Bear was coming and they flew out 100 miles over the ocean before someone said, “No. turn around; it’s New York City you gotta go to.” We might have to ask our airmen to go shoot down airliners, and, you know, it might be me. It might be a necessary evil at this point.
M: The military is often categorizing PTSD of those returning from combat as a personality defect, and refusing to cover treatment. What’s you take on that?
J: I’ve got vets on my staff and I’ve heard some their stories of how they can to have PTSD, and I find some of their stories horrifying. Anybody would be affected the rest of their lives base on stories I’ve heard. Stories I’ll never forget, and I didn’t experience them, I just heard them. I’ve had my combat thrills, and been scared near to death, but I’ve never seen the gruesome things personally that some of the these people had to do. They had to commit that horror.
This is not something that is to taken lightly, There are some reports that with 58K killed in Nam, but up to 100K committed suicide. We going to see this with Iraq. You can ask my son, he was there. The Administration has completely dropped the ball; the VA is grossly under-funded, it’s understaffed, our military hospital and medical facilities, same thing. I got to go to Walter Reed to see what was going on there; amputees, blindness, head injuries, and it’s disgusting that we are dropping the ball on these soldiers and veterans the way we are.
M: How much more funding do we need, and are you willing to cut other areas to get the money?
J: Yeah, I’m willing to cut the occupation and free up 150 billion a year. Some of that ought to go to the VA as well as health care, education – 55 billion left unfunded in NCLB – yeah we need to get out of Iraq and fund some the programs that are being defunded.
M: How do you view the Bush Administration’s use of the use of the Ready-Reserve Guard and Reserve system in fighting in Iraq?
J: Reserve system is being abused. Jesse [Jeff’s son] was back-door drafted through the reserve. I will say that when you sign a contract as a reservist or guard member you are giving the government the ability to use you, over and over [the only thing that stops them from abusing it is respect and honor]. The problem is that these soldiers coming back want to bail out because they know their time is coming next year to go back over there, but they can’t find jobs, so they’re force to stay in. We’ve shipped their jobs to India or China. My daughter can’t even find a decent job, 23, just out of college.
M: Do you have any concerns about the use of private contractors in security and combat roles?
J: I have a problem when they’re no-bid. Halliburton and KBR have basically taken over almost all the administrative and support functions of the force structure – laundry, sewing, food service – and it’s all no-bid with no oversight. We’re paying $33 a meal for everyone there. That’s outrageous. Halliburton contracts in just the last 3 years have gone up 2000%. Something is wrong with that.
I have a problem with the increase in private security forces in the past 10/15 years. They have always been there, but less in the eye of the public, working behind the scenes and not necessarily just military contractors. No one seems to be asking the question of why there are so many private security forces. I know that some of them actually are not on DoD contracts. Some are CIA, or some other agencies. One of my supporters in Bisbee was Special Forces and is now retired. His was being recruited to go over and interrogate prisoners/detainees. He declined that $100k/year job. My guess is that the Army can’t keep trained soldiers at the wages they pay and have no choice but to go private or there is a pipeline in those positions and many are taking advantage of this system.
I don’t know if you classify truck drivers in this category, but there are lots of them in Iraq. My son is an Army Driver. He hardly ever drove. Halliburton contractors did most of the driving at around $120k/yr. My son made about $18k/year to do the same job. But instead of drive, a job he was trained to do, he sat in the passenger side of the vehicle with his M-16 to protect that valuable high dollar contractor asset. This is wrong and the US tax payer is paying hundreds of millions to support KBR and Halliburton. I had a contractor while I was in the Pentagon. He was paid about $90K/year and was worth that. However the actual contract was about $180K/year. ANSER, the contracting company, got the other half. This is how the contracts work. It’s my guess that Halliburton is getting around $200k/year for every driver they hire to drive in Iraq. Do the math, that’s about 10 privates the Army could have instead.
M: Would you call that war-profiteering?
J: Oh, you bet I would, because it’s all no-bid. And it’s obviously cronyism at work and it’s shameful we don’t investigate that.
M: Are the courts martial of low ranking Abu Graib MPs covering for decisions taken at the highest level of the civilian and military leadership? What would you do about it in Congress?
J: Cheney is saying it’s perfectly OK to do what we’ve been doing, yet at the lower end of the scale we’re throwing soldiers in jail for stripping the locals naked. Which one is right? You have the Vice President saying it’s alright, but then you’re throwing people in jail. Why doesn’t Cheney say that we shouldn’t put these people in jail, then?
M: Can we reduce the size of some of our forward deployed forces and bases to save some money?
J: I don’t have specifics now. I think it is certainly possible to do it. We have drawn down over the past 15 years a significant amount of forces. A lot of people think we have 100s of thousands of troops in Korea, for example, and we really don’t anymore [currently ~37K]. Most of our presence is just staging and transfer points. Iraq is the largest. When we pull those troops out we can reduce the [roughly 130K] number of troops [tasked to a rapid response force in the region].
I understand the operation of carrier groups. Carriers are extremely expensive weapons systems for the actual combat capability they produce. But there is a certain amount of prestige when you set one of the carrier groups off someone’s coast. Maybe there’s a way we can integrate a fast reaction force, bombers, as a deterrent.
M: Are there weapons system currently in the Pentagon’s acquisition pipeline that are no longer appropriate for the strategic threats we now face? What are they, and would you work to kill them?
J: I thought the F22 should have been cut ten years ago. I don’t know if that’s still an appropriate measure. You cut it now, and you’ve wasted I don’t know how many billions on development. I did bring some new technology forward. I thought we should have skipped the F22 and gone right to the joint strike fighter – now I don’t know if the joint strike fighter’s affordable because of the F22 and the Super Hornet (the Navy’s alternative to the F22). I thought we needed to look more at unmanned vehicles (though this was blasphemous when I was in service), and we are doing that more now. We need to look for places to make some cuts in these programs. We may be able to do much of the missions we want by developing new weapons instead of new platforms.