Ex-Chairman of Armed Services Panel Reflects

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) ends his term as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee this week. Hunter talks about leaving this Iraq-focused job and what the prospects are for more troops there.

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LUKE BURBANK, host:

Now with today's leadership changes, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California is no longer chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Now, politicians normally want to hold onto power as long as possible, but this has been a pretty challenging gig - that is, handling the war in Iraq - so we called to ask Duncan Hunter that question.

Congressman Hunter, I wonder if relinquishing this moment isn't something of a relief.

Representative DUNCAN HUNTER (Republican, California): Well, no, not at all. I like being chairman of the Armed Services Committee and it's a privilege to serve the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States. But the new chairman, the incoming Democrat chairman - Ike Skelton of Missouri - is an outstanding person. He's going to do a good job of running this committee.

BURBANK: Well, I wonder what you expect from the Democrats on Iraq.

Rep. HUNTER: Well, I think we simply have to see what happens. Everybody's given the president a recommendation. I would hope that when the president comes out with his adjusted Iraq policy, that the entire country - and that means Democrats and Republicans, from both the Senate and the House - rally around the president. He's our president. He's going to come up with a policy that probably won't be exactly what any one individual wants, but I think we'll be doing the wrong thing if we have members saying - well he, he didn't take recommendation number 57 from the Iraq Study Group so I'm mad.

BURBANK: Well what about the prospects for this build up U.S. forces there, the so-called surge that I read the president is going to order?

Mr. HUNTER: Well my recommendation to him, is that we take the twenty seven Iraq battalions that we've already trained and equipped and moved them into the fight before we surge Americans.

BURBANK: But it doesn't appear that the Iraqi's are ready to take on that role sir.

Mr. HUNTER: Well they have a number of battalions that have performed very well and have been in fairly heavy combat And as you know, they prob - they've taken about three times as many casualties as the American's have. But we have identified 27 battalions that are in quiet areas of Iraq that can be saddled up and moved into the fight I think they should do that.

BURBANK: What about the prospect for the president ordering a surge though? The prospects for the country supporting that as you, you say, the country needs to do to get behind the president.

Mr. HUNTER: Well I think that this is a time, I think, that the American position, this is solidarity, the American people, and both houses of Congress, with their president, is something that's being watched by our allies and our adversaries And our adversaries feel that they have splintered the American government. And I think they've drawn that by looking at statements that have been made by adversaries of the president in the Senate and the House And that, to some degree, disserves our foreign policy, because I think it gives adversaries and potential adversaries a false impression that this nation will not stand up to terrorism Scoop Jackson, the very pro-defense Democrat, used to say, American foreign policy should leave our shores with one voice. And that voice, whether you have a Democrat or Republican in the presidency, is the president's voice.

BURBANK: How much will Mr. Bush need congress to say yes to whatever - to whatever he orders? Aren't there emergency funding bills for Iraq coming in the next few months?

Mr. HUNTER: There's always additional spending bills for the war So if a Congress is inclined to pull the rug out from under the president, the spending bills are a way to go I don't think that's going to happen I think that the leadership - when you get a call, for example, for ammunition, and you've got troops engaged in battle, I think the Democrats are going to be very wary of pulling the plug on sending armor and ammo and all the necessities of war to our troops who are engaged in an ongoing battle That not only disserves them, and it disserves all the families who have young people fighting over there, but it also disserves the mission So I don't think you're going to see that.

BURBANK: Congressman you do have some extra free time now Word is you're thinking about running for president next year, how's that developing?

Mr. HUNTER: Well we are putting in place, right now, the apparatus to run, and I do intend to run at this time And we're going to be making a formal announcement, probably around the 25th of January.

BURBANK: Duncan Hunter republican congressman from California stepping down today as the chair of the House Arms Services Committee Planning a run for president next year Duncan Hunter thank you for speaking with us on DAY TO DAY.

Mr. HUNTER: Appreciate it.

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