Today, I’m doing something a little different and committing a random act of journalism.
David T. Harris in an Iraq veteran running for the congress in Texas. Part of the “Fighting Democrat” movement, Harris’ candidacy represents a break from what you would normally expect from someone wearing a Ranger tab on his left shoulder. I contacted Harris, and he agreed to an interview that focused mainly on defense and homeland security issues.
Tell me a little about yourself. How did an Airborne Ranger end up running as a Democrat in a predominantly “Red” area of Texas?
I have a very persuasive wife. LOL. Actually, I have always been involved in one way or another in politics. We settled in Texas after getting off of Active Duty in September 2002. I was mobilized in January 2003 with my Reserve unit for the war in Iraq. After returning from Iraq in March, 2004, I really immersed myself in local politics and worked on several campaigns to highlight my experiences of the war and to tell people I was I have a Democratic voting record in 3 states and in 2004, my wife and I were both County, State, and National Delegates for Texas.
Tell me a little bit about your war experience. What did you do? How do you think the reserves and guard are being treated?
I was a Logistics Officer for a Military Police Battalion. Our main missions were area security and convoy security over a 500-mile area of responsibility from the border of Kuwait to Ad Diwaniyah. I can tell you from personal experience that Reserves and National Guard were treated like second class citizens at the mobilization stations and over in theater. We had to fight for everything – from basic necessities like water and clothing to repair parts. It was sickening to see our soldiers doing the same missions as Active Duty soldiers but with equipment that was twelve years older and a lack of resources. I can go on for days about how we were treated but I will spare you for now.
How do you think things are going in Iraq? Did you agree with Rep. Murtha’s call for a quick withdrawal?
We have a very long way to go before we can even think about declaring Iraq a success story. My initial thoughts are things have gotten worse, not better. I am sure there is progress being made in some areas of the country but what else is there for us to do? We have found no weapons of mass destruction, we captured Saddam Hussein, the new Iraqi Constitution has been written, and we have seen the voting on it. What else is there for us to do? I don’t agree with Rep. Murtha totally, but I do think we need to set a timetable for withdraw. What people don’t understand is the insurgency is there because we are there, not the other way around. The longer we stay, the more it will grow because every sympathetic, wanna-be terrorist that wants to take a shot at an American knows he can go to Iraq to do it. We need to give the Iraqi’s a date and tell them that we will not be there forever and that it is time for them to take control over their future, until we do that there is no will on their part to fight.
Can you elaborate a little more on the idea of a withdrawal timeline?
My point about the timetable was that we have set a timetable for everything else that we have engaged in Iraq: Invasion, establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the hand-over of power from the CPA to the newly formed provisional Iraqi government, the Iraqi elections, the establishment of the Iraqi Constitution, and the voting on the Constitution. We need to put a mark on the wall to tell the Iraqi populace that we are not going to be in their country forever, because until we do, the Iraqi government will not be truly legitimized in their minds. We need to look at force structures and base our timetable on a combination of time, security, and political stability. The focus should be on time because the other two will not be achieved for years to come, if ever. Whether six months, a year, or five years - we MUST set a deadline for withdraw from Iraq. We can still base a large contingent in Kuwait or surrounding countries and with the Army's effort to create more rapidly deployable Units of Action (UA). This can be a validation of that concept. As a military officer I have always been taught that for every operation or mission there must be a task, purpose, and end state in order to have a reasonable expectation for success. The end state has not been articulated in Iraq and until it is, we can never truly achieve success or claim victory. The one underlying assumption of President Bush's plan for victory in Iraq is the Iraqi security forces to be robust enough to defeat the insurgency and secure their country. I don't see that ever happening - we are the most powerful military on the planet and we have the most professionally trained soldiers, airman, sailors and marines, yet we still cannot defeat the insurgency. So how is it that we can expect the newly formed Iraqi Army to do this when our Army that has been around for over 230 years cannot?
What do you think the geo-political implications are for our involvement in Iraq? What are the long-term implications of success…or failure?
I think we have completely damaged our geo-political reputation around the world. We are no longer seen as the beacon of hope that countries used to look up to us for. Given the current state of affairs in Iraq and our reputation for torturing we cannot lecture on the world stage with any sort of credibility for a long time to come. We lied about intelligence, we lied about intent, we have tortured, and we have spied on our own people. How do we convince anyone to follow us in the future? We have already failed in Iraq – there I said it. We had a small window of opportunity to make a difference and we squandered it. We are occupiers, even if we continue to tell the world we are not. We have not lived up to our pre-war promises and now the longer we stay; the more the Iraqi populace will want us gone. They want their country back and we need to honor that – we can no longer be the keepers of their destiny.
As a legislator, how do you think you can influence how the GWOT is conducted? How would you have voted in the run-up to the Invasion of Iraq?
I know I could ask the hard questions of the administration as it related to funding, equipment, intelligence, planning, and the long-term goals on the ground. I would hope to produce legislation that properly equips and supports our military members and their families BEFORE we commit to a conflict. I would also push for cooperation with our allies in times of peace, not just in times of crisis. I can’t say for sure how I would have voted at the time. Knowing what I know now, there is no way you can convince me this war was justified. I would have had some hard questions about Afghanistan and its completion before giving the President the authority to wage war on Iraq.
How do you feel about the US treatment of prisoners in the GWOT? What are you feelings on torture? Would you vote for the McCain amendment?
It’s criminal, that’s the bottom line. We get outraged as a Nation when we have people captured and we expect the enemy to treat them humanely, but what do we show the world – torture and degrading treatment of enemy prisoners. It is total hypocrisy. That is why we have the Geneva Conventions – the protectors of humanity while engaged in combat with another Nation. It is the only hope that soldiers have if captured; the hope that the enemy will abide by the articles of the Geneva Conventions. By torturing those from other nations, it sends a clear message that the protections under the Geneva Conventions don’t matte.
How do you think we’re doing in Afghanistan? Is it truly the “forgotten war” or are we on the right track?
I think we are doing considerably better in Afghanistan than Iraq today. With that being said, I think we missed the opportunity for success to capture Osama Bin Laden long ago in the hills of Tora Bora. We took our eye off the ball in order to go into Iraq. Just imagine what 150,000 plus troops on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan could do to really catch the guy responsible for the 9-11 attacks. I think we either need to commit to the effort there 100% or get out. We cannot continue this long, protracted war on two fronts indefinitely. If we really wanted to catch Osama Bin Laden, I think it would have happened long ago. My conspiracy side says this is just another way to keep Americans scared and believing in the GWOT; the fact that OBL is still out there – planning, waiting to hit us again. One thing for sure, the defense contractors are loving G.W. for this.
Four years after 9-11, many Democrats believe that we are not as safe at home as we should be. Do you think this country is on the right track regarding Homeland Security? As a legislator, what would you do?
Anyone that believes we are safer at home because we are fighting two wars on the other side of the world needs to get a good dose of reality. Hurricane Katrina exposed the Federal government and showed the American people they have been lied to for the last four years. If anything, Homeland Security has taken a turn for the worse because we taking funding away from the departments that need money here at home to fund the never-ending war in Iraq. As a legislator I would make sure that when money is budgeted for programs, it stays with that program and does not get sucked up by some discretionary clause tucked away in the funding bill.
In congress, you will control the purse strings of the military. Do you think military spending is on track? There have been lots of arguments that our military spending for future programs does not reflect reality in the world. What do you think?
I think the military can do a better job with spending. I have witnessed gross mismanagement of money and budgets throughout my career and especially in Iraq. I think we really need to do a worldwide threat assessment and target our spending to mitigate emerging threats that will affect us over the next 10-15 years. I think we really need to look at our contracts we have on the table for future weapon systems and make some common sense decisions on feasibility. We have the most powerful military in the world, yet on 9-11 nineteen men with box cutters brought this Nation to a stand still. In Iraq, we can’t defeat the growing insurgency even with all of our smart weapons, intelligence, and the best soldiers in the world - that should tell you something. Bottom line, we are missing the mark.
If you could give our readers a list of five books that should be on their required reading list what would be on it?
Bill Clinton’s “Between Hope and History”
Richard Haass’ “Intervention”
Harry G. Summer, Jr.’s “On Strategy: A critical Analysis of the Vietnam War”
Kenneth N. Waltz’s “Man, The State, and War”
Calvin L. Christman’s “America at War”
Note: Blogging normally lends itself to a high degree of partisanship which I try to avoid. This interview or related blog linkage does not imply any endorsement, agreement, or campaign collaboration on my part. I thought it was an interesting thing to do so I did it. Welcome to the new journalism.
Cross-posted on Intel Dump.