Col. David Hunt (Ret.) is a familiar face. After a long and gifted career in the Army, he has led a varied life, being an armchair general for Fox News Channel, the tactical adviser to the commander in chief of Bosnia, and a counter-terrorism coordinator for the Summer Olympic Games in South Korea — among many other things. Col. Hunt recently talked to NRO, opining on everything from homeland security to the humanities, women in combat to weapons of mass destruction.
NRO: Tell us about yourself. Where were you born?
DAVID HUNT: I was born in Boston, Mass. My father was WWII hero. He spent four years in the Pacific.
NRO: Were you always interested in things military?
HUNT: Hell no. I went to Norwich University in Vermont, a private military college — the oldest private military college in the country, thank you very much! — on a hockey scholarship and studied English. My brother was killed in Vietnam. It became clear to me that I had to join up. I spent some time in the Army special forces, and I am Ranger and Airborne qualified. I’ve spent 29 years plus in the military.
NRO: You have a B.A. and an M.A. in English. What area of English did you study? Was it good preparation for the military?
HUNT: I studied the Elizabethans, particularly Shakespeare, and I minored in philosophy. I got my Masters while teaching ROTC, and studied at the Kennedy School at Harvard during my service in the Army. A liberal-arts education dovetails with anything. I would do it again.
NRO: Did any of the men you served with make fun of you for your book learning?
HUNT: If they did, they only did it once! Some Marines made fun of the fact that I had done plays and studied poetry, but then I won the award for physical training.
NRO: Is the intelligence world as bureaucratic as we all hear about?
HUNT: Publicly, we’re saying we’re better at fighting terrorism. Privately, we know that the bureaucracy has only gotten worse, since the high-level people are scared of being held responsible for 9/11.
NRO: There’s been a lot of buzz about military transformation. What’s your opinion on the debate between the “light” and “heavy” military?
HUNT: It’s a long time overdue. We have a tendency to be ten years behind. We should have been changing since the fall of Communism. That being said, we saw the value of the tank and the Bradley in this last war, both “heavy.” But the problem is, we need to be able to transport them to the theater much more quickly. We just can’t have six-month buildups. We either have to preposition, like the Marines, or we have to lighten stuff up to get it there. Rumsfeld, because he’s been in the Pentagon and is a rich and arrogant millionaire — he’s going to get it done. The Army especially has to get on this. It doesn’t mean getting rid of tanks and Bradleys. The problem is, the old guys just can’t let go. There’s a lot of bureaucratic resistance.
NRO: So, you have a lot of faith in special-ops and “light” forces?
HUNT: Yeah, but the problem is with the word “elite” or “special.” Some of us didn’t carry ourselves well. There’s a place for special-ops forces, but they’re not going to win the war by themselves. Right now it’s their time. They’re the only growth industry in the military right now. But there’s always a use for conventional forces.
NRO: Do we do enough covert operations? Is there enough support for them coming from Congress and the administration?
HUNT: We could do more in terrorism, but we need more people. The issue now is not that we don’t want to do it, but that we just don’t have the people. We’re three years behind: It’ll be three years before we can do what we want to do. Starting with Carter, the CIA was downsized and the Directorate of Operations was decimated, as was covert activity.
There’s a fight going on between the Department of Defense and CIA on special operations. Right now, the special-ops guys can do it while the CIA guys get themselves ready. Basically, the guys on the ground got it done, in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the guys at the top are banging heads. They’ve got to resolve it, to say “You, CIA, get on it, get there, but we have more guys right now.”
NRO: Are you talking about spying?
HUNT: This isn’t spying we’re talking about — covert activity is like me tapping your phone, or watching your house. Special-ops guys can do that as well as the CIA, but their particular talent lies in spying.
NRO: How are we doing in the war on terrorism?
HUNT: Al Qaeda is in 80 different countries. We need to harass these terrorist groups, everywhere — in Saudi Arabia, in Yemen, North Korea, the Sudan, Algeria, and Zimbabwe. And then there’s the Russian mafia. We need to screw around with their banks, to squeeze them. A lot of these groups get money through laundering and drug trafficking. Here’s an example: poppy-producers in Afghanistan. We need to destroy all those poppy fields. We could be much more aggressive in that area.
The point is to make it painful on states that sponsor terrorism. If I go after the bank, that hurts a lot of people. We want to go into the towns and kill these terrorists, in their homes. We’re doing that, but we need to do it more. This is the first time we’ve had a president who wants to do this, aggressively.
NRO: What about the turf wars between FBI and CIA. Has that gotten any better since 9/11?
HUNT: The turf wars continue. Because of the 9/11 commissions, people are sweating scared about what happened. We sucked! We sucked, and we got hurt. 800 Americans were killed over 20 years in terrorist actions, and what did we do? We shot a couple of missiles.
We have not solved the bureaucracy and, because of the war, the Bush administration has been understandably focused on that. But these agencies are still at each other’s throats. The FBI is a fabulous crime-fighter, the best in the world, but they need to get out of the terrorism business. We need something to fight terrorism domestically that’s not fighting banks. Maybe like the British MI-5.
NRO: What about the Homeland Security department? How’s Tom Ridge doing?
HUNT: Don’t even get me started on “homeland security”! It was courageous for Bush to do, but you can’t do anything without intel. They talk about “sharing” — we know they don’t share. You can’t get the job done without intel. They get what the FBI and the CIA want to give them. To be effective, a security agency must have what’s called “tasking authority.” This is probably the most important thing I’ll tell you today: I’ve got to be able to tell you what to do. If I don’t have that, I come to you and say, “Would you mind doing X and we’ll have a meeting about it.” Guess what? Nothing gets done. The Homeland Security department doesn’t have tasking authority in the intelligence community. They can ask for stuff, but they can’t direct anything except inside their bureau.
And the other problem: You still see public relations playing a role, which is so frustrating. We’re not profiling. We know who’s attacking us, but we pull over grandmothers so that when we go to court we can show that we’re treating white women the same way. Everyone knows that’s the wrong thing to do.
NRO: You probably saw Mark Helprin’s article for NR arguing that the armed forces are weak, and the Iraq victory was a matter of luck. Do we have enough matériel? Has Bush proposed enough spending on the military?
HUNT: Yeah, sure we do. The issue is how we’re spending the money we’re given for the military. We’ve got to be smarter. Look at the problems the Marines have had trying to get that new plane, the Osprey, they need. They system’s got to be streamlined. If we’re going to spend more money, it should go to the soldiers, Marines, and airmen to increase their salaries.
NRO: How do you feel about women in combat?
HUNT: I’m in favor of competent people doing their job — I don’t care how you go to the bathroom. It’s said that Jessica Lynch killed a lot of people, which is why they tortured her so much. It ain’t about sex. If I’m with you on the battlefield, we’re not going to do it! We’re too tired and too scared to have sex. We’re not serious until we’re inclusive, which means: “Can you do this job? Can you fight the war on terrorism?” Fine, you’re on! I don’t care if I have a whole division full of lesbians, if they can do the job. Look, we kicked out a bunch of gay men who were linguists, Arabic specialists. What kind of stupidity is that?
Most of the men who complain about lower numbers of push-ups and chin-ups for women — they’re the fat guys at the desks who can’t do ‘em themselves! Now, I would not change the standards for a woman. It has to be realistic. I know I’m in the minority. Anyway, I’m talking about fighting terrorism, not supporting a lifestyle. We can’t be politically correct — right or left — in the war on terrorism. Period.
NRO: Media embeds. Was it a good idea?
HUNT: It was a great idea. I thought it was going to be a problem, that we’d be seeing American soldiers killed on camera. It was a huge thing politically, for the American public to see their men and women fighting. That was fabulous.
NRO: What was it like for you, personally, covering the war 24/7?
HUNT: It was surreal to watch, because it was instantaneous. FOX are the only people who would ever have me; I like FOX, the way they do it. It was unique because I knew some of the guys fighting. Dave Perkins, the lead brigade commander of the 3rd infantry division, worked for me. I got to interview him as he took the palace in Baghdad. I don’t miss the combat — it’s scary sh*t — but I miss the guys.
It was great being part of a success story. I loved kicking CNN’s a**. We were accurate, we had great sources, and we were very positive, unlike all those the other networks, with nay-saying generals, who were all carping. They turned out to be so wrong! It was fun being on the other side of that, being on the winning team. It was fun watching those other guys be so wrong. And, Fox made the soldiers the focus, not the reporters.
NRO: Why haven’t we seen more terrorist attacks on our soil since 9/11?
HUNT: They’ve chosen not to. They’ve always waited 18 months to two years between operations. They’ll decide when to attack us. We’ve done a good job in dismantling some of the terrorist apparatus, but al Qaeda is just one example. We haven’t gotten bin Laden. I’m afraid that it’s going to take something really bad to happen before we get serious enough about this. We’ve started to pat ourselves on the butt already, and that’s dangerous. I’ll tell you one thing, the next one ain’t gonna be New York. D.C. is a better target, maybe Houston, Cincinnati, or something from the Canadian border. Think of that: a coordinated action over the Mexican and Canadian borders.
NRO: How big a threat is North Korea? Russia?
HUNT: North Korea is the biggest threat right now. Kim Jong Il is a wild card. North Korean society has collapsed on itself: There aren’t many dogs or cats, there are no lights on at night. When someone like that is so isolated and has the bomb, we’re in danger. We have to worry about the Russian mafia. Russia has collapsed, it’s a corrupt society. Their weapons are just lying around there for someone to steal or buy. It’s not pretty. And there are other threats. Take the Saudis, who appear to be our friends, but are state sponsors of terrorism. $500 million is the public estimate of support for al Qaeda in ten years from Saudi Arabia, and we don’t blink. Those types of places — Yemen, Sudan, Algeria, Bosnia, and Colombia — are very dangerous.
NRO: Are you optimistic about a democratic Iraq?
HUNT: No! Not for a long time. We’ll make it safe, educate them, but look how long it took in Turkey. It’s the Wild West for democracies over there. We have to solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue now to solve other things. We need to be totally involved, not in a half-assed way, but totally engaged.
NRO: How long will the war on terrorism last?
HUNT: At least 30 years. Three generations. In other words, we’re going to need some liberals who have some balls. Bush isn’t always going to be president.
NRO: The million-dollar question: Where are the WMDs?
HUNT: We have a p.r. problem on our hands, not an intel problem. I think it’s embarrassing that we haven’t found the WMD. But they do exist. Some are probably in the Bekka Valley in Lebanon, some are in Syria, some are buried. There was some movement across the borders before the war. We have to remember that this is the same intelligence community that brought us great successes in Afghanistan. For them to have misled the president and secretary of state after 9/11, considering how some people want their heads . . . it’s just not possible.