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CNN Interview Transcript

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CNN Interview Transcript

Friday, December 23, 2005

PHILLIPS: Military service and public service have been a good fit since General George Washington went into politics after the war. Today we know of at least a dozen veterans of the ongoing war in Iraq who are running for seats in the 110th Congress next November.

Van Taylor is one of them. A decorated Marine captain, Harvard MBA who's running as a Republican for the 17th congressional seat in Texas. Tim Dunn, another. He's a Marine reserve lieutenant colonel, civilian lawyer and Democrat who seeks the 8th congressional seat in North Carolina. He joins me from Raleigh. Taylor's in New York City.

Gentlemen, great to have you both.



PHILLIPS: I thought the military and politics don't mix, guys.

DUNN: I think they absolutely do. I think particularly in this environment you have -- you need to have someone with a military background to be able to address some of the issues that we're dealing with in our country today.

PHILLIPS: Well, let's get specific, Tim. Well, first of all, tell me what you did, tell me what your duty was when you were serving in Iraq, Tim?

DUNN: Sure, I was in Iraq from May of 2004 to the end of November. And I served with an organization called the Regime Crimes Liaison Office. I was assigned there as a Marine, and we assisted the Iraqi special tribunal, in the investigation and helped with the prosecution with the senior -- the former senior members of the regime, including Saddam Hussein and his henchmen.

And in doing that, we were investigating the crimes that took place there from 1968 through to the spring of 2003, when we invaded the country. And in doing that, of course, it was a very challenging environment to work in and move around -- in and around Baghdad, and in and around Iraq because of the ongoing insurgency.

PHILLIPS: Van, you're a decorated captain. Tell me what your duty was in Iraq?

TAYLOR: I had the pleasure and privilege of leading 28 outstanding U.S. Marines and I'm proud to say we were all Texans, and we participated in the rescue of Jessica Lynch.

I also had the honor of leading the very first platoon from the Marine Force Task Force Tarwa (ph), 4,500-Marine task force, into Iraq. And we were ordered in two days before the main invasion, defeated several ambushes, accomplished every mission. And I'm proud to say, working together, we brought every man home back to their families here in Texas.

PHILLIPS: Wow. Well, both of you in the fight both dealing with pretty fascinating subject matter. So now I'm curious. You're both now running for an office. You both served in the Iraq war.

Tim, did your views change at all once you went to Iraq and served? And now here you are, sort of dealing in the political world, getting ready to run for office. Anything stand out that changed your mind, surprised you? You think differently now about the military or about the war?

DUNN: Well, Kyra, I have every confidence in our military, in our -- the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen to accomplish the mission and the objectives they're given. I have questions, though, concerning our civilian leadership and the direction that they're giving.

I was on my knees praying in the spring of 2003. I was mobilized twice, once in 2003 and once in 2004. Did not go to Iraq in 2003, but certainly, I was responsible for helping train some Marines that were heading to Iraq with a unit called Anglico (ph).

The bottom line is the reasons that we were given for going in to Iraq were not the reasons that we ultimately discovered. When I was there, certainly it was a very challenging place, a very dangerous place. And with the work that I was doing, I had the privilege of seeing much information that many of my colleagues would not be able to see, with reference to any links to Al Qaeda, with reference to any weapons of mass destruction.

And so I was concerned when looking at that information, and finding that there were no links, that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

PHILLIPS: So you were there questioning the purpose of the war, then?

DUNN: Excuse me?

PHILLIPS: You were there questioning the purpose of the war?

DUNN: Well, as I was going through the duties and responsibilities I had, I was -- had information that was made available through my investigation and research, that, in my mind, questioned exactly the reasons that we were given for being there.

Now, having gone there and having invaded, certainly we need to accomplish the mission that we were there. We could not -- and I do not facilitate a wholesale withdrawal at this particular point.

But now we have to question the authorities that sent us there to make sure that the information we're getting now is accurate, and that we're making the right decisions to do everything we can to give our servicemen and women the tools they need to accomplish their mission, and to get them home at the appropriate time.

PHILLIPS: All right, Ben, what about you? When you were there did you come across information, intel, any type of situation where you thought, yep, we need to be here, or wow, this was a bad move?

TAYLOR: No, I absolutely -- my patriotism for our country and for our cause of Iraq was reinforced many fold by my being there. Seeing the joy in people's faces and their hope and aspirations to create a new and stronger Iraq, an Iraq that would no longer be a place where terrorists can come and use it as a safe haven, or a launching pad for attacks in the Middle East or perhaps even on the United States. There's very little question in my mind that we need to continue to finish the job that we began in Iraq.

We started there with one purpose, but Al Qaeda has come there and provided us with a new challenge. Al Qaeda seeks to use Iraq as a launching pad or an attack point for terrorists attacks. We just can't let that happen. There's no question in my mind that what we're doing in Iraq is something that needs to be completed, that needs to be finished. We can't leave the job half done.

And the good news is a lot of the hard work has been done. We've conducted three successful elections. We have done a phenomenal job of training literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to build a new Iraqi army, and there's a lot of work left to be done. Colonel Dunn and I both know as Marines, and I know as a businessman, building an organization is something that's difficult to do. And it's going to take a long time to build an Iraqi military that is capable of protecting and defending their country against terrorists who are seeking to take it over.

PHILLIPS: Well, I want to ask you both this next question, because you've had firsthand experience serving over there, and now both of you are trying to get in to the political system. Does it bother the two of you that I think it's less than a handful of members of Congress, of the senators, have a son or daughter that's actually serving in the military.

Let's start with you, Tim.

DUNN: Well, I think it's crucial to look at the numbers of actual congressmen and women that have actually donned the uniform and served. I think we that have served, that have made the sacrifices of being mobilized, deployed, serving in a combat zone, have a very unique appreciation for what it takes to do that and the sacrifices, not just that the individuals make that serve, but also their families.

So I think it's important to have more members of Congress that have served not only in the military, but also in combat zones as well, to understand what it is to send someone in that area.

Now the fact that their sons and daughters may or may not serve doesn't necessarily concern me as much. But we certainly need more veterans, more combat veterans, serving in Congress, that I think have instant credibility, that can bring to the table the solutions to some of the important problems that we have in America. And even if we don't have all the solutions, we can raise our hands, hold this current Congress accountable, and ask the hard questions and demand the answers. And I think that's what our new veterans now, or the veterans that are running for Congress will bring to the 110th Congress.

PHILLIPS: Van, fellow marine, John Murtha, 37 years in the Marine Corps, obviously standing up making a lot of news for himself and across the globe about whether troops need to stay there or troops need to come home. How do you feel about what he's saying, and also the fact, like I addressed with Tim, that not many of our politicians even have the background or have a son or daughter serving in the military?

TAYLOR: Well, let me first say I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Colonel Murtha for his tremendous honorable, and courageous service in Vietnam, and the United States Congress.

But that being said, I think it's extremely important that we stay on in Iraq and continue the mission. And as I go around central Texas in my little white pickup truck talking to people, what they tell me is that they want to see us secure Iraq to ensure that it doesn't become a security threat for the United States in the future. And I think it's extremely important that we finish the job, that we secure Iraq and that we ensure that we're successful there. And I believe that leaving early or prematurely is foolish. And another thing that people tell me is that they are excited about the prospect of sending someone to Washington who has direct experience about the problems that challenge our nation. As a businessman, I have experience in dealing with economic issues and I understand how to manage finances and balance a budget, something that seems to be sorely missing in Washington these days.

And as a Marine, I've experienced fighting the war on terror. I understand today's military, which is a very different military than it was 20 years ago. And also I have experience on the U.S./Mexican border. So people are excited for the experiences we bring to the table to address really what is perhaps the greatest challenge of our generation, which is defeating the war on terror and ensuring that we hand a secure, stable democracy, a secure democracy to future generations.

PHILLIPS: Tim, knowing what you know, and, Van, I'm going to ask you the same question, if your son or daughter came up to you tomorrow and said, dad, I want to go serve in Iraq, what would you tell him or her?

TAYLOR: I couldn't be prouder.

DUNN: I would be proud for my son or daughter to want to serve in the military. Certainly I have questions concerning our mission in Iraq. I certainly want to hold the senior leaders of our government accountable. I've dedicated my life to serving others, through my legal practice, through my faith, and certainly in the United States Marine Corps.

So I would support their decision, whatever it may be. But certainly I would also encourage them to look closely at the decisions that are being made, and why the decisions are being made, and to hold the senior leaders accountable.

PHILLIPS: Colonel Tim Dunn, Captain Van Taylor, I'll be curious to see if I'll be calling you both congressmen, members of congress soon.

DUNN: Thank you.

TAYLOR; Thank you.

DUNN: Keep in touch. We'll follow both of your campaigns.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, gentlemen.

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