Posted on: Sunday, December 23, 2007

Military dad fed up with bureaucracy vows to cause a stir

By Peter Hecht
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The first siege of Fallujah was under way in Iraq in April 2004 when a furious Marine lieutenant grabbed a satellite phone and shouted a stream of expletives at the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

"Dad, we've already taken four K.I.A.," hollered Lt. Duncan D. Hunter. "But we're sweeping through the city, and we just got orders to stop attacking. What are you guys doing?"

Within minutes, said Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, the lieutenant's father, he was on the phone to the Pentagon, demanding why American troops halfway around the world were pulling back.

More than three years later, the 59-year-old congressman from San Diego is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. His 30-year-old son, now Capt. Duncan Hunter and deployed with the Marines in Afghanistan, is one of three GOP candidates for the House of Representatives seat that his father has held since 1980.

Their relationship helps explain the elder Hunter's quest for the White House. Duncan L. Hunter, an Army Ranger in Vietnam, is running for president as a patriot who's fed up with Pentagon bureaucracy as "freedom is hanging in the balance" in Iraq.

"He was a grunt in Vietnam, and he has taken that with him," said Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego. "He is very pro-soldier, not at all pro-brass, and that has served him well with his constituency."

Hunter's anti-brass appeal also extends to the campaign he's waging against the "free traders," who he complains have taken over his Republican Party. He bemoans U.S. factory jobs vanishing, and a trade imbalance that he fears threatens American security by financing a Chinese military build-up "with money they're getting from us."

Meanwhile, Hunter publicly chafes over lagging construction of his signature legislative achievement, an 850-mile double fence on the Mexican border that he pushed through Congress to rescue "the thin green line of the U.S. Border Patrol" and fortify a "border out of control."

What drives him emerges from his story of the battlefield call from his son.

He talks about how his son's unit advanced on Fallujah after the mutilated bodies of four U.S. contractors were hung from a bridge there. When the Marines' attack was aborted, the congressman said, "he chewed me out and had a few choice words for all politicians. ..."

Seven months later, Marines retook Fallujah in the most intense combat of the Iraq war. Arguing that the first Fallujah attack was mishandled, Hunter said, "It was a pretty good lesson to him, and to me, about what's going on on the ground and what the bureaucracy is doing in the United States."

So, later, in a hotel ballroom in Reno, Nev., Hunter stood before the Conservative Leadership Conference and vowed to shake up Washington. He pledged to stop unfair trade deals, promote a stout national defense and return the American economy to its industrial roots by restoring manufacturing jobs, which he called "the arsenal of democracy."