Interview with Oklahoma US Congressional candidate RJ Harris
Yesterday I spoke with RJ Harris, who is running for the US Congress in Oklahoma’s 4th district. Below is a transcript of the interview as well as the audio. RJ Harris will be involved in the multiple candidate money bomb on November 5th. For more information on that money bomb you can visit thisnovember5th.com. For more information on RJ Harris you can visit rjharris2010.com
Shaun Booth: I’m speaking with R.J Harris who is a Republican candidate for the US Congress in Oklahoma’s 4th district. Mr. Harris has served 18 years in the US military, most recently as an Army National Guard Officer. He is currently in his second year of law school at the University of Oklahoma. Thank you so much Mr. Harris for doing this today. Mr. Harris is there anything you would like to add to that brief bio.
R.J. Harris: No that’s good.
Shaun Booth: Ok, let’s just get right into it then. Something that has been in the headlines recently is President Obama’s pending decision on whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan. Being a military man yourself, what is your feeling as to what should be done in Afghanistan? Should we come home or continue to fight.
R.J. Harris: Well the answer to that question is more than just the position of being a soldier or military person of background. We also need to look at the legal and Constitutional precedent that’s been set and then move on with the discussion. Because I know that we are already there and that’s the playing field that we’re on. Moving forward we do need to address the fact that there has been no war declared in Afghanistan to this point and that sets a horrible Constitutional and legal precedent as to what Presidents and Congress can do moving forward. We should not be involving ourselves in war that is not declared and I can get into that a bit more if you want to follow up on that, but I’ll get on to the rest of the question though, which was my position as a military person. I ask this question in my recent article, “What would George Washington do?” referencing the war in Afghanistan as it stands now, of course a lot of us would agree that he would not even be there, but assuming that he finds himself in that position a lot of our best military commanders out there know that you don’t ever want to fight on the enemy’s grounds, that you don’t ever want to commit to battle until the outcome of the battle is known and you definitely don’t ever want to be where the enemy expects you to be. Unfortunately we are breaking all of those axioms right now in Afghanistan. We’re fighting on an enemy’s ground, we’re fighting close to a friendly population which has chosen not to really help or support the 100,000 NATO soldiers that are there and so there is a question as to whether or not they are even on board for the stated purpose of their freedom and their peace in their nation. So it leaves us simply with the question of how do we win the war on terror being in Afghanistan or remaining there, how is that going to accomplish that? And my response to that is definitely not because once again we are fighting on the enemies ground where he is very close to friendly resources and terrain that he knows better than we do. So that begs the question of what is our ground, well our ground is everywhere else in the world that we have reach and scope to control and so I believe and definitely from the military perspective that we should not cede and advantage to the enemy in any way shape or form. And the enemy in this context is international terrorists then what we should be trying to do is use our ground to our advantage, be where the enemy does not expect us to be and to know the outcome before we even engage them. The way we do all of those things is by snatching the enemy when he tries to move. Not by occupying a foreign nation, especially when no war has been declared in that regard. What I’m trying to get at there is that a lot of people told General Washington, “Hey, if you retreat from New York you’ve lost the Revolution.” But he knew he was out maneuvered so he had to retreat. They said, “If you retreat from Philadelphia, that’s the capital, then you’ve lost the Revolution.” But Washington knew that losing his army and his ability to fight is what was really going to lose the Revolution so he proved on numerous occasions that he was willing to withdraw from a battle that was going to be untenable for the greater purposes of winning the war. So that is why the conclusion to my article was if we determine that winning in Afghanistan would create an untenable position and hamper our ability to defeat international terrorism then the logical course of action is to withdraw from that battlefield and to pursue another battlefield that is more in line with our strategic strengths.
Shaun Booth: I think you mentioned Marque and Reprisal in that article as a better way of dealing with it rather than an all out occupation. So my next question was going to be at what point did you stop supporting the Afghanistan war, but it sounds like since it was never officially declared as a war through Congress, you never officially supported the way the US Government went about it, even in the beginning?
RJ Harris: Well that’s correct because right there in article 1 section 8 (of the US Constitution) and right beside the power to declare war is the power to grant letter of marque and a letter of reprisal that are two different things. A letter of marque is to issue national permission for bounty hunters to engage in helping the US military. Then there is the letter of Reprisal which is the way in which our government declares war against an individual or an activity, in this case international terrorists and/or their activity which is terrorism or piracy. We all know the declaration of war is used against foreign governments. No declaration of war was forthcoming against the government that had been supporting the Al Qaeda forces, i.e. the Taliban in Afghanistan, so there is no declaration of war against that government. And then there was no letter or reprisal issued against either the terrorists that we knew to be involved or the activity that they were engaged in, there was just this analogous authorization for the use of force which is just the Congress abdicating its authority to the President. The President does not have the authority to initiate war or letters of marque or letters of reprisal. The international community would define invasions, offensive actions or reprisals as acts of war and since article 1 section 8 only gives that power to Congress it is just not consistent that the President would be able to engage in those things that would then commit us to a war by engaging in them. You are correct to identify that I would not have been in support of any type of this action without the Constitutional precursors occurring.
Shaun Booth: I assume you have pretty similar feeling with the war in Iraq where you actually served two tours. Also do you support a complete withdrawal from Iraq and what time table would you see that happening in?
RJ Harris: The premise of your question kind of implies that…let me correct the premise…if I’m getting it wrong let me know. It sounds to me like you would be premising like we are not completed there. I disagree, give me a hypothetical here, if war has been declared against the Iraqi government, the Baathist government of Saddam Hussein, under that hypothetical we won the war a long time ago. So the fact that we are still there is just ridiculous. Just about every goal that Congress, had it declared war against that government, would have set was achieved years ago when Saddam was captured and his sons were killed and the country was set on the path to ruling itself. That war was won at that point, the fact that we have continued to stay there well past what would have been a Congressional set of instate objectives, had they been set, and I’m just using what a reasonable Congress would have set, you could say I’m for withdrawal but not withdrawal in the sense that we’re not complete. Withdrawal in the sense that the war was won a long time ago and the soldiers should have come home at the completion of the objectives of that war. But then I also need to caveat that and say, no a war was not declared, a horrible Constitutional and legal precedent was set there and that needs to be addressed moving forward otherwise future Congresses and future Presidents are going to continue to act this way which is in complete violation of the Constitution.
Shaun Booth: Well that leads perfectly into my next question, if the objectives were completed, what do you believe are the underlying motivations beneath the continuing occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan? Do you think it is strictly for resources, do you think it is a geographically strategic location to set up bases for future strikes on future enemies? What is your take on that?
RJ Harris: I think we are not really being told what those are. Either because the current administration and the current Congress do not know. And if there is a clandestine reason for those things, if there are bureaucratic forces in play that are arguing to keep us there for reasons as yet undisclosed, I can only surmise at what those may be which would be kind of an irresponsible thing for a future legislator to do. But just like any other citizen out there we can say that constitutionally speaking whatever clandestine reasons are being offered are not nearly sufficient to be keeping billions if not trillions of dollars and countless lives at stake in a conflict that has yet to be declared.
Shaun Booth: Another country in the region that has been in the headlines with the G20 has been Iran. What approach do you believe the US should take in dealing with a potentially nuclear Iran?
RJ Harris: Once again, I’m very leery of whether or not Iran is attempting to achieve nuclear weapons and so forth and using that as a reason to insinuate ourselves into that supposed problem or crisis if you will.
Shaun Booth: I should clarify that Iran is saying that they are working towards a civilian nuclear program and while the West and Israel are implying that they are aiming for nuclear weaponry, but go ahead…
RJ Harris: I think the United States can defend itself against a nearly third world, unsophisticated and undeveloped nation-state even if they were seeking to obtain nuclear weapons because of defense decisions that we should and could be making but are not making, none of which involve us in inserting ourselves into their sovereignty and their internal pursuits. I am for and have been all along a very robust common defense that promote the preamble of the Constitution article 1 section 8. I set that out as the primary drive and goal of a federal government and towards that end especially as it applies to nuclear weapons that we are well behind fully establishing and implementing a missile defense system and nuclear radiation and biological detection grid surrounding the United States. That’s what we should be looking forward to and our government has that mandate right their in the Constitution to provide for our common defense. The fact that we developed missile intercepting technologies decades and decades and decades ago yet never really put the full research and development into those things to really bring them to fruition to me is a dereliction of that commitment of defense. And if we had those things in play and we had them deployed, not necessarily in foreign countries, but in our own navy which is completely constitutional then we could be defending ourselves against these regional and global threats and doing so without invading nation’s sovereignty.
Shaun Booth: Well that leads to my next question, it seems like in the lead up to the Iraq war we almost declared war through the UN with the build up of sanctions and then the eventual invasion. It seems like we may be headed in that same direction with Iran. What are some general feelings you have towards the UN and do you think they should play any role in disputes between sovereign nations?
RJ Harris: I definitely don’t agree with our government’s current role in the UN. I’m not going to deem to tell other nations whether they should involve themselves in entangling alliances. We should defiantly follow Thomas Jefferson and George Washington’s advice and not do so. I think the UN has been wholly incompetent in it’s ability to deal with human rights abuses and weapons proliferation around the world. There is no reason to think that they are going to, either with or without us on board, improve on that record. So as far as what the UN’s role might be with us involved, I would just have to say I completely counter the premise of the question because we shouldn’t be involved in the UN, we should be involved in entangling alliance with a world body that is infringing upon our sovereignty and could possibly commit us to wars or other acts of aggression that are unconstitutional and incompatible with our own just war concepts. And then of course if we are not involved, as we should not be, then what they are going to do is something for me not even to comment on because as long as they are not infringing on US sovereignty, if some other nation is going to involve themselves in that entangling alliance then that is their business.
Shaun Booth: Moving to domestic issues. What issue do you see yourself championing, if you were fortunate enough to get a seat in the House of Representatives? Is there one issue you would like to bring to the forefront?
RJ Harris: Well there is a whole basket of issues that all stem from the notion of ending unconstitutional legislation and repealing it and ending unconstitutional taxation and expenditures. So under that umbrella you can just begin to imagine the basket of issues that fit into that. If we are going to look at one that is current, and just because something is current and in the public eye does not mean that it is something that really needs to be addressed. But talking about healthcare, on the healthcare front we have a situation where the socialist within the Democratic Party are attempting to socialize our healthcare, whatever they want to call it, that is what folks know is going on. On the Republican side, rather than fully combat that, and fully debunk the underlying premise of that altogether and argue what the Federal government’s responsibilities should and should not be constitutionally, which is what we would expect from the Republican Party if they were living up to their stated goals and ideals, that is not what we are getting. We’re getting a call for “yeah we need to address the system but we still need to allow for some type of personal selection of doctors and a protection of privacy” but all of that concedes the point that the government should be involved in the first place which I completely disagree. Health care is an individual welfare and under Article 1 Section 8 the Congress is only allowed to provide for the general welfare for the United States and that little qualifying phrase, “of the United States,” tells us exactly what is meant by the general welfare and that is to provide for the needs of the government of the nation not of its individuals or the individual states or companies. The individual welfare and the constitutional authority to provide for it appears nowhere in the Constitution. So what does that mean, under the 10th amendment we see the things not given to the Congress under the Constitution to affect are supposed to be handled by the states and the people respectively. The states might come up with some quasi-government solution to healthcare or they might have socialistic answers. My hope is that states out there would recognize and remember that individual welfares like healthcare and education have been best provided through the private markets throughout the history of our race. But that is a state issue to be solved through its body politic, i.e. its citizens. So there is a way for their to be an addressing of the healthcare issue, but its definitely not at the Federal level which is unfortunately the argument that we see going on. When our are people, the people that are currently leading my party going to stand up and say, “Whoa!, instead of talking about the whereto’s and the whyfare’s we should be talking about the fact that this is not, national healthcare is not something the Congress should even be dealing with, it is something the states should be dealing with. I look forward to the opportunity, and I just use that as an example, to be one of those elected officials whether it is on this healthcare issue or other issues of the time. And hopefully we’ll be getting a chance to revisit this issue because we all know they are going to get it wrong. But I look forward to bringing this constitutional light onto these issues.
Shaun Booth: A domestic issue that perhaps does not receive enough attention is the prison industrial complex with the prison population growing almost by the day and becoming more and more of an embarrassment to this country on a global scale. What do you think are some steps we could take to address that problem, and it sounds like you do believe it is a problem.
RJ Harris: Yeah, I definitely agree it’s a problem. We have more people incarcerated per capita than at any time in our nation’s history. And in addition to that our prisons are grossly overcrowded and getting worse all the time. We really need to look and follow the money out there and find out, is it just because there are more criminals or because more crime is reported? Or is there something more insidious at play here, and I think a lot of people would be really shocked to find out that a lot of these prisons that are being operated under a charter and are privately owned and are operated under a contract. A lot of these companies that run prisons, they lobby state legislators, they lobby other rule making bodies. Usually whenever there is some kind of mandatory incarceration sentence time, you can almost always trace that back to lobbyist money that came from some type of business out there that has a vested interest in keeping people locked up. People that have life, liberty and property as the top three of their values in that order should be saying, “hey wait a minute this is a little bit incompatible with what is our second most important principle as a people, that being liberty.” To have companies and contractors out there that are lobbying law making bodies that allow them to keep people locked up even longer than the public would have demanded in similar circumstances. I agree with you completely, I think there is definitely something insidious going on with that type of strange bedfellows, if you will. The criminal law is under the jurisdiction of the states, so as a Federal officer I’m not going to have a lot of ability to affect that issue other than to ask my colleagues at the state level, as a person, to start paying more attention to the jeopardy that their citizens are being placed under when there are entities out there with nefarious goals in mind.
Shaun Booth: I didn’t ask to many political questions today, but I’ll end on a political question. How do you respond to the critics who claim that a strict Constitutionalist like yourself should run third party, rather than under the Republican banner?
RJ Harris: I just think it’s a sad day for all political parties and especially the two main political parties, if one of the two is not going to try to lay claim to an constitutional underpinning to their platform. That kind of undercuts the foundation of their one of them regardless of their political viewpoint. One of the two parties should be stepping up right now and believe it or not it is the grassroots of the Republican Party that is doing so. I will not claim to say that it is the leadership level or the establishment of the Republican Party, as a matter of fact they are fighting us at every turn. The huge base the base of the pyramid of the Republican Party is making this turn back to constitutional conservatism. I feel right at home in my district as I speak to the constituents around my district and talk to them about constitutional issues. And as we address things like Afghanistan some conservatives may not have been aware of some of the constitutional breaches that were going on. When I point these things out my Republican constituents as well as independent and conservative Democrat constituents are really on board with the message that I am giving them which is constitutional conservatism, individual liberty and state sovereignty. I have not yet been able to identify even one detractor that is willing to take me on, on those issues.