Is Iran testing America’s resolve in the Middle East? And what can the Trump administration do in response? Is there a threat of war on the horizon? And what can America do to deal with cyber attacks from China?
Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek recently sat down with Rep. Van Taylor of Texas, who is a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer and Iraq war veteran, to discuss new threats to America, including Iran and China; Taylor’s work on the Entrepreneurship Caucus; and what he believes it takes to be bipartisan in today’s political climate.
Jan Jekielek: So you are actually in military intelligence.
Rep. Van Taylor: Right.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve also done a tour in Iraq.
Rep. Taylor: Those experiences are important experiences, particularly given some of the world problems we face today. I was proud to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, put about 10 years in, and was on active duty as a reconnaissance team commander and an intelligence officer for an artillery battalion and then, was in a Marine reserve unit. And we were activated in 2003 and actually led the very first platoon into Iraq on D-Day, March 21, 2003. Was proud to serve and was very, very fortunate, not only to accomplish every mission, but to bring every single man home to their families.
Mr. Jekielek: Incredible. And so let’s jump into the topic of the day, Iran. This is something that’s on a lot of people’s minds. The Iran deal is over as we know, and there’s actually rockets landing near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The Iranian regime is criticizing the U.S., saying it’s not going to be bullied. Where do things stand on Iran?
Rep. Taylor: So, Iran, for the last 30 years, has attempted to be the regional hegemon. They’ve tried to take over the region, and they’re doing that with military force. So, in my own time … I served in Iraq in 2003. We actually watched Iranian spies infiltrating from Iran into Iraq trying to cause riots … with money and weapons, and they were responsible for the death of hundreds of Americans by providing ordnance to Shia militias. They’re still providing support to Shia militias in Iraq today. They’re providing support to rebels in Yemen today. They are supporting the Assad regime in Syria, which has used chemical munitions against their own people today. They are supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, which are forces oriented toward the destruction of Israel today.
So Iran clearly is an aggressive power attempting to project its military forces … by supporting lots of different terrorist and revolutionary groups around the region. And I think what you’ve seen here recently with Iran is they’re attempting to test America’s resolve.
They thought maybe the Americans aren’t serious about defending their allies in the area. “Let’s conduct some attacks. Let’s go after some American forces, maybe go after some foreign forces.” It appears that they … it is possible that they were behind attacks on four different oil tankers, not U.S.-flagged tankers, but of other countries. And in conducting those attacks, they’re trying to see how we respond. They want to see [if] we are committed to the area? I think the Trump administration did the right thing to send substantial forces and to start making plans to put more substantial forces in the area. And I think that demonstrates America’s resolve to keeping Iran’s expansionist hopes in check.
Mr. Jekielek: Do you think there’s a threat of war on the horizon?
Rep. Taylor: I certainly hope not. I think I’ll take you back to a lesson from the ’90s, when Saddam Hussein actually did a buildup of forces—in the early ’90s and then again in 1998—where he put forces in place. It looked to us, to the Americans, as though, “Oh, wow, he’s about to invade Kuwait again,” which he had successfully done in August of 1990. And, so, you know, but the Americans put forces on the ground in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which basically told Sadaam Hussein: Look, we’re going to take you seriously. And he withdrew, he backed his forces up, he pulled them back. He did not end up invading Kuwait a second time. No, he continued to do aggressive actions that would unquestionably be called acts of war against the United States for the entire period of time between the cease-fire in 1991 and the time that he was deposed in 2003.
Mr. Jekielek: So Iran is also been talking about the fact that it’s speeding up its uranium enrichment procedures ahead of what would have been expected under the Iran deal. Do you think this is an issue?
Rep. Taylor: Yeah, it’s certainly disconcerting. Not because … there is sort of the hope that “well, gee, Iran’s just getting nuclear weapons to stop the United States or someone from invading them.” But I think what’s more worrisome is that they’ve talked about using those nuclear weapons offensively, specifically against Israel. But you could also see them using them in other places, given the fact they’re involved in so many places militarily, conducting … fights on the ground. So having them as a nuclear power is definitely a worry. They would certainly be the least stable, most projectionist, most aggressive—they’re the largest state sponsor of terror in the world. They’re definitely someone to be worried about. And a state sponsor of terror in possession of nuclear weapons is of great concern, I think to every American and every person around the world.
Mr. Jekielek: A number of convincing analyses I’ve seen say Israel will never let that happen.
Rep. Taylor: Well, we’ll see about that. It is something to be worried about and something that I, certainly, am concerned about.
Mr. Jekielek: A big issue for you in Texas has been the issue of cybersecurity. And this is actually a huge issue when it comes to the China trade war, as we’re describing it. Tell me a little bit about how you see the American situation for cybersecurity.
Rep. Taylor: Sure. Stepping back just a little bit, the U.S. economy is doing incredibly well. You literally have 1.3 million more job openings than you have unemployed people in America. And that is going to require more and more automation, and automation in the manufacturing space, but also in the services space, using computers. And the more you put online, the more you’re going to have worries about protecting the information that is online.
So that goes to your question of cybersecurity. I’m very proud of my district, the 3rd District of Texas, which includes Plano, Frisco, McAllen, and McKinney. And in those cities, there are some really amazing cybersecurity companies and firms that are really on the front lines of trying to protect their clients, their customers, and their own data from cyber attacks. And so that’s something that’s very real … there are economic damages around that. And so this is something that certainly I’m focused on and I literally hear about every day when I talk to companies back home, because it’s what they do.
Mr. Jekielek: Apparently, a lot of companies weren’t even reporting things because they were afraid that share prices would be hurt or they would look bad. But apparently, in a lot of ways for a number of years, America was kind of wide open to this behavior.
Rep. Taylor: Yeah. Well, I think, look … you think the internet is fully developed and there’s everything there that’s going to be there. But I think it’s still emerging. I think you’re still watching the capabilities of the internet be created and formulated. And I think you’re going to watch … again, I think you’re going to see tremendous investment in automation in processes. I think you’re going to see more effort toward cybersecurity.
We had a hearing yesterday in the Homeland Security Committee talking about how do we get more people, how do we get more staff? One of the discussion points was, look, not everybody has a college degree, [or is a] cybersecurity professional. Some of these people are going to be with maybe some programming classes in high school, and they’re going to go into cybersecurity, maybe they’re going to get an associate’s degree and then be in cybersecurity. Maybe they’re going to be a Ph.D. and get into cyber security. And maybe they start at one for two years and then, they do the associate’s degree for two years, and then they go back. And they work for five years later, and then [they go back] and get a bachelor’s degree. You’re going to see a workforce that’s continued to develop and evolve as we continue to create a strong workforce that can handle the cybersecurity requirements of tomorrow. And they’re very demanding. There’s no question about that.
Mr. Jekielek: So [another] question: Based on what you know in this field, do you expect that the Chinese side would live up to the expectation that they would stop doing these attacks?
Rep. Taylor: I don’t have a lot of comfort that the Chinese are going to do right by us in terms of intellectual property, and so it really is up to us as Americans to protect our intellectual property from those people that would steal it. And so I think that we’re going to have to build good walls. And one thing I’ll say that, you know, that I’m hearing from cybersecurity experts is not just, you know, are we going to be attacked, are we going to have systems go down? But how do we recover from having them go down?
And so, so there is a second stage of that: We need good defenses, but we also need a good recovery if we have, if something goes wrong.
Mr. Jekielek: What about the government side, you know, investment into its cyberwarfare capability and so forth. How do you see that?
Rep. Taylor: Sure. Well, the United States is investing in that. And I think that’s something important to do. A lot of that is classified. But, rest assured … we’re very aware, and there’s a lot of discussion within the federal government of how do we build offensive cyber capabilities because you need to have those in this world.
Mr. Jekielek: So you’re seeing some kind of private government partnership to do this? How does that work?
Rep. Taylor: So you are seeing—and I’m going to see this in the cybersecurity subcommittee—some efforts to create some collaboration between government and industry. And you’re also watching greater industry collaborations. You’re watching some of the bigger cybersecurity companies work together to share data on: Hey, wait a minute. Our system was attacked with this process. … This other system, this other client, you know, four times zones away, they were attacked by that exact same process. And so you’re watching companies share more data across platforms. Originally, they were more siloed in the way they were approaching things, but I think they realize that working together, they’re able to provide a greater, faster defense and also erect walls faster to stop attacks.
Mr. Jekielek: So let’s switch gears a little bit here. You’ve actually done some very important work, I think, in the state legislature around protecting students from potential predators within schools.
Rep. Taylor: Yeah. I served eight years in the Texas legislature before I came here—four the Texas House and four in the Texas Senate. During my time in the state Senate, I became aware of and concerned about sexual predators, in the form of teachers. And that’s a very rare group of people. Most teachers are absolutely terrific, but some of them do take advantage of their position and, unfortunately, molest the children that they’re put in charge of teaching. And I worked on a bipartisan basis in the Texas legislature to end giving pensions to those teachers who molest children and … that we believe were actually collecting a pension while they were sitting in their jail cell, and wanted to bring an end to that. And we’re actually doing research on figuring out if that’s going on here at the federal level as well.
Mr. Jekielek: OK. Let’s shift gears one more time. You’re actually involved in a number of different areas. Especially this new Entrepreneurship Caucus, which a big issue. You know, we’re seeing record numbers and small business optimism. How is the Entrepreneurship Caucus going to help in all this?
Rep. Taylor: Well, the Entrepreneurship Caucus is actually a bipartisan caucus. Joe Neguse—a Democrat from Colorado—and I are the co-heads of that caucus. And we’re looking at various legislation and talking to different job creators.
Small business creates the majority of the new jobs that are created in our country, and the new technologies. There was a time when Amazon was just an idea. There was a time that even a big company like GE started as a small company. All big, great companies start as smaller companies, and you want to continue to foster those small companies and the growth in that space.
My experience in Texas was, if you keep taxes low, keep regulations light, if you keep litigation to a minimum, you’ll see companies prosper, you’ll see them do well. And certainly, at the federal level, I think there’s some things that we can do here.
Mr. Jekielek: So let’s talk about this. You’re gaining this reputation of someone that likes to work in a bipartisan fashion. Given the inordinate focus on the Mueller investigation, and then on the report, and basically the focus of the Democrats. You’re Republican. … How is it possible to be bipartisan in this kind of an environment?
Rep. Taylor: You know, in my time in my eight years in the state legislature, I passed 81 bills into law. Everyone had bipartisan support. So I had a very strong track record of reaching across the aisle, working toward a consensus solution to a real problem whether it was helping military voting, whether it was dealing with a tax issue, whether it was reducing regulations, whether it was carrying the governor’s ethics package, [or] protecting victims of domestic violence. Again and again and again, there are areas and issues that you can work on, where there’s bipartisan support.
Now, it takes time, it takes work, it takes effort. You have to build relationships to achieve those kinds of changes. And that’s certainly something I’ve been … when I ran for Congress, I told my voters I’m going to work on a bipartisan basis to try to get things done. I’m a conservative; I’m a Republican. Make no mistake about that. But just because you’re a Republican and conservative doesn’t mean you can’t support your own principles, and get things done that are going to help the American people.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, this is a fantastic place to end, actually, a powerful message. And also, you know, I wish you the best of success in that.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.