(May 20, 2019 / JNS) Republican Rep. Van Taylor defeated Democrat Lorie Burch in Texas’ 3rd Congressional District in the 2018 midterm elections to replace retiring longtime Republican Rep. Sam Johnson.
Previously, he served in both houses of the Texas state legislature.
Taylor, 46, fought in Iraq as part of the U.S. Marine Corps and was a captain during “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
He and his wife, Anne, have three children.
JNS talked with Taylor in person. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What’s your overall stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship, having served overseas, specifically in Iraq?
A: Israel is a great ally of the United States. It’s important that the United States stand up for its allies, particularly when you’re on the front lines. There’s little doubt that Israel is fighting efforts by Iran to be a hegemonic power in the Middle East. They’re certainly seeking to attack Israel on a regular basis. You want to help your friends fight your enemies. In the same sense, you’d stand up for South Korea in defense against the North Koreans or Taiwan [from China] or be part of NATO, I see that as an important alliance. The United States needs to continue to be an ally of Israel.
Discussed importance of US – Israel missile defense programs w/ constituents in town from Allen, Frisco, & Plano. The US-Israeli partnership is an essential component of our national security strategy. As Israel faces mounting threats our support is more important than ever. pic.twitter.com/uVNbIHRc3k
— Rep Van Taylor (@RepVanTaylor) March 27, 2019
Q: How many times have you been to Israel?
A: I was there last year in April.
Q: Can you elaborate on your trip?
A: As a Christian, it was a deeply moving experience, particularly to be in Galilee and to walk the same path that Jesus had walked. From a military perspective, I was really taken aback by how small Israel is and how surrounded it is by different enemies. In my time in the Golan Heights, I was somewhat surprised to see Syrians shelling each other that particular day. Having been in an artillery unit, and having studied weapons and tactics, realizing that we were in range of the artillery battery that was firing that day from Syria into Syria, and realizing it wasn’t difficult to turn traces of an artillery piece and fire into Israel.
Q: What is your reaction to the president’s modified announcement that most U.S. troops will withdraw from Syria? You and Congressman Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) introduced bipartisan legislation on this matter.
A: I was concerned with the thought that perhaps America will withdraw all forces from Syria. On one hand, I certainly don’t like having to be overseas. I remember being there myself and wanting to come home. That’s a normal impulse. But at the same time, in Syria, you have the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] fighting against not only ISIS, but fighting against the [Bashar] Assad regime, which is supported by Iran and Russia. They’re literally fighting everyone who we’re fighting.
My first press conference as a member of Congress was being the leading Republican sponsor of a bipartisan bill with Congressman Malinowski, calling for a responsible withdrawal from Syria, and making sure that we are winning and continuing to have forces.
I was glad to see the administration rethink its policy and to reiterate its support for the SDF. It’s important to remember that last month, the SDF defeated ISIS as a territorial concern. They no longer control battle space, but they’re still active, and they’ll be there for a while. And 11,000 Syrians gave their lives to free Syria of ISIS, and they did that because of Americans providing equipment, training, and the munitions they needed to conduct that.
Ultimately, when you do that, you create and advise these organic forces. Those people care about the region, their homeland.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Lebanese Armed Forces, which have worked with Hezbollah?
A: Hezbollah is a proxy force for the Iranians. Iran is attempting to be a hegemonic power within the region. I was in the very first days of the invasion of Iraq. The Iranians put spies forward to try to start riots, and they did it. Iran is fighting in Syria, and they’re supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. You’ve got to take that on a holistic basis and say we’ve got to push back against Iran where they are and continue to fight against them because they’re literally everywhere.
Q: There are reports this week that the Trump administration could send as many as 120,000 U.S. troops to the Mideast. Already, two warships with fighter jets have been deployed, in addition to a Patriot missile battery, to the Gulf.
A: In 2003, I was part of the 150,000 American force that liberated Iraq. Putting substantial conventional forces on the ground to conduct a military operation like the liberation of Iraq is a tremendous strain on the U.S. military. We’re fighting a war against terror literally around the world, and in order to be successful at that, you’re going to have to be more efficient in the way you apply your military forces. The United States is the most powerful military force in the world, but there is a limit to what we can do. The way we’re now conducting the war on terror by using advisers, who then in turn advise forces that are the big forces, is the right way to do it. You’re seeing that in Afghanistan, where a couple thousand Americans helping hundreds of thousands of Afghan National Army forces. You’re seeing that in Iraq, where you’re seeing a couple thousand Americans supporting hundreds of thousands of Iraqi forces. You’re seeing that in the Horn of Africa. You’re seeing that in Syria.
Q: You mentioned coalition-building. Would you support a plan to send 120,000 U.S. troops to the Mideast?
A: There is reporting that the Iranians are conducting a series of attacks against the United States. It depends on the size and scale of those attacks. Iranian actions are concerning. I don’t want to have to send large amounts of forces to go and conduct a conventional operation against the Iranians. That’s not my first choice. We have to be prepared to defend ourselves and the world.
Q: Does the United States need a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force to combat Iranian forces?
A: Right now, the AUMF that we passed in 2001 is adequate. You may see a situation that would call for a new AUMF, but I don’t see a need for a new one now.
Q: What was your reaction to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps being officially designated by the United States as a terrorist organization?
A: Spot on. They are a terrorist organization. That should have been done a long time ago.
Q: Should America officially designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization?
A: That is a much more disparate organization geographically. There are different parts that actually, at times, have a pro-American bent to them. But there are certainly pieces of the Muslim Brotherhood that are not. It’s a bigger, more diverse movement. I’m not sure you can really stipulate. Like declaring Islam a terrorist movement; no, most Muslims are not terrorists. You don’t want to paint a broad brush.
Q: What’s your reaction to some of the anti-Israel verbiage coming from Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib?
A: Israel is an ally. I’m certainly passionate about that, continued support. Other than that, their behavior is not something I agree with.
Q: You opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Is the administration doing enough to combat the regime?
A: The Iran deal was a serious mistake. For the diplomats that negotiated that, they said it’s the best deal we can get. I appreciate that, but that still doesn’t mean that’s a deal you should take. You’ve seen no change in Iran’s posture towards the world. It has not made them peaceful. It has not made them less a state sponsor of terrorism.
In my time in the state legislature, I crafted and passed two bills. One was a state divesture and the second was state contracting laws that banned any of the State of Texas’s school districts and cities and counties from investing in companies that do business with Iran or contracting with companies that do business with Iran. That is a powerful tool that has had an effect.
Q: What is your stance on BDS?
A: In the state legislature in Texas, I was proud to vote against the BDS movement. Here in Congress, it’s already come up a couple different times. BDS is an effort to go after Israel, and [Israel is] an ally who we need to support. They’re in a tough spot. We need to stand by them.
Q: What’s your response to those, like some Democrats and the ACLU, who cite free speech concerns over anti-BDS legislation?
A: That will work its way through the courts. I know Texas recently enacted a modified BDS bill. At the end of the day, it’s incumbent on Americans to stand by its friend and ally. It is disturbing to watch people who don’t want to support Israel, and I don’t fully understand why you wouldn’t want to support your friend certainly when they are fighting your enemies. And that’s what they’re doing today.
Q: What is your stance on funding for Israel’s military, especially in the aftermath of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict?
A: It’s about how you’re going to think about military power. If you can support local forces that are going to conduct the bare of the brunt of the burden, you’re helping support fighting America’s enemies. I see America as a stronger country for helping allies than it is for doing the fighting itself. Helping the Israeli military conduct its fighting is smart foreign policy, and it is critical for the survival of Israel.
Q: What is your stance on taxpayer funding for the Palestinian Authority, even for humanitarian purposes?
A: There is a case to be made for the humanitarian component. It is disturbing that we cannot seem to get the Palestinians to back off their absolute-bent hatred towards Israel.
Q: What was your reaction to the United States relocating its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
A: I’m going to give a lot of credit to U.S. President [Donald] Trump for his leadership and vision on that. There were a lot of people who did not want him to do that. They were shocked that he did that. There were forces within our own government that wanted to slow play that and to make that drag out, but he was able to drive that through and make it happen rapidly. It was the right thing to do for Israel.
Q: What was your reaction to America recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights?
A: Having been to the Golan last year, it’s abundantly clear to me that there is a strategic value to the Golan Heights and the way that the Syrians abused that sovereign space. The Syrians can mount an attack from the Golan Heights into Israel. Israel fought back, seized the Golan Heights. It is something Israel needs to have not from an economic point of view, rather from a military, safety point of view. You got to have that battle space. You cannot allow the Syrians to be able to set up all their assets on the Golan Heights.
Q: How do you feel about the latest waves of anti-Semitism at home and abroad?
A: It is disturbing to me, the rise of anti-Semitism. Being in Congress, I’m surprised it’s coming out of some of the members of Congress. I was happy to see the Republican response to some disconcerting comments made by a Republican [Iowa Rep. Steve King]. He was immediately stripped of his committees and basically put in the penalty box.
I was disconcerted by an unequal response within the Democrat Party. That is the most disturbing thing to me: that there are people that have anti-Semitic thoughts.
For those of us who believe that’s wrong, we should step up and do the right thing.