Columns > The Mashup
Texas Representative Rick Noriega, candidate for John Cornynís U.S. Senate seat
you’ve found that any sort of free time is at a premium now.
Boy, isn’t that the truth. Even when I go powder my nose,
I’ve got to continue to work.
about why you would want to take that on. The page where you announce
that you’re running, you refer to the American Revolution. Do
you feel like we’re at another revolutionary moment in our
No, I think it’s just inherent in us as Americans that when
stuff is off-kilter, that each and every one of us is duty-bound to
stand up and say so. The same is true you could say with the Battle of
the Alamo — you got people that drew a line in the sand and
said, hey, we’re headed in the wrong direction, and
we’re gonna stand up and say so.
I think the Alamo is a
sort of complicated symbol for a lot of Mexican-Americans. On the one
hand it stands for independence, and all those great values, and on the
other hand, I think some people feel well, in retrospect, Mexico
wasn’t treated very well in all of that.
Well, you were thinking what you were thinking. [Laughter.] But if
you’ll recall, do you remember what the year on the flag was?
It’s 1826, the flag that was flown. And you remember why they
flew that flag with that particular year on it is because the
government was in violation of the constitution. So you had a dictator
that was not adhering to the tenets of the constitution, so you had
folks standing up against that.
talking dictators, let’s come back to the things you feel are
out of whack right now. You mention ...
I certainly hope you’re not gonna quote me as referring to
the Commander in Chief as a dictato ... we’re not doing that
No, absolutely not. That
was a reference I made, not a reference you made.
One of the things you
mention on your website that you think is out of whack is the war on
Well, first and foremost on the war on terror, we lost focus from
actually curbing the war on terror, or at least dealing with the
component of the war on terror that we currently face, the operational
aspect. What I mean by that is, we took our eye off the ball when we
were in Afghanistan. One of my colleagues in the House used to like to
say, you got to kill the snake while you’ve got the hoe in
your hand, and we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, we lost
focus, we had this unilateral effort in Iraq, and now what’s
happened is that the command and control component of al Qaeda has been
allowed to reconstitute. Now, have we made the problem better or worse?
I think the latest intelligence report that was just issued two weeks
ago talks about that the problem is worse.
Here’s one thing that’s really important to note:
Whenever we declare as a nation a war on something — the war
on drugs, the war on poverty, the war on homelessness — when
you say it’s a war on something, that means it is something
that will continue that you don’t ever quite completely
eradicate. It’s kind of like, you don’t know when
another Timothy McVeigh is gonna pop up; those things occur
unfortunately in our society. However, when we’re dealing
with a particular element of a fundamentalist group that wants to do
away with what we believe, who we are, how we function, then there are
ways to deal with that particular radical element. There have been
papers that have rightly talked about — and I’m
kind of getting off into, I don’t know if you wanted this
much or not ...
Absolutely. Keep going.
You know, it is not gonna be a Western fix to an Islamic problem. It
has to be an Islamic fix to an Islamic problem. What that means then is
we have to support efforts to resource and support those moderate
efforts within their own arena, with the emphasis on the education of
women, the push for more secular religious teaching, the push for more
moderate Islamic organizations, so that they can then work on
eradicating this Islamic fundamentalism which is really at odds with
the rest of the world.
So would you say any
religion can have a more radical element to it, so it’s not
that you think all of Islam is a problem ...
Oh, without question. In fact, it is pretty well fact-driven that
[non-]monotheistic societies function better than when you have these
monotheisms that try to eradicate everyone else. In this country and in
other countries, the tolerance for multiple religions is what allows
for people to live in peace and harmony. But when you do have these
monotheisms, there is a lot of research that suggets they try to take
everybody else out.
A theocracy as opposed to
a pluralistic society, a pluralistic society is more peaceful.
Correct. In fact the more we push in some ways, the more we embolden
those that are on the extremes of that particular religion, we make
them stronger in some ways. So we’ve got to support through
— not unilaterally, but with the international community,
because it’s an international problem, whether it’s
in France, Italy or, hell, London, you know just a few weeks ago. Or
Japan, wherever — we’ve got to internationally
approach a full-court press in allowing those within the Islamic faith
to help curb this fanaticism.
You spent time in
Afghanistan, post-9/11. What is your perception of Pakistan and their
It’s interesting. I think without question in that particular
area of Afghanistan, or rather Pakistan, they’ve been
harboring those elements of al Qaeda. Actually, they wanted their own
independence in those areas. But Pakistan, if you look back when the
post-Soviet Union fled Afghanistan, it was Pakistan that was really
pushing the Taliban and supporting the Taliban.
There was a point at
which we thought the Taliban looked like a pretty good alternative to
the Soviet Union.
Well, at that point we were in favor of anyone over the Soviet Union
... if you look we got diverted after the Soviets fled into the first
Gulf War. So when that whole restructuring of governments occurred
there, that was not on our front burner any longer.
Some of the problem is
this notion of anybody but this guy. You get so focused on one group as
your enemy that you’re not very careful about the alliances
you’re forming, or the other problems you might be creating
in your wake. Is that part of what’s happening with us in the
Middle East now? We’re making enemies of people that
weren’t and didn’t need to be our enemies.
Yeah, it’s a mess, and it’s historic and
it’s cultural, and it’s complicated. I had an
extensive visit with some folks from the Israeli consulate on this very
issue with the threat of Iran and their nuclear weapons and what that
means to destabilizing the region. We’re kind of in quicksand
right now, which does limit our I believe effectiveness and credibility
in the region. Our international behavior during this administration
— that is essentially Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rove-Cornyn, the
whole family — has just botched our international standing
and our credibility.
How do you think we
should be approaching Iran?
We’ve got to do everything we can, along with moderate Arab
countries and folks in the region and Israel to stop them from
producing nuclear weapons. Look, during this last eight years, the
North Koreans have nukes now, Iran has nukes. It doesn’t
sound like we’ve done too well, and I think it’s a
very dangerous situation. It’s dangerous for Israel,
it’s dangerous for the Arab Emirate, it’s dangerous
for all those that are in the range of Iran.
sound like you think a constructive relationship can be built with Iran
The problem is that they’re buying time right now,
they’re playing a stall game. And our problem as Americans is
that our credibility isn’t quite up to snuff ... there has to
be an international effort, there needs to be an economic crackdown so
that they don’t proceed, there has to be a lot of
international pressure. And if we go it alone like we have in the past,
I think it’ll turn out poorly.
about an international situation closer to home. You also spent time
down on the [Texas-Mexico] border. Is there really a security threat on
the border, or is it purely an economic issue with illegal immigration.
There is a security threat on the border, without question. It is
predominantly criminal-activity driven: human trafficking,
drug-trafficking, the economics of those is just extremely powerful and
there are bad people doing bad things. During my tenure, we were
working with Border Patrol, we were a part of the seizure of way over
10,000 pounds of marijuana, I don’t know how much cash, and I
don’t know how many hundreds of pounds of cocaine. As a
sovereign nation our first duty as a government is to keep our people
and their property safe.
Now what happens I think is that the current leadership —
President Bush, Cheney, Rove, Cornyn — they choose to deal
with the issue — maybe I wouldn’t evn put the
President in that quite frankly, because he has made attempts in a
bipartisan way to fix it, to fix an old law that no longer fits us in
2007. Then you have the junior senator from Texas, in the time
he’s had the opportunity to show leadership, chooses to be a
partisan versus a statesman. I believe at a macro level it is the
philosophy of leadership of either maintaining power or acquiring more
power politically by dividing people versus a philosophy of uniting
people for the common good, and that’s where we are just
diametrically opposed. If you’ll recall, two years ago, or
whenever the last election cycle was, Karl Rove went before the
Republican leadership in some venue and declared that if Democrats
wanted to make the war the issue for the election cycle, bring it on.
Well, they did, and the voice of the poeple was heard, and [the
Republicans] lost in the Senate and the House a number of seats.
Now, it is my view, because the war still is, and should be, a primary
concern — and why? Because we still have every day you pick
up the paper men and women dying, military families that are suffering
the significant load of this effort, you have the destabilization of
the Middle East and so forth — and so what then does the
[Republican] leadership do? They start beating the pots and pans on
immigration to change the subject on an issue that is very emotional
for the purpose of dividing us as Americans.
I find that irresponsible, because that issue that we agree is broken
is an issue that rational people can sit down and get out the other end
of working the problem. The problems are those issues dealing with
border security, curbing the criminal activity and those migration
patterns, dealing with unlawful employers, recognizing that this
country is getting ready to retire maybe 60 million baby boomers, and
we’re gonna need people to do work, recognizing the issue
that you’ve got 12 million peope here that are not going
anywhere — you’re not going to load them up on
boxcars. Mr. Cornyn has suggested some type of touch-back provision,
which will further drive people into the shadows. Most recently in
today’s paper he talked about trying to go after people who
have violated visas. There are people in that category that are among
those 12 million that have been here an extremely long time which means
then that you’re going to separate families, you’re
going to take mothers and fathers away from their children.
You’ve got the issue that has not been addressed in my view,
which deals with the supply aspect of the labor market.
You’ve got this migration pattern going on from south to
north all over the world, from poor to rich. When you have such a
disparity in economies as we have in this hemisphere — and I
believe part of our foreign policy in terms of the aid dollars that we
provide should be in a hemispheric way with other folks in the area
that much like a Marshall Plan — or a Noriega Plan
— that would look at ways, not through the government,
non-government organizations within the hemisphere to put those dollars
into infrastrcture, work jobs, in Mexico, in Central America, that
allows for someone then to work on building roads, hospitals, clinics,
schools, to work with dignity. They may not be able to make the same
amount of dollars they would make here, but they would be able to make
a decent living where they would certainly be influenced not to leave
their family, not to take a life-threatening trip.
I think we thought NAFTA
was going to fix that for us. That was part of the selling point ...
That was part of the selling point. For whatever reason, and
that’s part of the issue in those countries, the trickle
efect didn’t quite trickle. And that’s why
I’m saying you can’t do this kind of effort through
the government, because the dollars will get stuck upstream.
suggesting private economic development, but also the participation of
nonprofit development agencies?
I’m thinking an NGO within a hemispheric context. These are
ideas that I think Democrats and myself and Republicans can sit down
and work through to get out the other end.