On Wednesday, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) representing California’s 50th district made one of the most audacious and extreme statements that has been uttered by a congressman in the modern age. During an interview with C-SPAN, Hunter stated “I think if you have to hit Iran, you don’t put boots on the ground, you do it with tactical nuclear devices and you set them back a decade or two or three. I think that’s the way to do it with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.”

As a San Diegan and proud veteran of the United States Air Force where I served as a Nuclear Weapons Systems Specialist during both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I find Hunter’s brazen comments deeply disturbing, unproductive, and completely ignorant of U.S. nuclear policy. Not only do his remarks do great and immediate harm to our State Department’s ongoing mission of negotiating nuclear policy with Iran but his comments run the risk of putting the entire Middle East on the defensive. When a United States Congressman or any U.S. government official advocates for a first-strike nuclear action it puts our brave men and women serving overseas in greater danger of retaliatory action.

The idea that Hunter would make such a statement should be is an embarrassment for all San Diegans, and he should be held accountable.  Even more inexcusable is that Hunter currently serves on the House Armed Forces Committee and is currently a Reserve Officer in the Marines. Simply put, Hunter should know that there is a delicate balance between show of force and diplomacy in resolving conflict. He should know that placing a nuclear first-strike option on the table is not only grossly inappropriate but serves to only inflame tensions in an already unstable region and could result in permanent damage to the disarmament process. In an article in The Diplomat, Zachary Keck remarks that, “(Hunter’s statement) will almost certainly be seized upon by Iranian leaders, particularly hardliners who will use it to press their case against giving up Iran’s nuclear program." Hunter's comments only serve as a toxic distraction from what is an already incredibly complicated process. 

In case Hunter has forgotten, U.S. nuclear policy revolves around the simple idea that we would NEVER use nuclear weapons as an offensive measure and they instead exist solely aa a deterrent against nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks against the citizens or interests of the United States. Hunter’s foolish comments undercut sixty years of work towards nuclear non-proliferation.

When we give voice that our elected officials believe that a first-strike nuclear attack is an acceptable course of action we condone equally audacious statements from foreign officials like those from former Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s calls for the wholesale destruction of Israel. The U.S. and our allies have rightly expressed outrage to foreign leaders making bombastic statements, for example the EU condemning “calls for violence, and for the destruction of any state, are manifestly inconsistent with any claim to be a mature and responsible member of the international community.” We should live up to the standards to which we hold other countries.

I urge my fellow veterans and other concerned citizens to contact Rep. Hunter to let him know that his comments were deeply inappropriate and do nothing but further fan the flames of a delicate situation. Should Hunter wish to remain a relevant actor in assisting to bring a successful resolution to nuclear tensions in the Middle East he should start by retracting his statements and tone down the saber-rattling rhetoric.

Inacker is a veteran of the Untied States Air Force and has served as a White House advance associate. You can follow him at @jackinacker