“The most essential quality for leadership is not perfection, but credibility. People must be able to believe you.”
As a former military officer, protecting America was the business I lived in my entire adult life. Today, we face many global challenges that require us to have leaders who clearly understand the nature of our changing world.
Our foreign policy must be directly linked to our interests, which are defined by our American values. Our role in the world is unique and we must strive to be the champion of democratic movements, human rights (including women’s rights), justice, equality, opportunity, and freedoms of speech, religion and press. I fear our current President does not respect the values that tie us to our closest allies and partners and the significance of America being the “shining city on a hill.” After fighting for my country and representing America around the globe, I do understand this significance and I will constantly push to bring our American values back into our foreign policy.
CHANGING GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT
We must have leaders who understand how the world environment is changing and how it will affect our security.
Economic power is shifting from West to the East. Nations in the East like China, will have more money for its military and more power. World population demographics are rapidly changing. Western nations are becoming older. A youth bulge in developing nations, along with rapid urbanization in many parts of the globe, will create many ungoverned spaces that become the breeding ground for jihadist radicalism and crime and will be the platforms for future attacks on the United States. Non-state actors will use the rise of technology to proliferate their ideology and to physically attack our networks. Furthermore, non-state actors could potentially attack our allies, and us, using new weapons we are only imagining today. We need to maintain a strong military and a strong diplomatic and development corps.
Climate change is a national security issue. Climate change and resource scarcity is with us today. It’s not a theory, it’s a fact. For some reason, my opponent, and the Republican Party in general, have concluded this might be just a Chinese hoax. It’s not. Scientists around the world know it, and the United States military recognizes what science says and it is already testing, adapting, researching how to operate and succeed in these rapidly changing environments.
We are seeing the effects of it now: The Earth is getting warmer. Last summer was the hottest in history and 8 of the last 10 summers were the hottest in history. Sea levels are rising. This will not only affect massive numbers of people who live on the world’s coastlines, but this will affect our national security potentially more than any other factor.
Our naval bases around the globe are seeing the effects now. Ten times a year, floods cripple our Norfolk Naval Base. Key West Naval Air Station (where I learned to dogfight in the F/A-18) will be almost completely under water in the next 70 years. Weather patterns are changing. We are seeing hurricanes, floods, and fires in ways we’ve never seen before. Large parts of the world (Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia) are seeing dramatic desertification at an alarming rate. This means less food will be produced and large movements (migrations) of people will be forced out of the lands they occupy today. In the 20th century, we fought wars over values or economic clashes. In the 21st century, it will be over water and resources.
This is the world we will live in. This is the world our children and grandchildren will face. We can’t afford to be isolationist. We can’t afford to look other way, and we can’t afford to keep denying this challenge exists. This is the world's future and we have to adapt! We must lead the world in planning for the effects of climate change and working hard to mitigate them.
This should not be a political issue. This is an American issue and a global issue. We need leaders that get it.
“NATO isn’t the partner of last resort…it’s the partner of first resort.”
The world has seen many failed alliances (League of Nations, Warsaw Pact) – but NATO isn’t one of them… yet. I’ve worked with these nations during my deployments. NATO has only invoked Article 5 once and that was when the alliance stood with us after the attacks of September 11, 2001. They were all right there with us, in tents in Afghanistan, and we need to be there for them.
We live in an interconnected world, where a fruit vendor in Tunisia can start an uprising in an entire region! We need strong alliances to face the global challenges ahead, and NATO is the most capable alliance in world history. It’s critical because it’s values-based. Freedom, democracy, rule of law, and liberty are pillars of the organization.
NATO isn’t a business deal. It’s not about shared business interests, profit, and power. It’s about shared VALUES, and that’s what makes it so strong and powerful.
ISIL/ISIS AND RADICAL JIHADIST EXTREMISM
The growing threat of Salafi jihadist extremism is the fight I lived in for over a decade. Guns and bombs alone will not win this struggle. “Killing more terrorists” will not win this struggle. Inciting hate will not win this struggle. We have to be strategic. We cannot defeat ISIS and Islamic extremism until we defeat the idea of ISIS. Though we will not lose tactically on the battlefield, we must improve in our strategic communications.
This will be a long-term fight, and one where we must be patient. We cannot give them propaganda like President Trump’s Muslim Ban, which is fueling the jihadists’ rhetoric of the United States waging war on Islam. Every time US leadership makes strategic errors like this, ISIS gains more recruits for its cause, crushing our hard fought tactical gains on the battlefield. Ultimately, ISIS and the jihadist groups are a symptom of something larger: the deterioration of the human condition in many parts of the world today.
The only way to realistically counteract ISIS, and jihadist groups, is a combination of force and helping areas that are the breeding ground for jihadism. Helping means pressing states and leaders to develop the institutions and mechanisms that develop good governance, electoral legitimacy, and anything that broadens who is allowed political power and voice.
Furthermore, we must push for sustainable political solutions in places like Syria and Iraq. The full, and even greater funding of the US State Department, USAID, and development non-governmental organizations (NGO), is as important to our national security than simply a strong military. These agencies of our government must be equipped to partner with local actors to turn populations against extremism and build stronger deradicalization programs. That's the only thing that will turn the tide against jihadist groups. It will not happen with force alone, and it will not work simply by throwing money at local populations. We have to build the local capacity strategically, and this is something that USAID and State know how to do.
My opponent, who is on the House Financial Services Committee, voted to withhold funding for important institutions such as the World Bank that help development in Middle East countries. Actions like this show that many in Congress do not understand the strategic nature of the fight we are engaged in. Wars are expensive. Combating terrorism from failed states is expensive. Foreign development aid is the “cheapest insurance policy” we can buy as a country. I’m in full agreement with Secretary of Defense (and former General) James Mattis when he says, if we cut foreign aid, then we need to “buy more ammunition.”
(Read my published thoughts on preventative war and the Iraq invasion of 2003:
Despite what the current President has promised, we will never achieve any lasting success in Afghanistan unless we can help make Afghanistan’s government function better. Afghanistan will not be turned into a Jeffersonian democracy, but we can define success by simultaneously protecting the American homeland and expanding the Afghan government’s capacity. We can do that with a small presence in Afghanistan for a few continued years.
However, we need leaders with a robust understanding of this conflict who will push the Administration to utilize other government agencies, not just military. If there is one takeaway I’ve gained after fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq in multiple combat deployments, it’s this: the military cannot “win” this alone. It’s going to require various elements of national power, some of which have been vastly underfunded in recent years (diplomacy, development agencies) by members in Congress who haven’t a clue about the nature of the threats we face today.
Iran and its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps continue to be the largest destabilizing influence in Middle East today. Additionally, Iran was on its way to developing a nuclear weapon over the past decade and a half before the last administration’s attempts to halt Iran’s progress. There are lots of opinions on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the so-called “Iran deal”. After completing the 3-year Program for Emerging Leaders at the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction (National Defense University) and teaching a course on WMD at the US Naval Academy, I’ve studied the deal quite a bit.
The US along with the rest of the world (specifically the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany) successfully negotiated with Iran to constrain its growing nuclear program. Recently, our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dunford, said Iran is in compliance with its obligations under the deal, and Secretary of Defense Mattis has indicated that pulling out of the deal would not be in our interests. I am in full agreement with both.
The deal sharply constrains Iran’s nuclear program and provides for strict inspections that the international community has never been granted before. The best way to ensure a nation does not have nuclear weapon capability is through inspections. If the “Iran deal” goes away, the inspections will go away and we will have no way of knowing the extent of Iran’s nuclear capability. Additionally, the rest of the world will not reinstate sanctions if the US unilaterally pulls out.
Pulling out would be a loss for us on all fronts. Iran would get its economy back and be able to develop a nuclear weapon, while we would lose all of our credibility in seeking a diplomatic resolution to other conflicts such as the current North Korea nuclear crisis.
Bottom line: Diplomacy avoided another war in the Middle East and averted the kind of crisis we now face with North Korea. It’s working. Let’s not throw it away.
After having operated in the Middle East for many years as a US Marine, I’ve grown to appreciate the unique security requirements of our closest ally in the region, Israel.
I had the opportunity to spend the summer of 2015 in Israel leading a group of American cadets and midshipmen traveling with the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) to gain a further understanding of the region. The survival and security of Israel is in the United States’ interest and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fundamental to Israel’s security. Additionally, I’m in full support of maintaining Israel’s QME (Qualitative Military Edge) and strengthening our nation’s special relationship based on shared values.
Kim Jong-un has promised to build an ICBM with nuclear warhead capability to hit the US. Everyday we see him getting closer and closer to fulfilling that promise. It has been like this since President George W. Bush.
So, how do we handle it? Carefully, deliberately, and with all elements of national power.
We know Kim Jong-un is a cruel leader, but there is no evidence that he is suicidal, or cannot be deterred. His quest for nuclear weapons is spurred by one thing, the survival of his regime. We must recognize that North Korea has possessed formidable conventional, chemical, and biological capabilities for decades without using them. Kim knows that any large conflict would wipe his regime out, making it highly unlikely that he would start one. We shouldn’t either. A preventative war would be a disaster given the millions of innocent people (including thousands of Americans) who would be killed in South Korea and Japan. We need to be very deliberate and careful when dealing with this nuclear regime.
Our President prides himself on his unpredictability in foreign policy. Unpredictability between nuclear weapon capable states is extremely destabilizing. The President’s rhetoric and tweets are immensely dangerous to the well being of our people and our country.
The US has other options between doing nothing and all out war. We could use our offensive cyber capabilities to degrade North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, increase our missile defense capabilities in the region, or even coordinate a naval blockade to put an even tougher economic squeeze on the regime. No matter what we do, we should do it with the cooperation of our partners and allies as well as with the cooperation of China and Russia. China certainly does not wish to see a war on the Korean peninsula either. It is critical that the approach to North Korean nuclear progress should be a rest of the world vs. North Korea, not just a US vs. North Korea. World sanctions against Iran worked because they were not unilateral. We need the same multi-national approach here.
Our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has testified that Russia is the greatest threat to American security. Russia poses an existential threat to the United States due to its nuclear weapons and its behavior in the past several years has been disturbing. Russia’s aggression in Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria has been alarming. It’s becoming more assertive in the Arctic, likely the most important geostrategic zone of competition in the coming decades. The US should consider providing defensive arms to Ukraine and exerting more pressure on Moscow using economic sanctions. Additionally, we know that Russia tried to undermine one of our greatest treasures, that of our democratic process itself.
Right now, we need a 9/11-style commission to find out and address the extent of Russian involvement in the 2016 elections. This was an attack within our borders on the very linchpin of our democratic stability, and Russia will try it again. We need to know what happened, how and why it happened, and call it out with a response. As an American, I’m extremely disappointed the Republican majority in Congress has failed to address this national security threat.
Remember, we had 33 Congressional hearings exhausting all aspects of the Benghazi disaster in Libya. Where is the same emphasis to investigate this attack and our failure as a nation at defending against it? Our current administration is failing to take this threat seriously (for obvious reasons). It's Congress’ job to stand up, take action here when the President is unwilling to protect our American democratic elections.
China has been rapidly expanding its military. It has been adding to its Navy by 15 percent each year and expanding into the deep Pacific. It has aggressively built bases on islands and claimed parts of the South China Sea against international law in its quest for more natural resources. Here again, its critical that the US work with our allies and partners in the region to counter China’s advances and ensure the region remains democratically and human rights oriented.
At the same time, the US has a special interrelated economic relationship with China. We also need to work with China to stem North Korea’s nuclear weapon progress. When the current administration pulled out of the strategic partnership of the TPP, the US lost influence in the Pacific. If the United States is pushed out of Asia (which is what China would want), we would lose our influence in that crucial part of the world. China would gain more power, trade will be harder, we might not be in a position to respond should a major development occur.