As a career military officer, protecting America has been the focus of my entire adult life. I understand national security and I know the sacrifices that we as a nation and as individuals must make to keep America safe and free.
Our foreign policy must be directly linked not only to our national security but also to our interests, which are defined by our American values—those enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution. 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 the freedoms of speech, religion and the press. After fighting for my country and representing America around the globe, I know firsthand that we need a professional, modern military that is ready to stand up when the nation calls—and that understands and represents our American values.
Changing Global Environment
We must have leaders who understand how the world environment is changing and how it will affect our security. America is not in decline: we still produce more than 20 percent of the global GDP and we lead alliances that together represent two thirds of world GDP and world military spending. However, economic power is shifting from West to East. Nations in the East like China will have more money for its military and more power. Additionally, world population demographics are rapidly changing. The populations of Western nations are aging. A youth bulge in developing nations, along with rapid urbanization in certain regions, is creating ungoverned spaces that have the potential to breed radical extremism and crime and can serve as the platforms for future attacks on the United States. Today, non-state actors are using emerging technologies to proliferate their ideology and to physically attack our networks. Furthermore, non-state actors could attack us and our allies, using new weapons we can only imagine today.
The major concern for the security of our nation remains the threat of a nuclear device in the hands of a violent non-state actor—so we must be relentless when it comes to seeking nuclear nonproliferation around the world. Additionally, many serious threats to our security—information warfare, pandemic disease, the diffusion of violent extremist ideology, and climate change—cannot be resolved with more fighter jets and aircraft carriers. My three post-911 combat tours taught me that not only do we need a strong military, but we must invest in a strong diplomatic corps and in international development. It is the cheapest insurance policy we can buy as a country. I agree with former Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, when he says that if we don’t help our allies, then we’ll only wind up needing to “buy more ammunition.” This means fully funding the U.S. State Department, USAID, and developing a robust platform of international development and assistance.
Article I of our Constitution grants Congress (not the president) the sole power to authorize the use of force. But Sen. Mitch McConnell’s lack of leadership has allowed the Senate to shirk its oversight responsibility, standing by for 20 years as we lose thousands of service members in combat and the costs of war multiply. We need leaders who will take this oversight responsibility seriously, regardless of political party and regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.
As someone who has fought in these wars, I will demand that Congress do its job. All major military actions overseas (not defensive in nature) must be explicitly approved by Congress—and therefore, the American public. We must not go to war against Iran without a vote. The U.S. should only be allowed to pursue jihadists around the globe after the Director of National Intelligence certifies that they are connected, organizationally or doctrinally, to al-Qaeda and ISIS. Vague references to a common ideology shouldn’t be enough to allow any president to launch new wars. We owe this to our military and to our military families, who have sacrificed again and again over the past two decades.
The world has seen many failed alliances (League of Nations, Warsaw Pact), but NATO isn’t one of them. I’ve worked with NATO countries during my deployments. NATO has only invoked Article 5 once—when the alliance stood with us after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They were all right there with us, in tents in Afghanistan, and we need to be there for them. This is as critical now as it ever was at the height of the Cold War, as Russian aggression threatens borders, disinformation campaigns slink into the electoral processes of democratic nations, and we become more and more connected by the flow of information and goods.
We live in an interconnected world. We need strong alliances to face the global challenges ahead, and NATO is the most capable alliance in world history. The alliance includes members that together account for more than half of all global military spending, and it’s critical because it’s values-based. Freedom, democracy, rule of law, and liberty are pillars of the organization. At the same time, we must think practically about the benefits and drawbacks to an eastern expansion of NATO. Given Russian actions, we must make clear-eyed assessments about how NATO expansion could reshape the geopolitical map.
The 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 have to use our diplomatic powers, and we must get creative in holistic, multi-level responses that directly involve local leaders and the very citizens who suffer most at their hands. We cannot defeat ISIS and Islamic extremism until we defeat the idea of ISIS—and until those citizens on the ground are supported and equipped in their efforts to combat and root out all forms of extremism and terrorism.
The only way to realistically counteract ISIS, jihadist groups, and terrorism writ large is through a combination of force (when needed), and by empowering local leaders—particularly women leaders and the families and networks that they represent—to address challenges and find solutions. We also need to work to develop areas that serve as breeding grounds for extremists. Developing disadvantaged areas, where young citizens have few options and deep frustrations, means pressing states and leaders to develop the institutions and mechanisms that develop good governance, electoral legitimacy, and open the doors to include more perspectives and voices in government.
After the defeat of the ISIS caliphate, we should be pushing for sustainable political solutions in places like Syria and Iraq. We cannot afford to keep shifting our policy in the region. This approach shamefully abandoned our Kurdish allies, left our troops vulnerable, gave Russia and Iran more influence, emboldened ISIS and groups that might follow the template that it set, and left the world wondering if the U.S. is a reliable partner.
We will never achieve any lasting success in Afghanistan unless we can help make Afghanistan’s government function better. Afghanistan will never be a Jeffersonian democracy, but we can define success by protecting the American homeland while helping to expand the Afghan government’s capacity. We can do that with a small presence in Afghanistan for a few continued years.
To accomplish this, we need leaders with a robust understanding of the conflict—leaders who will push the administration to utilize other government agencies, not just military force, leaders who recognize that problems this entrenched run deep and require complex, multifaceted solutions. If there is one takeaway I’ve gained after fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq in multiple combat deployments, it’s that the military cannot “win” this alone. Success will require various elements of national power, some of which, such as diplomacy and development agencies, have been vastly underfunded in recent years by members of Congress who fail to understand the nature of the threats we face today.
Iran and its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps continue to destabilize the Middle East today. Iran is now moving toward further enrichment of uranium and doing so with better centrifuges than they had before—which should never have happened. The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the “Iran deal,” was implemented to prevent this scenario from happening—which is why Secretary of Defense Mattis, like so many others, said that pulling out of that deal was not in our interest.
The current administration’s approach has led to some tactical success in applying economic pressure, and so far he’s kept us out of war there, but there’s no realistic endgame. Kicking the can down the road for short-term gains today is not the path to security—not now, and not for our children. The goal now should be to bring back the kind of limitations on Iran’s nuclear program that existed in the last administration’s “Iran deal” but to extend them indefinitely, in exchange for a lifting of the relevant sanctions on Iran.
After having operated in the Middle East for many years as a U.S. Marine, I’ve grown to appreciate the unique security requirements and challenges 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 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with nuclear warhead capabilities that can hit the U.S. Everyday he gets closer to fulfilling that promise—a pattern that began during the presidency of George W. Bush. Sen. McConnell has done little to address the critical threat to our country and our allies that Kim Jong-Un and his murderous regime represent. The U.S. could use its 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. 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 U.S. vs. North Korea. We need a multi-national approach and should be developing such an option today.
Russia poses an existential threat to the United States due to its nuclear weapons and its pattern of behavior over the past several years. Russia’s aggression in Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria has been alarming—and we must pay attention. Russia is more assertive in the Arctic as well, likely the most important geostrategic zone of competition in the coming decades. I support the U.S. providing defensive arms to Ukraine and exerting more pressure on Moscow using economic sanctions. We need leaders willing to patiently but consistently stand up to Russian aggression, including keeping our commitments to allies like Ukraine, not undermining them or making their security—and ours—contingent upon partisan goals.
Additionally, we know that Russia tried to undermine one of our greatest treasures, our democratic process. This was an attack within our borders on the very linchpin of our democratic stability. Our intelligence agencies—FBI, CIA, and NSA—all agree that Russia is continuing these efforts. Additionally, Russian fingerprints were all over elections in Europe last year, and efforts appear to be ramping up in advance of the 2020 U.S. elections. U.S. government efforts to prevent Russia from conducting influencing operations directed at America have largely failed. Mitch McConnell has done very little to curb the spread of disinformation online. As an American, I’m disappointed that Congress has failed to address this national security threat and deeply concerned given what is at stake. I will support legislation to protect our election process from foreign interference, legislation that Sen. McConnell single-handedly blocked for months.
China has been rapidly expanding its military. It has been adding to its Navy 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.
At the same time, the U.S. has a special interrelated economic relationship with China, and we need to work with China to stem North Korea’s nuclear weapons progress. I will stand for alliances and organizations that our Greatest Generation built after WWII. They create stable international relations and peaceful competition that is in America’s long-term interests. I support current efforts at trade agreements, not trade wars, because these agreements give us leverage and a common goal, and can foster stable relations. When the U.S. pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we lost strategic and economic influence in the Pacific and created a vacuum that China is all too eager to fill. It is critical that we work with our allies and partners in the region to counter China’s advances and ensure the region remains democratic and focused on human rights.