Nevada matters in this presidential election cycle not just because it is a swing state and will help to determine our country’s next president. It is also critical because Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is retiring, putting a senate seat up for grabs. The composition of Congress will determine the extent to which the next president can pursue his or her ambitions.
Congressman Joe Heck, the Republican candidate for Senate, shares his party’s economic fundamentalism, its knee-jerk and half-witted opposition to “government,” and its fealty to the corporate interests who would poison our water, soil, and air if they could get away with it. He has participated in the Republican effort to sabotage the functioning of the federal government to bring to life their self-evidently absurd claim that “government doesn’t work.”
Former state attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto is the Democrat hoping to replace Reid in the senate. While the state is losing clout either way, Masto is clearly a more reasonable candidate with a worldview that is simultaneously more humane and closer to reality.
However, I have major misgivings about her international policy outlook. For many Americans, international policy is almost inconsequential when compared to cultural and domestic policy. But as the Iraq war demonstrated--and continues to demonstrate--so vividly, a single bad foreign policy decision can contribute massively to a deficit (sidelining or derailing other policy priorities), create ‘blowback’ that imperils American citizens, diminish U.S. influence in the world, and create violence and instability that affects our global family.
Senators should offer coherent thoughts about international policy and demonstrate understanding of the consequences that U.S. actions have around the world. They should understand the risks of war and have views about how to sustain and develop peace.
Our next president is likely to be Hillary Clinton. As Senator and Secretary of State, Clinton came down on the wrong side of virtually every major decision involving questions of war and peace. She supported the ruinous invasion of Iraq that led to the predictable proliferaiton of international terror. She advocated for a surge in Afghanistan without offering concrete objectives. She beat the war drums to intervene in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. And she has supported the engorgement of the national security state, absent proper mechanisms for oversight and accountability.
In short, Clinton has supported aggressive war, advocated intervention, and acted as a proponent of the idea that the U.S. has the right and responsibility to transform the states and peoples world according to its own desires, using force.
Based on this dangerous and destructive record, a Clinton presidency promise great peril for the U.S. and other global citizens. Although international policy affords presidents greater leeway than domestic policy, responsible members of the House and Senate in particular should use every tool at their disposal to reduce the recklessness and short-sightedness that has defined U.S. foreign policy. They should provide sharp oversight, and they should seek to ensure that the U.S. conducts international policy in the most moral, farsighted, clear, accountable, and logical fashion possible.
Cortez Masto’s “issues” page does little to inspire confidence that she is up to this challenge as yet.
In the first instance, her only commentary on international policy is framed as “national security.” The two are certainly linked, but this particular blinkered vantage point is responsible for much of the myopia infecting policymaking, and for the inability to understand how U.S. actions have ramifications elsewhere in the world that at least in the last several decades have been more and more likely to create new and worse threats to our country.
One of the few substantial pieces of policy Cortez Masto mentions is backing for using the “no fly” list to restrict gun ownership. It is certainly important to introduce serious and restrictive gun laws. But using a list and mechanism--the ‘no fly’ list--that has been proven time and again to violate liberties, mis-identify people, and provide no justification for its actions is wrong, and a good example of abusing national security law to reach a desired end as the lazy escape from developing consensus and writing good public policy. Instead of strengthening a flawed list and using it as the basis for more policy, senators should craft careful, logical, and pointed policy to make Americans safer. Nevada and the country need better than the approach Cortez Masto advocates here.
More consequential are Cortez Masto’s comments on international terrorism. “ISIS is determined to continue to attack us,” she writes, “and we must destroy them before innocent lives are taken. This starts by Congress declaring war on ISIS. We also need to directly arm and train the Iraqi Kurds to help combat ISIS, as well as increase targeted air strikes and continue supporting our allies in the region to root out terrorism.”
This statement is one part vapid homily and one part incredibly dangerous commitment.
A U.S. war to defeat ISIS is a dangerous proposition that requires serious thought. A war on ISIS will not be won by air strikes. It would involve ground operations in multiple states with which we have very different current and historical relations. We would have to define whether this would be a unilateral, or coalition-based endeavor, or a serious multilateral effort backed by legitimate international organizations (i.e. the United Nations). It would require intense negotiations with states with their own interests in the region (ranging from Turkey and Jordan to Russia and Iran). And if it had any prospect of actual success, it would require a level of commitment (including post-conflict commitment) that Americans need to be alerted to and clear about.
Some of our allies in the region--Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, for example--are ruthless in their opposition to democratic politics. Their authoritarianism is directly responsible for the rise of international terror before 9/11, and for the ability of terror groups to replace civil society organizations in the aftermath of the Arab Spring as the core agents of regional change. Our backing of these states is directly responsible for the terrorism that has affected many of our own citizens.
Cortez Masto’s statements might come in part from a place of ignorance, which would hopefully be rectified by some time in office. But they might also be defined by a desire to say something that is popular, without being either practical or responsible.
The latter suggests a willingness to latch on to policy prescriptions associated with the kind of groupthink that has dominated U.S. foreign policymaking for ill. It suggests that the senator has not reached out to people with a variety of viewpoints, and is disinclined to ask the kinds of probing questions that--if asked by senators like Hillary Clinton in 2002-3--might have prevented a rush to catastrophic war in Iraq.
Or it might be that Cortez Masto has no interest in foreign policy.
But a lack of interest and a concomitant willingness to go along with conventional wisdom is what opens the door to executive abuse of power when it comes to international policy. It is that attitude which lengthens and frays the leash we have on a national security apparatus that has shown itself to be prone to abusing its powers out of keeping with the public interest.
There is time before November for Cortez Masto to reach out to Nevadans and convince them that she is willing to take seriously the part of her prospective job that involves thinking about a complicated world, checking the excesses of the national security state, and moderating the extreme and dangerous foreign policy views of her party’s presidential nominee.
Until then, at least some of us will maintain qualms about supporting an otherwise good candidate.