How About Actual National Security Debate?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about US Senate candidates Gabriel Gomez and Ed Markey fighting over national security policy—but that’s not really been the case. They’ve been sniping about nonsense somewhere within a mudball’s-throw of national security; but nine-year-old meaningless resolution votes and 2012 MSNBC appearances on behalf of smear-mongering PACs don’t really say much about where the candidates stand on actual, serious national security issues.

That wide distance between the campaign dialog and the actual issues should have been apparent to all yesterday, when President Barack Obama delivered his most important speech of his Presidency on that precise topic. It did not exactly result in an elevation of the discussion.

So I decided to do something about it.

I contacted both campaigns and asked where they stood on three key policy positions taken by Obama in the speech. Here they are, along with my summary of the responses from the campaigns. I hope that we can soon hear the candidates discuss these views at greater length.

1) Does the candidate agree with Obama’s characterizations of a need to shift from “a boundless ‘global war on terror'” to “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America”—including Congressional refinement or repeal of the post-9/11 authorization of force?

Markey gives a pretty simple yes to this question, arguing that the “persistent global war on terror” needs to come to an end like any other war. Gomez strongly disagrees, seeing the shift as a dangerous approach. The US must continue to treat the individual fronts in the effort as part of a cohesive, global war strategy, he believes, because the various purveyors of terror are “very much united in their hatred for America and their desire to destroy freedom and democracy.”

2) Does the candidate agree with Obama’s plan to move the drone operation out of the CIA and under State Department control, with some process to limit or oversee the administration’s authority to launch drone strikes?

Both Gomez and Markey have generally positive reactions to Obama’s comments on the drone program, particularly the reassurances against use of armed drones within the US. Gomez wants very strict oversight and accountability for drone strikes generally, and is open to transferring that function to State. The Markey response did not address that specific proposal, but said that he wants detailed criteria for use of drone strikes, increased transparency, and oversight by Congress.

3) Does the candidate agree with Obama’s renewed statement of intention to close Guantanamo Bay?

This has been, and remains, a significant point of difference between the two. Markey strongly favors closing the Guantanamo camp as soon as possible, seeing it as a symbol of the Bush-era torture policies and an ongoing problem for US moral leadership. Gomez just as strongly opposes plans to close it, arguing that doing so would require moving dangerous terrorists into the United States.