Senate Candidates Debate Foreign Policy
Campaign 2012 -
Thursday, October 18, 2012 7:31 AM
The outcome of U.S. elections rarely hinges on foreign policy, but an onlooker might have thought differently if they attended the debate on held in Camden on Wednesday, October 10. Two hundred and twenty five people attended the debate between the senate candidates vying for Senator Olympia Snowe's seat.
Cynthia Dill, left, and Angus King, right
Mac Deford, chairman of the Midcoast Forum on Foreign Relations, moderated. Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill and Independent candidate Angus King answered questions on the U.S. economy, Iran and Syria, trade policies with China, defense cuts, the recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya and more.
Republican Senate candidate Charlie Summers did not attend; he cancelled two weeks before the debate. His campaign staff sent a brief statement on his foreign policy positions to The Free Press, which are included when relevant.
How would you influence U.S. economic leadership in world affairs given our large Chinese debt?
DILL - "If Charlie Summers was here he would go on and on and on about the debt and the deficit," she said, agreeing on the importance of the problems, but noting they were caused by the Bush tax cuts, unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the collapse of Wall Street.
"If we can get our hands around these three issues we can return our country to a responsible level of debt and deficit by implementing new policies, like extending Bush tax cuts for everyone up to $250,000 and repealing them for income earners above that mark," said Dill.
Dill supports a financial transaction tax on stock trades, arguing that Wall Street was largely responsible for the collapse and should help rebuild the economy.
"If I go into a shoe store and buy shoes for my kid and have to pay a five percent sales tax, why shouldn't somebody who sits in an office on Wall Street churning stocks and making trades to increase their coffers not contribute?"
Dill supports reforming the tax code, ending subsidies to oil and gas companies, investing in infrastructure, and reducing unnecessary military spending.
KING - "A kind of humorous way to think about the debt is to think about our treaty obligations with Taiwan. We are under obligations to defend Taiwan against China, the only problem is we would have to borrow money from China to defend Taiwan."
King noted that the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported to Congress last spring that the greatest threat to national security was the national debt. Economic models show that the United States will be in the same situation as Greece is now in 20 years if we don't make drastic changes, he said.
"Thirty-six cents of every dollar spent in Washington today is borrowed, it's unsustainable and it's a dagger hanging over our economy right now."
"We have to deal with it as part of putting our economy back on its feet," he said. "Finally, I think it's an ethical and moral problem; it's simply wrong for our generation of Americans to give ourselves tax cuts and to continue to expend way in excess of tax revenues and hand the bill to our children. It's bad economics, it's bad national security and it's bad ethically."
DILL - Dill rebutted by saying King continued to support the Bush tax cuts for everyone; a position that will continue to burden seniors and the middle class.
"I think it's time to say we can't afford the Bush tax cuts," said Dill.
KING - "My position on the Bush tax cuts is a little more subtle . . . I am not in favor of retaining the Bush tax cuts indefinitely."
Instead of having tax cuts expire on a specific date, they should expire once a benchmark of recovery is reached, said King. This would avoid a deadlock fight in Congress, since it would be an automatic trigger based on the state of the recovery while creating stability and predictability in the economy that would benefit businesses.
King pointed to what happened in Maine when the sales tax was increased to 6 percent, with a built-in trigger for it to go down a half percent when state revenues reached 8 percent, year after year.
"Indeed, that's what happened. There was no debate about it, it just happened," said King. "I do believe these tax cuts should be phased out, but should be according to what is happening in the economy."
DILL - Having a trigger that lowers sales tax is one thing, said Dill. Getting Congress to agree on a trigger that does away with tax breaks for the wealthy is a whole other level and one which she said is not viable.
Would you support the current adminstration position to cut the active military by 30,000 troops? Should we be downsizing our global military commitments and reconsidering our role as the world's policeman?
Background - According to the Department of Defense, the U.S. military has installations in seven U.S. territories and 38 foreign countries. The majority of the foreign sites are located in Germany (218 sites), Japan (115 sites), and South Korea (86 sites). There are currently about 50,000 soldiers in Germany and 38,000 in Japan, which has shown increasing resistance to a continued U.S. presence.
DILL - Dill said she supported troop reduction as proposed by the president and the Department of Defense and agrees with the strategic downsizing of our military worldwide.
"Angus won't tell us who he will caucus with, so we don't know for sure who he will stand behind and, yes, it does matter. The Democrats have one view on how to deal with military budgets and the Republicans have another. I'm going to support the president and those in Congress who want to reduce the military budget."
"Charlie Summers, who is not here, but I'll take the liberty of speaking for him, always talks about the debt and deficit as the main problems, but he supports increased military presence around the world."
Since the defense budget is a large part of the overall U.S. budget, Dill said it cannot be left untouched.
SUMMERS - In comments submitted by his campaign staff, Summers said that cuts to the Department of the Defense budget were "not off the table." He also noted that a strong military is crucial to our safety and prosperity and that he has "grave concerns about broadcasting to our enemies a hard deadline for when we plan to withdraw our troops" from Afghanistan.
Summers said that the failure of Congress to pass a budget for the past three years and to take significant steps to "rein in out-of-control spending has put our national security at risk."
KING - "Governor Romney has suggested defense spending should be 4 percent of GDP, which would be an enlargement from where we are now. I don't agree with that. I think you start with the threats and what you need to respond to, then build the budget accordingly," said King.
King does not support the president's approach, saying it puts too much responsibility on the National Guard as the first line of defense. National Guard troops are not compensated for nor did they anticipate multiple overseas deployments when they signed up, he said.
King said he would first look at whether it is in U.S. interst to continue having permanent troops deployed on foreign soil in places like Germany and Japan.
King also responded to Dill's question of who he would caucus with if he was elected, saying he would make his decisions on what he thinks is best for Maine and the country and not what Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid tell him.
"Nobody tells me how to vote except the people of Maine and in this question of caucusing, I want to be as independent as I can be for as long as I can be because I truly, deeply believe that ... Congress isn't working and that's why Olympia Snowe left. She had all the assets of a great senator; membership in a party, 34 years of seniority, intelligence, integrity, work ethic. She left out of utter frustration, saying it isn't working."
The do-nothing Congress has gotten less done in the past two years than any Congress in the past 70 years, he said.
"I can't fix this by myself ... but we've got to start somewhere ... because we have serious problems and if we don't start building bridges and working from the center, we're not going to be able to address any of them," he said.What is your position on trade agreements, specifically the North American Free Trade Agreement? Does it encourage free trade or export U.S. jobs?
Background - Canada, the United States and Mexico have traded freely across borders without imposing import tariffs under the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, since 1994.
NAFTA has created the largest free trade zone in the world. Mexico and Canada are the top two export markets for U.S. goods; however, the U.S. imports more goods from both countries than it exports. The reverse is true for services; the U.S. has a trade surplus, exporting more services to both countries than it imports.
NAFTA has also had unintended consequences.
Some American companies moved to Mexico to take advantage of lower wages and lenient environmental laws, causing loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and gutting labor negotiations at remaining U.S. factories.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, small farmers went out of business because they could not compete with American agricultural products that were subsidized by the U.S. government; manufacturing was launched at new export factories that paid poverty wages and offered no worker protections in Mexico along the U.S. border; environmental degradation increased under the agreement and the Mexican standard of living remained flat.
KING - King said the U.S. has done a poor job of negotiating trade agreements or advocating on behalf of American companies. The American market entices other countries, but the U.S. has not driven a hard bargain for that privilege, he said.
He recounted a story of going to Hathaway shirt company in Waterville and after discussions on retraining and unemployment, shaking the hands of recently unemployed Hathaway factory employees, who were mostly women. When he got to the end of the line, a woman put her hands behind her back and refused to shake his hand.
"Why should I shake hands with somebody who let them send my job to China?" she asked King.
"That was a very real moment for me and I didn't have a good answer for her," he said.
King said that when trade agreements are signed with countries who have lower legal standards for labor and environmental protection and who pay lower wages than American companies, it creates an unfair advantage.
"I don't think that makes sense," he said. "We would never let Texas say we want to get rid of all labor and OSHA and the Fair Labor Standards Act and the EPA because that would create more jobs for our people; we would never let a state of the union do that, so why should we invite a country to, in effect, become a commercial state of the union that has none of those protections?"
"This is not an academic question," said King.
"Pending Pacific trade agreements, if passed, would eliminate import tariffs on athletic footwear that could result in the loss of 900 jobs at the Maine New Balance factory," he said.
"I've been through that factory in Skowhegan and I don't want to go there again and tell those people their jobs have gone to Vietnam," he said.
As to NAFTA, King said he came to think of the trade agreement as a funnel, with the big end in Canada and the small end here in the U.S. States. Most of the trade was coming in as imports and it proved difficult, when he was governor, to establish export trade to the Maritimes because of a series of seemingly small obstacles that, added up, became a big obstacle.
DILL - Dill supports free trade agreements, but said we need to negotiate them so labor and environmental regulations are considered, and the negotiations should not be held behind closed doors.
"They should be open," she said. "We need to shine some light on the process."
NAFTA has proven to be a caution about how trade agreements are decided.
"Two and a half million American jobs were destroyed by NAFTA and our labor unions have lost power over time as a result of NAFTA," she said.
Dill said she supported the Bring the Jobs Home Act, which provided tax incentives to American companies. It failed under a filibuster.
"While I'm at it, I support doing away with the filibuster rule," she said.
KING - "I don't like the filibuster, either. The choice is with the guy who is not here," he said, referring to Charlie Summers.
China - The Obama administration is tilting diplomacy towards Asia. What is your position on the increased emphasis on strategic diplomacy and defense regarding China and Asia?
Background - A shift of attention towards Asia, with China at it's economic center, started in 2011 as the military adventures in the Middle East started to shift into lower gears. Cyclical territorial disputes between Japan and China, Vietnam and China, and India and China tend to invite the U.S. to take a position. In the latest disputes over islands in the South China Sea, the U.S. has sided with Japan, raising questions about whether the current diplomatic positions are at odds with American strategic and economic interests.
DILL - The disputed islands in the South China Sea have fish stocks and energy resources and are important shipping lanes, said Dill.
"I believe we need to be present in the discussions on them and I support Secretary Clinton's position," she said. "But we don't have negotiating ability around who controls these islands."
Dill said the U.S. needs to have access to the growing markets of the Chinese middle class, which is hungry for imported goods, and to continue to manage the American relationship with China while delicately balancing economic interest with human right concerns.
KING - "I don't think you can take a hard line against China, I think you have to take it one issue at a time. We have to deal with the South China Sea issues and Japan, but there are big issues of intellectual property and human rights, trade policy and how they are manipulating the value of the Yuan."
King said they have to be dealt with as the major trading partner that they are, but that U.S. debt held by China has compromised our negotiating capacity. The approach to China must be nuanced, he said, with the U.S. focusing on finding areas of agreement then working into the areas where we don't agree.
Iran - What should the U.S. do regarding the threat of a nuclear-capable Iran?
Background - It became clear in 2011 that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapon capability, not just nuclear power to generate electricity. Last month, Israeli leadership announced a "clear red line" that Iran could not cross in nuclear weapons development without military repercussions from Israel. The Obama administration has agreed that Iran cannot develop a bomb, but has stepped away from the red line threshold.
DILL - "I would not support a red line approach," said Dill. "That seems completely arbitrary."
Dill supports stronger economic sanctions against Iran but said she thinks military aggression against Iran to prevent the development of a nuclear weapon will not work.
"We don't know, on balance, whether going to war with Iran is going to be worse than having Iran be a nuclear state," she said. Dill said managing our relationship with nuclear-capable Iran is possible, given our experience with North Korea and Pakistan.
KING - King saw the Iranian threat to the U.S. as much more immediate and direct. He favors a combination of strict sanctions combined with a credible threat of military intervention, noting that Iran has become a proven training ground for terrorists.
"It is not too far fetched thinking of Iran with nuclear capability in a suitcase, of exporting that to New York harbor or to Miami or to San Francisco or to Washington, so this is a crucial foreign policy issue facing the country right now," said King.
King noted a positive sign; that the deep sanctions currently against Iran are having a dramatic effect because the middle class, which is well established in Iran, has started to revolt in the streets. King said inflation went up 69 percent in a month and the value of currency continues to drop as the cost of goods skyrockets.
"We have to continue to try to get Russia and China to join in the boycott of Iranian oil," said King.
There also has to be a credible threat of military force. It needs to be on the table, said King, even if we never plan to use it.
"I'm convinced that part of the fall of the Soviet Union was because they thought Ronald Reagan was crazy and that he might attack," said King. "There needs to be a credible threat and that needs to be on the table."
Syria- Should we continue our passive approach or send in military support or establish a no-fly zone? What is the role of the U.S.?
Background - In the past three months 30,000 Syrians have been killed and two million have become refugees, according to a recent 60 Minutes report. Syrian rebels have been pleading with the West for international assistance, particularly military assistance, to fight back against the Bashar Al-Assad regime. Western assistance has been limited, leaving an opening for evangelical Islamist jihadists to step in to train and arm the rebels. Their end-goal appears to be a fundamentalist Islamic state, according to the report.
KING -King advocated not sending military supplies to the rebels or establishing a no-fly zone while putting more effort and resources into diplomacy and other non-military approaches to wield power and influence in the Middle East.
Entering Syria without a clear understanding of our goals is a mistake whose cost in human lives could be much higher than in Libya with much less clear results, said King,
"We go into Syria and what happens next?" he said. "The problem with a no-fly zone is ... that Syria would see it as an act of war and step-by-step we would be drawn into the conflict."
DILL - "I am, I think, to put it mildly, a dove," said Dill, who does not support military intervention in Syria. "The use of military force is just too premature right now."
"We just don't know which groups support which values," she said.
She said the best thing the United States can do is to work with our partners around the world, including Turkey, to address the humanitarian needs of the Syrians and to avoid military action or supplying weapons to the rebels.
Libya - What questions would you have for the U.S. State Department on what they did or did not know about the attack on the American consulate before it occurred?
Background - Questions have come up about the security level at the American consulate in Benghazi when it was attacked on September 11, 2012, and whether requests from the embassy to the U.S. government for additional security had gone unanswered. The U.S. ambassador and three other Americans died in the attack.
KING - "What did they know and when did they know it?"
King said the chain of decision making and the level of security should be investigated.
DILL - Dill agreed, noting that the investigation should avoid pointing fingers and focus on better protection for diplomats abroad.
"Since 9/11, the US has done a pretty good job of protecting Americans, but we can learn from this," she said.
Latin America-There is an effort to decriminalize drugs in come Latin America countries. How should the U.S. respond?
Background - The war on drugs has backfired in Latin America, with increasingly organized drug gang and cartel-related violence happening across the region. Some countries are discussing coordinated efforts to shift focus to decriminalization and other methods of approaching the problem. What should the U.S. do?
DILL - Dill said we have lost the war on drugs and need to rethink our position.
"I believe we need to decriminalize marijuana, highly regulate, tax it and accept that Americans like to smoke marijuana and the prohibition against it is, in large part, fueling drug cartels and significant violence," said Dill.
"Like alcohol, it is not something I encourage people to use," she said, noting that regulating it would allow a measure of control over it. "I do not think it is addictive.
"I think our laws are causing not only violence but incredibly high incarceration rates that are leading to unmanageable costs," she said.
Dill does not support decriminalizing other drugs.
KING - "When I was in office, I found that the governor can only do two things without consulting anyone: pardoning criminals and setting the annual herring quota in the Gulf of Maine."
King said reading the appeals for pardons was an eye opener for him when he was governor.
"I was astounded that practically every case involved alcohol . . . I would say about 75 percent of cases did," he said. "I am not ready to decriminalize ... and add another major source of mind-altering drugs to society."
King said marijuana may not be addictive, but, among the people he has known that use it, it does seem to affect their ability to function well.
He agreed with Dill that there needs to be another way to deal with drug crimes.
Family Planning - What position do you take on funding family planning efforts in developing countries that receive U.S. aid?
Background - Funding is used for the following, according to an update by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation: linking family planning with maternity services, services for those with HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease, eliminating female genital mutilation, post-abortion care, training of health workers, reproductive health and sex education, contraception supplies, contraceptive research and funding for the U.N. Population Fund.
Dill and King both supported continued funding, noting that it was both a humanitarian choice and, in the long term, one with positive economic impacts.