Home 2018 Elections Video/Live Blog: VA-10 Democratic Candidates Forum on Foreign Policy

Video/Live Blog: VA-10 Democratic Candidates Forum on Foreign Policy

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As someone with a master’s degree in Middle East Studies and International Economics, and also as someone who cares deeply about foreign policy I’m very happy to see this forum for VA-10 Democratic candidates. The forum is being sponsored by Foreign Policy for America, J Street, AAPI Victory Fund, NIAC Action, EMGAGE, and the Council for a Livable World. See below for the live stream, as well as my notes as I watch along. The only thing I’d quibble (or more than quibble) with is that not all the serious candidates were invited, including Julia Biggins, who on Facebook says that she was not allowed to participate in this forum (“we absolutely reached out in hopes of participating in the forum and were told that there was a fundraising threshold that prevented us from being included…With so many candidates in such an important race we all deserve to have our voices heard. A large part of my candidacy is encourage more diverse voices in Congress.”). Very unfortunate. Also, where’s Paul Pelletier?

  • First question is on the #1 (by far) problem facing the world — climate change/global climate chaos — as well it should be the top question at this and every debate, IMHO. Stover says we absolutely have to lead the effort against global warming and reverse the Trump administration pledge to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. Not sure why they’re not letting all the candidates answer – weird!
  • On the Iran deal, Helmer says he’s served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has lost friends due to Iranian activity. Because of that, Helmer argues, he feels strongly we should stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and that the nuclear accord has set Iran back from doing so. Helmer believes we need to lead with diplomacy and not risk going to war, as Trump – who dodged the draft – is doing. Again, why didn’t every candidate get to answer?
  • On immigration, Jennifer Wexton says her diverse district has benefited enormously from people coming into her districts on H1B visas, etc. – it has really enriched our community and strengthened us.  Wexton says she would resist Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda
  • Next, they finally allow all the candidates introduce themselves. Wexton said she’s a lawyer, mom and State Senator from Leesburg. She jokes that other than dealing with KY and TN, they don’t do a lot on foreign policy in the State Senate. She says she pays attention to world events and feels very strongly that the single greatest threat to America and our foreign policy is the “erratic,” “impulsive,” “uninformed” Donald Trump. Wexton also says she’s concerned that Congress has been ceding its authority. Helmer talks about being a West Point graduate, Rhodes Scholar and child of Holocaust survivors who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He argues he can paint the starkest contrast between service to the country and Barbara Comstock’s service to special interests. Helmer says he supports Medicare for All and getting weapons of war off our streets. He also says he’s willing to take on this “draft-dodging coward.” Alison Friedman says she knows, as a diplomat in President Obama’s State Department, firsthand how important America’s place in the world. She says America is more secure when Congress does its job and America leads. She argues we need to hold ourselves to the same standards as we hold others, on human trafficking and other issues. Today, we’re watching our country move to build walls and retreat from the world, while our adversaries are happy to fill the vacuum. Trump is a bully, enabled by Barbara Comstock – defeating her is a great place to start in solving the world’s problems. Lindsey Davis Stover says her father was a WW2 veteran, and about the importance of caring for our veterans. She says she served as Chief of Staff in Congress to get legislation passed to help veterans and their families. She says she’s seen first hand what war can do to families, and that war should be the last resort – our first instinct should be diplomacy, not a president who likes to take us to war over Twitter.
  • On Cuba and Venezuela, after an interminable question, Alison Friedman says the fundamental problem with all these questions is that Trump either wants to take the ball and go home or make the ball go nuclear. Friedman says we have a hollowed-out State Department, where the leaders who have the skills to deal with these situations, are gone because they have concluded that their voices will no longer be listened to in a Trump presidency. Friedman says she would work to reverse that in Congress. Again, it’s idiotic that all the candidates don’t get to answer all these questions.
  • Question by J Street on a two-state solution in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Alison Friedman says she supports a two-state solution. She says that Trump appears to be attempting to thwart peace. On the boycott/divest/sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, Sen. Wexton says she believes in people’s right to hold political positions. Dan Helmer says we shouldn’t undermine free speech or make it a felony, and that he firmly believes in an equitable, two-state solution as a strong friend of Israel and a strong friend of the Palestinians. Alison Friedman and  Lindsey Davis Stover agree that free speech shouldn’t be outlawed. By the way, FINALLY, all the candidates got to answer the same question. They should go back and all answer the climate, Iran, immigration and Latin America questions.
  • On the war in Syria, do they support intervention of any kind? Sen. Wexton says any involvement in Syria beyond what we’ve already done has to be weighed very carefully, with a clear plan of action and an exit strategy, neither of which we’ve seen from the Trump administration. She says we need to take in more refugees from Syria. Helmer says we have a tremendous humanitarian crisis in Syria, but there is nothing to suggest that additional U.S military action in Syria will make a difference on the ground. Also need Congressional authorization for any action. Alison Friedman says Syria is challenging and a mess; we’ve created a vacuum which Russia has filled. We need to continue to be engaged in Syria and the region at large so Russia doesn’t end up controlling a region that in the past we kept them out of. Stover says because of the vacuum in Syria, ISIS has strengthened and taken a stronghold, and they are a national security threat to the U.S. We need a long-term strategy including diplomacy, political plans, an exit strategy, etc.
  • On Guantanamo, Helmer says it makes our position more dangerous in the world, also that it is contrary to our ideals as a nation. Sen. Wexton wants to close Gitmo, use the U.S. judicial system; our standing in the world is greatly diminished by Gitmo. Friedman would also close Gitmo, says we have a strong judicial system in this country that can deal with terrorists appropriately. Stover says we should close it and trust our own judicial system.
  • On North Korea and the nuclear crisis there, Friedman says it is not true, as some on the panel seem to imply (shot at Helmer?) that the only way to show strength is through the military. Friedman adds that every administration before Trump has worked to reduce the nuclear threat, and now we have a president who says he wants to increase the number, type and even use of nuclear weapons. Some of that is made possible by a Congress that has abdicated its constitutional responsibility on when/where/if we go to war. We can’t get into a war because the president had a bad Twitter day. Stover says the idea that the president toys with the idea of war in North Korea is just incredible, that we need a strong diplomatic strategy, and that going to war should never be the first option, as Trump seems to believe. Wexton says a bloody nose strike against North Korea would be one of the most damaging things that could happen. Wexton notes that Trump has intentionally provoked Kim Jong-un. We’re not just playing with our own lives, we’e playing with the lives of our allies in South Korea. Need to try a serious diplomatic solution. Helmer says he served in South Korea, need to make sure we lead with diplomacy given the devastating impact a war on the Korean peninsula would have. We haven’t exhausted our options in Korea – this is a crisis of our president’s making. Need to take a nuclear first strike off the table. Need Congress to stand up on matters of war and peace.
  • On Trump’s “wall” with Mexico and on US-Mexican relations, Stover says she’s adamantly against this wall – has absolutely nothing to do with security, it is a symbol of hate, and we have no room in this country for symbols of hate like this wall. Friedman says the wall was always a stupid idea and it’s very unfortunate it’s gained any traction. Friedman adds we need close relationships with Mexico, but we can’t do that if we’re attacking its citizens – bad policy in the service of really bad politics. Helmer says we should construct schools instead; a wall is contrary to our ideals, not who we are – we are stronger because when we welcome people in. Wexton says she absolutely opposes a wall on our southern border; Mexico should be one of our biggest allies, not a scapegoat. On DACA, Wexton says Congress’ inaction is a constant disappointment to her – it’s immoral and wrong to send these kids back. Stover says sending back DACA recipients is both wrong morally and also economically – we have to support the DREAMers.
  • On NAFTA, Helmer says our president is so toxic and his statements are so outlandish that it’s impossible for us to lead in the world – we need him impeached. Wexton says you stand by your agreements, you don’t unilaterally change agreements that have been negotiated and adopted. Friedman says you can’t unilaterally just decide you’re going to step out of a mutually-agreed-upon deal and expect to maintain your standing in the world. Need strong environmental and labor protections in trade agreements, but unilaterally pulling out leaves a vacuum which other countries will rush into.  Stover says we have to partner in good faith with Canada and Mexico.
  • On Afghanistan, Stover says an exit strategy has to include funding the VA. Friedman says we need strong diplomacy but unfortunately the State Department has been decimated. Helmer says he served for over a year in Afghanistan, and that we haven’t articulated our goals/why we are there; we need a new AUMF. Wexton says she agrees with what others have say,  need to train the Afghan forces and strong diplomacy.
  • Returning to the Iran question (yay!), Friedman says we can’t allow Iran – a “state sponsor of terror” – to get nuclear weapons, and we should not ditch the Iran nuclear deal. Have to be careful that sanctions don’t hurt the Iranian people, who we stand with. Stover says it’s despicable that Trump is undermining the Iran nuclear deal. We need to stand with the Iranian people and prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Wexton says the Iran deal has given us unprecedented access to make sure that Iran’s nuclear program is not progressing, and the deal is working. We should also open our country to Iranian immigrants. Helmer says that nuclear weapons are not the only component of our relations with Iran.
  • On the Rohingya humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, all four candidates decried it and said we need to stand up for human rights and Muslims — people being persecuted, oppressed, etc.