Running a distant third in what polls suggest is a two-person race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Martin O’Malley might have found a foreign policy challenge to his opponents.
During the Nov. 14 Democratic debate, the former Maryland governor clashed with front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton over whether Syria was the United States’ fight. On Monday, he accused a group of mostly Republican governors who were refusing to accept Syrian refugees of throwing “our values to the wind in the face of fear.” “Scapegoating an entire religious community and rejecting those fleeing ISIL’s terrorism and persecution is what the terrorists want. We need to step up and act like Americans, in accordance with our principles,” he said in a statement Monday afternoon. “This is a time for American leadership, not a time for us to cower.”
Douglas Wilson, O’Malley’s top foreign policy adviser, said introducing his boss’s voice into the foreign policy conversation, after a campaign where he and many of the other candidates have focused mainly on domestic issues, should not be a surprise, even though O’Malley has not worked on issues at the international level.
“I suppose they asked the same question of an Arkansas governor who was running against a sitting president who had enjoyed 82 percent positive ratings in the polls, largely because of the first Iraq War,” he said, pointing to former President Bill Clinton. “Homeland security has been something of which he’s been at the forefront during his time as a city and state leader in Maryland.”
Even with a number of governors suggesting Syrian refugees be turned back, Wilson said O’Malley — who chaired panels at the National Council of Mayors and the National Governors Association focused on homeland security issues — stands by his call for the United States to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees, all the while agreeing that security checks “need to be applied.” He echoed O’Malley’s point that “fighting terror and staying true to our values are not a zero-sum game.”
O’Malley’s jabs at Republicans came only a few days after he similarly criticized Clinton, the Democratic front-runner. At the weekend debate, Clinton was asked about Syria and whether the United States should take a leadership role in the fight against the Islamic State terror group, which has claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attacks that left 129 people dead.
“It cannot be an American fight. And I think what the president has consistently said — which I agree with — is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS,” Clinton said. She reiterated her point, saying, “This cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential.”
“This actually is America’s fight,” he said. “It cannot solely be America’s fight. America is best when we work in collaboration with our allies,” he said. “We must rise to this occasion in collaboration and with alliances to confront it.”
O’Malley’s rhetoric has shifted in the month since he chided Clinton for her support for a no-fly zone over Syria, saying she was “always quick for the military intervention.”
There are many fights in this world,” he said of the idea of challenging the Russians, who are already flying combat missions over Syria. “Not every fight is our fight.”
Wilson, who previously served as an assistant secretary of defense in President Barack Obama’s first term, said O’Malley is still against a no-fly zone, which he called a “recipe for drawing in American troops with unknown consequences.” By American leadership, Wilson said, O’Malley “believes in a certain combination of tools — intelligence, [a] special forces increase, making sure regional allies and partners have what they need to be effective on the front lines.”
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