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Seth Moulton makes case that good foreign policy will beat Trump

Massachusetts Democrat and presidential long shot highlights his combat experience, alliance

Presidential hopeful Seth Moulton, here at a July Fourth parade in Boulder City, Nev., says he gets more questions about foreign policy than health care on the campaign trail. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Presidential hopeful Seth Moulton, here at a July Fourth parade in Boulder City, Nev., says he gets more questions about foreign policy than health care on the campaign trail. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton ranks among the lower tier of 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls, but as a Marine Corps combat veteran, he argues that a foreign policy focus will be needed to lure moderates and Republicans to vote against President Donald Trump.

Moulton grabbed some attention in Iowa over the weekend with a full push for the president’s impeachment and removal.

“If Trump were a bad president just in traditional ways, we could afford to remove him from office just in traditional ways, but he’s a criminal and a fraud,” the congressman said. “I understand the politics may be against us, as leaders in our party have well-described. I know the polling is against us. I know the Senate may not convict, but you know what, how about just doing the right thing?”

This wasn’t a new position for Moulton, but his remarks Sunday at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed in Cedar Rapids drew the attention of The Des Moines Register.

Between trips back to Capitol Hill as the House was considering a fiscal 2020 defense authorization that ultimately included amendments to curtail the president’s war-making authorities, Moulton has been making plenty of stops in the early primary and caucus states.

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‘National security vision’

CQ Roll Call also caught up with him recently at the front end of a recent swing through Nevada, to speak about whether there should be a bigger role on the primary debate stage for issues of war and peace. 

“I don’t think we can beat Donald Trump if we don’t, (a), have a national security vision and, (b), take him on as commander in chief,” he said in a July 3 interview in Las Vegas ahead of a keynote speech to a veterans dinner and a parade. “National security is fundamentally the most important job of the commander in chief. If you don’t have a vision of how to do that and the other side does — regardless of how warped that vision is — I don’t think you can compete very well.”

“Our division motto in the Marines was ‘No better friend, no worse enemy,’ and if you look at what Trump’s policy has been around the globe, it’s been ‘No worse friend, no better enemy,’” Moulton said. “He’s best friends with Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, and he’s abandoning our allies and questions our agreements, our treaties, our security guarantees at every term.”

The first two nights of Democratic presidential debates last month in Miami tilted in favor of domestic rather than foreign policy, and Moulton was not among the 20 candidates selected to participate under debate criteria.

In the latest RealClearPolitics polling average for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Moulton is not among the 20 top performing candidates. The lowest-ranking hopeful, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, clocks in at an average of 0.3 percent support. 

Moulton conceded that there might be an issue with self-selection in his audiences, and that given his background, he might be getting more attendees interested in defense policy and international affairs than bigger-name candidates. But he nonetheless sounded a bit surprised about how consistently the national security questions were getting fired in his direction on the campaign trail.

“Sometimes I go into a room, and the whole session will be about national security, and I’m the one who has to say, ‘Well, I want you to hear my health care plan too, and I want you to hear my climate change plan as well,’” Moulton said.

Campaign pillars

Since entering the House in 2015, after defeating nine-term Rep. John F. Tierney in a Democratic primary, Moulton has focused heavily on military issues, including boosting support for addressing mental health challenges among veterans.

His advocacy for veterans, as well as his support for limiting authorizations for the use of military force, have been among the key pillars of his presidential campaign. Moulton’s Marine Corps biography includes a stint as a special assistant to Gen. David Petraeus during the troop surge in Iraq in 2007.

“We have a War Powers Act that allows the administration, the executive branch, to respond quickly to a conflict. Some people thought that Trump would need authorization to respond to the shoot-down of an American drone,” Moulton said. “Not if its just a targeted response to that one action. But going to war with Iran is absolutely something that must come before Congress, and frankly, going to war in Syria is something that should have come before Congress and should still now.”

Moulton said he would not change his view about limited executive power if he were to win the presidency, saying he is “not a hypocrite.”

He certainly has an expansive view of the importance of relationships with allies around the globe, and that includes his proposal to create a trans-Pacific military alliance similar to what the United States has with NATO.

Moulton seemed to recognize the scope of the challenge of building such an international compact, especially since Japan and South Korea, key U.S. allies in the region, have a history of being on opposite sides even as shared threats now demand they work together.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an exact mirror, but NATO forms a good model. NATO was built with close allies in Europe to help contain Russia, or at the time the Soviet Union,” Moulton said. “Formalizing the alliance with our allies in the Pacific to help contain a rising China and the threat of a North Korean nuclear weapon is a smart thing to do.”

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