On Nov. 7 of last year I wrote a column for The Hayride comparing the voting record on national security of Rep. Cassidy and Senator Landrieu. That column can be found here.
There are two other candidates in the race for US Senate, Col. Rob Maness and Rep. Paul Hollis. In the interest of providing equal time, I conducted an interview of these two candidates, providing them with an opportunity to express their views on national security issues. Neither Maness, a retired Air Force colonel, nor Hollis, a first-term member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, have had an opportunity to build a voting record on these issues. Here are their responses to questions posed to them…
1. What do you consider the biggest threats to US national security today?
MANESS: Our biggest threats are here at home. They emanate from a President and an Administration who believe “in American exceptionalism, just as… the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” In other words, our head of state – unlike past presidents – doesn’t believe that America really is exceptional. And for that reason, he has failed to set an example worth following, deliberately neglected to promote an America that is a beacon for oppressed peoples the world over, and refused to unleash the kind of economy that only America can unleash.
Such a view raises important and troubling questions: How can the leader of the American government inspire the free world to support our foreign policy objectives when even he doesn’t believe that they are or can be the best? How can he inspire our best and brightest to join the Armed Forces, the State Department and intelligence services? In his view, serving America is no better and no worse than serving the Crown or serving a bankrupt Mediterranean country that was once the center of civilization, but is no more. In the eyes of this Administration, we’re just the same as everyone else and there really isn’t anything special to protect or secure.
Second, while there are tens of millions of Americans in the government, in the Armed Forces and living independently across the country who do want to preserve our Republic and all that it represents, they are crippled from advancing America’s interests by poor domestic policies:
- An education monopoly that has left millions of children ignorant of American civics and unprepared for the 21st century economy;
- A national debt that saddles every child born in America with a future tax burden they neither approved of nor benefit from;
- An entitlement society that fosters dependence and weakness rather than the virtues of strength and self-reliance.
Third, proud Americans also see no coherent foreign policy strategy to work toward; no modern Monroe Doctrine to advance America’s interests in a concerted fashion. While President Reagan said that “we win; they lose,” this President says “we’re leading from behind” and proceeds to set a course in which America doesn’t even try to lead, but rather stands aside adopting a reactive posture.
Fourth, we’ve got to remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism at home. Rapidly evolving technology will allow our adversaries to plan and coordinate attacks in increasingly difficult to detect ways. Targets could include our energy grid, water supply, on-line communications, or agriculture industry. Attacks could happen without any enemy ever setting foot on our sovereign soil.
Fifth, there are threats to global stability abroad that we must acknowledge and address; especially in Russia, China, and the Middle East. Both Russia and China are directly challenging U.S. leadership through slow, creeping expansion, of which Russia’s intrusion into Crimea is the most well-known recent example. Both countries presume that America will not respond in a meaningful way and their calculations have proven true to this point, emboldening each of them all the more. Moreover, there is a simmering civil war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that could spread globally in its effect. Asia gets 80 percent of its oil from their region and higher energy prices there would benefit Russia and negatively impact the emerging Asian economy. In turn, nuclear arms could be sold from Pakistan for example to supplement the Pakistani economy. So, the outcomes are infinite and the stakes are huge.
HOLLIS: Admiral Mike Mullen was spot on when he said that, “the most significant threat to our national security is our debt.”
Outside of America’s reckless spending/debt, nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
2. Your term of office, if elected, will be for six years. What do you see as the emerging threats to the US over the next six years and why?
HOLLIS: Reckless spending and dangerous debt coupled with feckless foreign policy will create a future chalk full of avoidable threats and challenges. From an emboldened Russia to the continued efforts of Iran and North Korea to develop nuclear weapons, we must stand resolute on the national stage and demand fiscal sanity at home. Now is not the time to make promises we cannot keep or owe debtors who misalign with America’s values and vision.
MANESS: In the near-term, the biggest threat we face is a nuclear arms race in the Mideast between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Ironically, Russia is in a position to foster such scenario because it is both a key partner in maintaining strong sanctions against Iran and because it controls the energy supply to our European allies. Russia can, therefore, exert leverage on Europe to acquiesce to weaker sanctions against Russian allies or ignore incursions on nation-states such as in the Crimean crisis.
Needless to say, it is critical that the U.S. works aggressively to expand its energy sector at home and enable exports that will ensure economic pressure on Iran can be sustained.
In the midterm, there is a growing risk that Japan could pull the United States into an unwanted war with China. Meanwhile, the Chinese are pressing illegal claims against our Philippine allies for the Scarborough Shoals and Minerva Reef and against Japan for the Senkaku Islands – key possessions that are a growing source of tension in the region.
While we have assured both allies that we would come to their defense, we have yet to resource the Pacific theater adequately. A track record of inconsistent actions by this Administration coupled with inadequate resourcing in the region will only result in empty promises and an increasing risk of instability.
Longer term, we need to monitor the emerging capabilities of Terrorism 2.0. For example, genetic engineering and synthetic biology are being taught at universities around the world potentially allowing small groups of cells to develop and release a deadly virus that would exceed the ability of governments to respond. The United States can no longer afford to be the reactive nation it has been under this Administration over the past six years. We have to get in front of these potential problems but can only do so if we’re honest with ourselves about both the nature of the threats and the provocateurs.
3. How would you evaluate President Obama’s handling of Russian strong man Vladimir Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine? What would you do differently?
MANESS: President’s Obama’s failed foreign policy is exemplified most in his wager that he could affect a “reset” in US/Russian relations. That was to be the centerpiece of his foreign policy. Early in his term, he touted his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons and negotiated a Strategic Arms Reduction treaty.
Along the way, he overlooked Russian corruption, an invasion of South Ossetia, overt violation of the INF treaty, a prohibition on U.S. adoptions from Russia, and aggressive actions by Russia in cyberspace. All this came in the name of resetting relations and at the cost of our standing in the eyes of Russia and the world.
Putin proceeded to prove just how poorly he regards American resolve under President Obama by invading Crimea. Consequently, the Obama Administration and, frankly all of us, are trapped in Obama’s failed policies.
Options for addressing aggression like that displayed by Putin in the Ukraine can only arise from prior planning and preparation, but the President has left us with a bunch of lousy options. This is compounded by our dependence on Russia to maintain sanctions in Iran and support our policy in Syria since the President allowed Russia to set that policy in the first place. At the same time, our European allies are dependent on Russian energy supplies, giving Putin even more leverage.
Two key steps could be taken right away:
First, the U.S. should leave the INF treaty because it hamstrings our ability to deal with China’s conventional missile build up and is a treaty with which Russia has failed to comply for years.
Next, the U.S. should move without delay to put more energy tools in our economic tool kit. We must develop ways to export oil and gas to keep the Russian criminal regime from holding our closest allies in Europe hostage with a single source of energy supplies because we’re weakened without their impartial support. Thus, Louisiana is uniquely positioned to strengthen America’s defense posture and see an explosive growth in the state’s economy through increased energy production.
HOLLIS: President Obama thinks that speeches solve everything. Rather than lead, he waits for poll-tested remarks. Instead of drawing a hard line in the sand, he waffles and flops.
We need a President who will lead. We need foreign policy that protects our assets and allies. We need to enact sanctions and weigh options that will send a clear message to Putin and like-minded leaders that the United States will not sit idly.
4. The Obama administration declared the “war on terror” to be over. Do you agree or disagree with that assessment? Why or why not?
HOLLIS: The Obama Administration is more concerned with headlines than results. The “war on terror” is not over and unfortunately, will not be for quite some time. We must remain vigilant in protecting our friends and allies overseas while ensuring the safety and security of our homeland. As long as terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda still exist, our commitment to ending terrorism must remain.
MANESS: Declaring the “war on terror to be over” is what we have come to expect from a president who likes to talk, enjoys hearing himself talk, and has convinced others to listen to him. But it doesn’t make it so. In fact, the President’s trite rhetoric reflects naivety, deliberate deception, or both – any of which should concern every American.
Terrorism is an effective tactic that will be a central national security concern for the foreseeable future. Our focus needs to be on impeding access by terrorist cells to deadly technology.
Our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan became too burdensome when we tried to solve societal and historical problems plaguing the people of those countries.
It’s imperative that we admit terrorism is an ongoing threat, acknowledge the source of terrorist attacks and direct our resources and efforts toward a) defending the homeland so that there are no further attempted attacks like the underwear bomber, the Times Square bomber and the Boston Bomber and b) thwarting direct, active threats abroad without deploying large contingents in traditional combat operations.
5. President Obama has said that Al Qaeda is “on the run.” Do you agree with this assessment and what policies would you propose to defend America from Al Qaeda and other Jihadist terrorists?
MANESS: Al Qaeda may be on the run, but they’re not running from us; they’re running toward us.
Among the many deceptions of the Obama Administration (“I read about the VA scandal in the newspaper,” “The Benghazi attacks resulted from a YouTube video,” “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan”), the most harmful is the idea that Al Qaeda is no longer a threat. As you read this, there are cells studying our targets around the globe. In fact, experience shows that terrorist cells tend to study a target up to 5 years before striking. This deliberative training and preparation bring Al Qaeda and its affiliates closer to pulling off another major terrorist attack.
Policy changes that I support:
A. Repeal the Patriot Act and re-focus our vast technical intelligence capabilities on our foreign enemies, not American citizens;
B. Rebuild our Human Intelligence capability (HUMINT) that has been decimated over the last 20 years and rebuild that infrastructure around the globe. Technology has its limits so it must be supplemented with HUMINT despite the challenges that accompany it. Without either of these twin supports, America is at a significant informational disadvantage;
C. Secure our southern border immediately by fully funding and implementing the border security portion of the 1986 immigration law signed by Ronald Reagan. (The failure of any sovereign country to protect its border and to hold its executive accountable for enforcing duly enacted laws is deeply disturbing.)
D. Designate the U.S. Special Operations Command as the supported Combatant Commander for worldwide warfare operations in the anti-Al Qaeda conflict. Re-orient the war to small operations that avoid unnecessary massive and costly conventional ground-force deployments for the purposes of nation building.
(If large ground/Air Force actions are needed in a geographic Combatant Commander’s AOR not associated with the war on terror, command relationships would remain the same, e.g. EUCOM Commander would be supported for any conflict arising in Eastern Europe.)
E. Place financial and cyber intelligence capabilities at the disposal of the USSOCOM Commander in order to attack from the informational and economic lines of operational power.
HOLLIS: Just because the President says something repeatedly, doesn’t make it true. Terror cells are waiting for the perfect time to strike. The more weakness we show on the national stage, the more emboldened they become. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to identify and destroy terror cells throughout the world. Our military and intelligence community must remain full equipped to protect and serve our homeland and our national interests.
6. Do you think the United States should prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons?
HOLLIS: Yes. A nuclear Iran is bad for our friend and ally, Israel, and puts the entire Middle East in harm’s way.
MANESS: Yes. A nuclear armed Iran would be the single greatest threat to the safety of the free world.
7. Do you approve of the steps that the Obama administration has taken in dealing with Iran?
MANESS: No. President Obama has weakened economic sanctions based on Iranian promises to reduce their effort to develop nuclear materials and capabilities. This reflects gross naivety on the part of the Obama Administration because the Iranians have proven themselves intransigent in the past. We should reinvigorate the sanctions even though the President’s position of relative weakness leaves America without leverage to ensure compliance.
8. What steps would you support to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed power?
HOLLIS: In regards to stopping nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, we must keep all options on the table. Tightening economic sanctions is imperative but remaining bold in our foreign policy will send a clear signal to Iran’s leaders that America will not blink.
MANESS: I would support keeping all options on the table including reinstating sanctions, publicly reinforcing our position as a close friend and ally of Israel, and the use of military force – albeit as a measure of last resort.
9. Do you view Red China as a threat to US national security? What measures, if any, would you recommend for addressing that threat?
MANESS: Yes. Red China is clearly an emerging competitor both economically and militarily. We must publicly restate our positions on Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. We need to base strategic forces in the Pacific, and I support their placement on Guam and in Hawaii. Our modernization forces in air, land, and sea should be designed and fielded from this perspective to maintain – and even strengthen – our position in the Pacific to deter threats from China and North Korea.
It is equally important to strengthen our own economy by adopting fiscally sound policies like reduced spending, a balanced budget amendment and a more competitive corporate tax structure. The political class in Washington has avoided these reforms, instead strengthening and emboldening China by relying on the Red Chinese to fund their reckless spending habits.
HOLLIS: China’s cyber warfare must stop. Unfortunately, it’s tough to play hardball with a country that owns a large portion of America’s debt. It’s time for American to get tough on China and pay down our enormous debt.
10. The Obama administration has cut US defense spending and announced further cuts regarded as deep down the road. How would your philosophy differ from that of Obama and Hagel on US defense spending?
HOLLIS: We must balance the budget. However, I refuse to balance the budget on the backs of our military.
MANESS: The U.S. needs a strong foreign policy coupled with an aligned national military strategy—we currently have neither. Defense spending must serve these ends primarily rather than the interests of crony-capitalists.
The Obama Administration has slashed the budget for combat preparation despite simultaneous plans to deploy and maintain forces in combat zones. This approach reduces preparedness and increases risk for our foreign policy and war strategy.
A sound approach to the Department of Defense budget would include:
A. A 100% audit of the Department of Defense budget.
B. A Reduction in the number of General Officers and Admirals by 20% and a corresponding reduction of the civilian employee force supporting 3-star and above commanders.
C. A review and rewrite of readiness standards. Since our forces are still assessed according to constant Cold War readiness measures, we must update our standards to reflect 21st century warfare methods and capabilities. In many cases, this could reduce operating expenses and wear-and-tear on equipment without compromising the readiness our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines for scheduled or routine deployments.
D. An assessment of roles and missions. Department of Defense currently executes many missions that the State Department was once responsible for, such as provisional reconstruction teams. It’s imperative that those roles be reassigned back to the appropriate executive department or agency to streamline operations and save taxpayer dollars.