To: Minnesota Voters
State of Minnesota
Dear Fellow Citizens:
This is the time of year when we have the opportunity to discuss issues with those who are running to represent us in the United States Senate. With the possible exception of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (no flag can be unfurled without her presence), senators tend to disappear for five years, only to reappear in full blossom in the year of their election/reelection.
This is somewhat like those famous cacti that bloom after many years in the desert. And we, as voters, have often acted like blooming idiots ourselves in failing to hold senate candidates to account for this country’s foreign policy adventures. There is a bipartisan tinge to this sarcasm–the two biggest mistakes our country has made occurred in Vietnam (mostly Democratic) and Iraq (mostly Republican). As an electorate, we abdicated in both of those tragic misadventures.
Vietnam took place in a somewhat different time, when most of us were willing to suspend disbelief in our elected leaders’ policies—especially when they involved armed troops on foreign soil. Much has been written about that tragic mistake, but suffice it to say that no dominoes fell. In fact, Carlson Wagonlit now runs pleasure cruises up the Mekong Delta. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara wrote a book, and later was the subject of a documentary film (The Fog of War), in which he basically apologized for the entire war.
Where was the electorate? Gene McCarthy’s successful primary challenge of President Lyndon Johnson (who then decided not to run for reelection) ultimately led to the election of “I am not a crook” Richard Nixon. But the sad fact is that most mainstream political candidates were not pushed until McCarthy started his challenge on the question of the Vietnam War.
The lessons learned in Vietnam were not long-term enough, because once again this country blundered into a disaster in Iraq. In the 2002 senatorial election, we as Minnesotans might have had the opportunity to press the candidates on our foreign policy in the Middle East because Sen. Paul Wellstone opposed a military invasion of Iraq, while his challenger, Norm Coleman, supported it. The tragedy of Sen. Wellstone’s fatal airplane crash essentially ended this debate. The usual political calculus of military intervention prevented meaningful debate in subsequent elections. And thus a war that should never have begun has dragged on until we face redeployment and involvement today.
It is time to take our senate candidates, Democratic incumbent Al Franken, Republican Mike McFadden and Independence Party candidate Steve Carlson, and press them hard on what this country should be doing in the Middle East. Because these misadventures cost trillions of dollars and result in tens of thousands of casualties, we should pay close attention. And we should demand close attention from those who seek to represent us in the United States Senate.
On the Democratic side, pressures are building to send additional troops back into Iraq. We are told that additional actions are needed to protect a minority group that no one in this country has ever heard of—the Yazidis. This group and certain parts of Iraq are now under attack by a group (itself under attack by al Qaida) variously called the Islamic State, ISIS and ISIL. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has started publicly criticizing this administration’s Middle East policy, at least for not doing more to aid one faction or another in Syria. Where does our U.S. senator, Democrat Al Franken, stand on these issues?
Republican Mike McFadden has been virtually silent on any policy specifics in the Middle East. Silence on important foreign policy issues is the way politicians who lead us to disastrous wars often get elected. Another outspoken Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, has been very clear that he regards the Iraq war as a mistake and opposes most involvement in these kinds of foreign adventures. On the other hand, another Republican standard-bearer, Sen. John McCain, has generally supported military involvement and troops in just about every conflict that has been on the front page of just about any newspaper in the last eight years. Any day now, he may proclaim “We are all Yazidis now.” What is the challenger’s position, if elected, on sending troops, money and allied support to the Middle East?
Here’s a hint for McFadden, whose recent speeches and website emphasize his support for the Keystone pipeline project. Most of our involvement in the Middle East has been driven by our need for hydrocarbons. We now have North Dakota. Could the Keystone pipeline be an alternative to Middle East invasion?
What is important is that we bring the hammer down on those who would represent us and not tell us what they would do, given the situation in the Middle East. Do we attack? Do we send troops? Do we use economic sanctions? Is alternative energy a peaceful solution? Not a citizens’ forum, debate or TV interview should go by in this election without those questions being asked—and answered by those who are planning to disappear for the next five years into the Washington maw that is the U.S. Senate.
Vance K. Opperman For Sensible Foreign Policy
Vance K. Opperman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.