Candidates speak on foreign policySummers a no-show
Camden — Two candidates vying for a United States Senate seat took the stage at Camden Opera House on Thursday, Oct. 11, for a foreign-policy centered debate sponsored by Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations.
Democrat Cynthia Dill and independent Angus King appeared before a diverse audience with Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations President Mac Deford acting as moderator. Though Republican candidate Charlie Summers agreed to participate in the debate when it was scheduled in July, his campaign canceled the Camden appearance during the first week of October, citing a desire to focus on "town-meeting style" appearances, according to previously published reports.
Deford stated the rules after candidates took the stage. The debate began at 6 p.m. and ended, as scheduled, at 7:30 p.m. Ushers wearing tags identifying them as debate staff were on-hand to distribute index cards as attendees filed in providing an opportunity to submit questions for consideration. The participatory nature of the event continued as ushers traipsed the aisles of the opera house collecting additional cards bearing questions throughout the 90-minute period.
Deford made it clear that all questions unrelated to foreign policy would be disregarded.
In their respective opening statements candidates addressed the crowd. A coin flip determined that Dill would begin.
Dill recounted the story of a 14-year-old student Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen lauded for her peace efforts who was shot in the head on a bus in what Dill called a "savage" daytime attack committed by a Taliban extremist who explicitly targeted the girl because of her Western views.
Dill said the example highlighted three global issues: extremism, the plight of women and girls, and the tension between Eastern and Western philosophies. She said she will be part of a "clear and measured voice" speaking out for justice.
"I believe that it's time for a new generation of leadership," Dill said, noting that she condones the addition of more women, younger voices and greater diversity in national leadership.
King opened with numbers: 5 percent and 1 percent. He said that 95 percent of the world's markets and population are somewhere other than the United States.
"People are striving for the same things we strive for somewhere else," he said. He noted that as governor of Maine he did not have a huge role in making foreign policy.
The first question addressed the violence in Syria and Turkey where a 19-month conflict continues, exacerbated earlier in October after a Syrian shell hit Turkish territory catalyzing a violent retaliation involving cross-border rocket fire. Candidates were asked to weigh-in on whether the U.S. should continue humanitarian efforts or address the situation more aggressively, possibly implementing a no-fly zone.
King said he believes in exercising restraint. He said the decision to enter another country without a a clear grasp of the situation, and an exit plan, is a mistake. He also noted that implementing a no-fly zone could be interpreted as an act of war.
"My instinct would be restraint," he said. He added that America must figure out how to use power without always using military power, and he deferred to experts who have specialized intelligence, analysis and expertise.
Dill immediately voiced her belief in peaceful resolution.
"I am, I think to put it mildly, a dove," she said, adding that she agrees with providing humanitarian aid without engaging in military force, as she said Obama has done thus far. She cited concerns about the possibility that military engagement could backfire and that weapons could end up in the wrong hands if there is not a clear understanding of the situation.
"It's a complicated issue," she said." We have to resist the urge to unilaterally use military force."
She encouraged the use of humanitarian resources to help families affected by the violence.
Deford asked the candidates to express their view on the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran, and whether "red lines" — as recently suggested by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — should be set or if the U.S. should continue with current sanctions.
Dill said she does not support a red line approach, dismissing it as "arbitrary." She also said that she does support sanctions.
"I don't believe that initiating war to prevent the development of weapons is the answer," she said.
Dill suggested that exercising all means available to deter the use of a nuclear weapon — rather then sending troops — makes sense to her. She cited U.S. dealings with other countries that possess nuclear weapons technology.
King said he believes Iran is a "crucial issue facing this country." The notion that a nuclear weapon could be carried in a suitcase into New York Harbor or Miami is not "too far fetched," he noted. The sanctions imposed on Iran are precedent-setting in there severity, he added, and they're beginning to cause problems such as a discontent middle class and skyrocketing costs, he explained.
"Sanctions may well have the affect that we want," he said, "but they have to think we might do it," he noted that he would encourage "The combination of a credible threat and very intense sanctions."
Both candidates largely agreed that restraint should be used by the U.S. when it comes to use of technology such as drones.
"[But] we can't take a weapon out of our arsenal that's effective," King said, adding people can't be allowed to "jump across the border and say you can't fight me anymore."
Dill cited a need for the Senate "to reclaim some of the balance of power." She said drones could be "used responsibly and as a result of the political process and reflect American values."
Phrasing of some questions caused disagreement by the candidates. Such was the case when Deford asked how the U.S. could re-establish its financial authority.
"I regret the notion that the U.S. is not an economic power," Dill responded, adding she feels Bush-era tax cuts, wars and the collapse of Wall Street contributed to that type of thinking.
She said she is the only candidate seeking to discontinue the Bush tax cuts. Dill also suggested implementing a fee on financial transactions to help rebuild the economy.
King quoted a statement made that says the greatest threat to the U.S. is the national debt. He said 36 cents of every $1 spent in Washington, D.C., is borrowed; an "ethical and moral problem."
King said he supports doing away with Bush-era tax cuts — when predetermined milestones are met, rather than on a certain date.
"We have to have a balanced plan," he said.
While both candidates support fair trade with other countries, they agree trade agreements could be better negotiated, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement, most often referred to as NAFTA.
"I don't think we've done a very good job negotiating trade agreements," King said, relating a story about a trip to Hathaway Shirt Co. in Waterville when it announced its closure. He said a woman refused to shake his hand, asking why should she shake the hand of a man who let her job go oversees to China? King said other countries, when entering trade agreements with the U.S., should be held to the same wage and work environment standards as U.S. companies are.
Dill said the process of negotiating trade agreements is "bizarre" and often takes place behind closed doors. She said she supports tax incentives for American businesses that "bring jobs home." Dill noted labor unions have lost strength; she said she feels unions would be "able to lift the middle class."
King and Dill were asked what questions they would have if they were part of the panel investigating the Sept. 11 U.S. embassy bombing in Benghazi, Libya, during which American Ambassador Chris Stevens and four others were killed.
"What did they know and when did they know it?" King responded, adding reports of no actionable intelligence should be seriously investigated.
Dill said she feels a determination about how best to protect ambassadors serving in foreign countries should be a top priority.
Regarding the ongoing "war on drugs" in Latin America and the U.S., Dill said she advocates legalization of marijuana with the condition it be heavily regulated and taxed.
"The war on drugs, we've lost," she said. "...Americans like to smoke marijuana."
Dill said she does not encourage or condone use of illegal drugs. She noted jails have become a privatized industry with unmanageable costs, largely due to illegal drugs. She said she feels marijuana could be beneficial as a holistic medicine.
King said during his time as governor he read many criminal case files and noted most — 75 to 80 percent — involved a legal substance: alcohol. He said he's "not ready" to legalize any drugs based on his own personal observations of "regular smokers," and noted other illegal drugs are much more serious.
Both candidates also spoke in favor of downsizing American military forces, as has been suggested by other politicians. King said National Guard and Reserve soldiers have been deployed more than they expected, which is "not what the National Guard signed up for." He cited the disruption to lives of soldiers deployed multiple times as well as the high military budget. King said overseas military bases staffed with hundreds of thousands of people are exempt from the Base Realignment and Closure process.
Dill said the idea to reduce the military budget isn't unique, but kept her answer short: "Yes."
Regarding China's increasing presence and power on the world stage, King said the country should be treated as a trading partner.
"They do own a lot of our debt — a trillion or so — that could compromise our ability to be tougher on other issues," he said.
Dill said islands in South China Sea have become an international issue due to shipping lanes and fishing.
"I believe that we need to be present," she said, adding China needs to be monitored and watched. "There's a lot of people there that want a lot of stuff and we want to sell it to them."
Dill also encouraged vigilance regarding human rights in China.
During his rebuttal, King noted that governments often do not speak for or represent all of a country's people.
Both candidates again agreed when asked about the "two-state solution" that proposes the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
"I support the two-state solution," Dill said, adding that Israel is "one of the most important alliances," but the U.S. also needs to "encourage Palestinians."
"I think a two-state solution is the only answer," King said. He noted efforts of former Maine Sen. George Mitchell have been unsuccessful and said if Mitchell can't reach a resolution, it's 'a big problem.'"
Next, candidates addressed climate change and alternative energy choices.
King said human activity on the planet has certainly impacted climate change.
"We really have to get serious about this," he said.
King said he supports use of natural gas, provided it is safely-handled. He said natural gas is a much cleaner fuel and is one-fifth of the cost of natural gas in China.
"I see natural gas as a transition fuel," he said.
Dill said she supports higher fuel standards and applauds recent efforts regarding tidal power off the coast of Maine. She said solar and biomass options should be explored as well. Dill said she likes natural gas as an option but does not support the hydrofracking process used to extract it.
The two candidates said they support family planning and birth control assistance in regard to foreign aid.
"It's good for families, the economy and the future of the planet," Dill said.
"I'm a strong 'yes,'" King said.
Each candidate was allowed three minutes for closing remarks at the end of the debate. Dill called the Senate race "incredibly important."
"The system is broke, but not for guys like Angus King," she said, adding voters should send someone to Washington who is in touch with "ordinary people."
Dill said a small group of people in Congress are responsible for gridlock, not the two-party system.
"If what you want is real change, you need to vote for a progressive, Democratic woman," she said.
King returned to his opening remarks about the 1 percent — the portion of the budget devoted to diplomacy. He said commercial diplomacy — American businesses working with other countries and vice-versa — is important.
"I do think Congress is broken, I've seen it," King said.
The candidates spent a few moments following the debate shaking hands and speaking with those in attendance.