BOSTON The U.S. Senate candidates in Massachusetts’ special election have differing views on many national security and foreign policy issues but also appear to share some core philosophies when it comes to America’s role on the global stage.
Democrat Edward Markey has served in the U.S. House for 36 years, a period encompassing massive geopolitical change. Republican Gabriel Gomez, a political newcomer, leans heavily on his military background as a former member of the elite Navy SEAL team.
Markey and Gomez, who offered written responses to foreign policy and national security questions posed by the Associated Press, are competing for the seat formerly held by John Kerry, who was named secretary of state. The deadly April 15 Boston Marathon bombings provided a stark reminder of the threats Americans still face and will no doubt still be on voters’ minds in the June 25 election.
Among the key areas of disagreement between the candidates is the future of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
“The Guantanamo Bay prison does not keep (the) U.S. safe. Instead it serves as a recruitment tool for extremists,” wrote Markey, who blamed congressional Republicans for blocking President Barack Obama’s efforts to close the prison.
Gomez wrote that he would not entertain discussion of closing Guantanamo Bay until there was a “clear plan” for dealing with all of the detainees.
“The last thing I want is for terrorists to be returned to their home countries, only to join the fight against us,” he wrote.
The ongoing bloodshed in Syria also elicited differing responses, with Gomez preferring a more aggressive stance to help topple the regime of President Bashar Assad.
“At this point I would support a no-fly zone over Syria as well as sending equipment and intelligence to the people we trust in the Syrian resistance opposing Assad,” Gomez wrote.
Markey was more cautious, writing that the U.S. should continue providing “non-lethal assistance” to rebels. If conditions continue to deteriorate, he wrote, there might come a time to revisit the possibility of arming “carefully vetted elements” of the Syrian opposition.
“But we still need to be very careful that any assistance that is provided to the rebels … does not end up in the wrong hands – in the hands of radical groups who are hostile to the U.S., our interests, and our allies, including Israel,” Markey wrote.
Both candidates said it was imperative to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power and expressed support for continued economic sanctions without ruling out military force as a last resort. But a difference in tone emerged, with Markey insisting that “crippling sanctions” already imposed on Iran are working.
“We are seeing successful results from these sanctions: Iran’s economy is buckling and its currency is plummeting,” the congressman wrote.
Gomez seemed less convinced.
“I know many in Congress (of both parties) believe that there is more we can do to impose sanctions on Iran and I agree,” he wrote.
Both said Israel had a right to defend its own interests in dealing with a nuclear threat from Iran.
The candidates also agreed that a two-state solution remained achievable in negotiations with the Palestinians and that the U.S. can play a constructive role in the peace process. Gomez added that the U.S. must respect Israel’s security needs and not try to “twist arms” in negotiations.
Economic development must be part of the solution for the Palestinians, Markey wrote, crediting Kerry with offering a $4 billion revitalization plan for the West Bank.
Gomez has suggested on the campaign trail that Markey has a weak record on homeland security, which Markey has vigorously denied, saying he took the lead after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in requiring universal screening of cargo on commercial aircraft, among other initiatives.
Asked about specific steps they would pursue in the Senate in response to the marathon bombings, Markey raised gun control, citing a 2011 online video in which an al-Qaida spokesman urges followers to exploit U.S. gun laws. Markey has called for a federal assault weapons ban, which Gomez opposes.
The Republican said the government can do a better job of sharing information internally and with other nations, alluding to reports that Russia had raised concerns about bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev before the attack.
Both candidates called for targeted cuts in U.S. defense spending and a realignment of priorities.
“I have repeatedly called for cutting $100 billion on outdated Cold War era nuclear weapons that we no longer need. We should instead focus our resources on the threats we face in the 21st century,” Markey wrote.
“As someone who served in the military, I would favor increasing funds for training, resources, equipment and health care treatment, but I think we can streamline civilian staff and certain weapons development program,” Gomez wrote.
The candidates expressed qualified support for unmanned drones that target suspected terrorists, with Gomez urging “judicious and strategic” use and Markey calling for the drone program to be turned over to the military from the CIA.
Markey and Gomez agreed on the importance of a healthy economic relationship with China but one that ensures U.S. businesses have fair access to Chinese markets. Markey said the U.S. must insist that China move to halt computer hacking and the theft of intellectual property, while Gomez said more pressure must be put on China to improve its human rights record. They also agreed the U.S. must insist China pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.