Over the weekend I went to the candidate forum held in Newtown at the George School and co-sponsored by the Coalition for Peace. The Coalition for Peace Action formed twenty six years ago in Princeton and has expanded to include a very active group in Bucks County. I've been to a few of their forums and they are always well organized and informative. Saturday's forum was dedicated to foreign and military policy. The panel included the two Democratic congressional candidates, Andy Warren and Patrick Murphy and two of the three Dem Sen candidates: Alan Sandals and Chuck Pennacchio. It was my understanding that all candidates from both parties for the two offices were invited.
Since most voters in the area didn't show up, I'll run down what each candidate said based on my notes.
The format allowed each candidate to make a fifteen-minute opening statement. After that questions from the crowd were collected on index cards and each candidate had two minutes to answer the ones that were asked. It was a good format. Each of the candidates commented about how they appreciated the time for the opening.
Before any candidates spoke, the Reverend Al Krass, who organizes Coalition for Peace in Bucks County, opened the panel by saying that we are lucky to have candidates of a "quality and number we have not seen for a long time." He's right about that. The four people who showed up on Saturday would all make good replacements for Santorum and Fitzpatrick.
Patrick Murphy opened first. He started by saying that he is a witness to our foreign policy, referring to his time in the army and, I guess, specifically Iraq. He said that he's comitted to making the changes necessary to our foreign policy and our policy in Iraq.
He supports a "Soldiers' Solution." Bring the troops home in 2006. 50K home in summer of 2006. 50K home by the end of 2006. Leave a strategic strike force in Kuwait. He acknowledged Jack Murtha.
Murphy told a story about when he taught at West Point and a cadet from Belgium asked him why we aren't giving detainees in Guantanamo Article Five hearings. He explained that Article Five hearings are very brief hearings held to determine if a person was taken into custody appropriately. He said that he had no answer for the cadet.
He said that America should be a "reluctant warrior," that not only he believes that war should be undertaken only as a last resort but most of America does as well. We should not be talking about military options in Iran right now. We need to use every diplomatic and economic means possible to make sure that they abandon their pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
He closed by saying that we need people to stand up to the president and to speak truth to power.
Andy Warren: US does not have the luxory of waiting 2 1/2 years until we can replace the president. We have to change the voice of the Congress. We have to change the congressman from Bucks County.
He emphasized the cost of the war ($1T - $2T) and talked about what else that money could buy. He likes Kerry's plan for Iraq: If by May 15th the Iraqis have indicated that they have a government in place, we'll stay to support it. If not, we're out.
He brought up the BushCo nuclear deal with India and H.R. 4898, which would take $60B Cold War money and invest it in health care. He repeatedly tied domestic policy to foreign policy.
On Iran, he wants to go the diplomatic route as well, looking to China, Russia and the international community for assistance.
Chuck Pennacchio: Chuck opened by introducing himself and his qualifications. He gave a very brief lecture on the history of American imperialism and why it doesn't work - because Americans don't respond to it. He talked about the lack of any historical perspective in the Senate today on either side of the aisle. America does best when America is lifting up the world, which isn't happening now.
Alan Sandals: He said that he brought a message of hope: America is catching up to the peace movement. He talked about how energy policy is foreign policy. He read from a Foreign Affairs magazine that said that lack of energy independence is on top of American's "worry list." He wants to convince people that they are right. Discussing conservation provides an opening to discuss Iraq, Iran ... it's all a part of the global struggle for energy. We need to take conservation seriously and view the energy threat as as great a threat as Hitler was in the '40s.
Iran, because it is oil-rich, can thumb its nose at the world. When you combine rogue states with the ability to drive energy markets, it is a lethal combination. He agrees with a Republican Senator I can't remember now: "Energy is America's foreign policy albatross." He wants to seize on this message to talk about what's on people's minds, speak to their pocket books, speak to their common sense.
Question One: Should US troops be subject to an international criminal court?
PM: The ICC was set up for immature justice systems. We have the UCMJ, which is a great system that works quicker and provides more rights than in our civil system.
AW: We can't expect to be excepted from an international process so the answer is yes, absolutely.
AS: Yes, but only if the Sec Def is subject to it as well. The result of Abu Ghraib showed that something isn't working with the system we have in place.
Q2: Can the UN be effective in resolving international conflicts?
AS: Yes. Go to the Darfur Rally on 4/30 in D.C. Darfur is the greatest crime of the decade. Right now the UN works when the offending nation is 2nd or 3rd tier. We need to realign the way the votes work in the Sec. Council but I doubt we'd have much luck with that.
CP: The root cause of most of these conflicts is gross poverty and inequality of wealth around the world. The UN can address that by working to elevate the world to a living wage. We should let the UN do what it does best, which is these kind of programs.
PM: WE need to support the UN. We need to be a responsible neighbor. He just read "Invisible People," which talks about the world's poor. We need to build a strong releationship with the UN.
AW: The UN isn't perfect but it's better than the next best thing, which is chaos. UN can and should be effective but without the US, it will not be.
Q3: How do we prevent a civil war in Iraq if we withdraw precipitously? (just for CD8 candidates)
AW: He made the point that we can't be sure we're preventing a civil war now. The American troop presence in Iraq is a stick in the eye to the Arab and Muslim world. We've accomplished what we're going to accomplish there.
PM: I lived in Baghdad for seven months. There is a low-level civil war going on now. Our presence is a factor. Iraq is a rallying cry for terrorists. I have a timeline for withdrawal. We need to supply monetary and diplomatic reconstruction support.
Q4: Do you support giving US military aid to Israel? Why is it okay for India to have the bomb and not Iran? (Senate candidates only)
CP: We were the first state to recognize Israel for a reason - because of the Holocaust and because of our history in the 1930's. We could have done better. We support Israel and two-state solution.
It's not okay for any state to have a nuclear weapon.
AS: It's hard to know which way the flow of military aid is going. There are weapons being developed in Israel that are coming here. Israel is the only state taht lives with threats to its existence daily. Its geography makes it vulnerable. It developed nuclear weapons as a last resort.
Iran is different because of its rhetoric so the answer is to keep applying pressure.
Q5: What should we do to address radical Islam jihadism?
PM: First we have to recognize that it exists. Second we have to ask why a young person would consider it an option. The CIA says that the number one reason for its growth is Iraq. We need to bring troops home. We need to be a good neighbor. Look at Africa. Africa needs clean water and AIDS to be stopped. Third, we need to educate internationally, e.g. re-fund Radio Free America.
AW: We have to get out of Iraq, encourage other Arab nations to help and use diplomatic and economic influence to invest in reconstruction.
Q6: Are you in favor of impeachment hearings? (Senate candidates only)
CP: Absolutely. This is a criminal administration. It is complicit in lying to the American people. It instituted an illegal NSA domestic wiretapping program. It sold out a CIA agent. I would relish the opportunity to have an open and honest and fair hearing.
AS: We need to make the case that this administration lies. Katrina; it has ties to Exxon, which lied about global warming; Plame. Americans are ready to hear that this administration is not only incompetent and corrupt but also dishonest.
We need shadow impeachment hearings in Philly. They should happen right after Labor Day.
Q7: Are you in favor of US adopting a policy of no first strike?
PM: Yes. We should use diplomatic and economic means to end the nuclear club.
CP: Casey embraced the nuclear option regarding Iran. The United States has a special responsibility to ramp down nuclearization of the globe.
AS: I can't think of a scenario where a nuclear first strike would make sense but I never say never. So, no.
Q8: Iran has never invaded another country in 200 years. If Iran develops an H Bomb, do you support an attack on Iran?
AW: If the question is just because they have it should we attack, then no.
PM: America should be a reluctant warrior. No matter what arsenol is developed, we have to make war the last option. We must end cowboy diplmacy now.
AS: The mere possesion of a bomb isn't enough to warrant a strike. What else are they saying and doing? What is the behavior associated with the possesion of the bomb?
CP: No. But During the Iraq/Iran war, we fed both sides. The fact is that countries don't work for peace as they prepare for war. Iran and the world are now following America's lead of pre-emption which is fueling an arms race, which is fueling poverty, which is fueling religious extremism.
That's it. It was a good forum. Every candidate had stand-out moments. Sandal's idea to tie energy policy directly and repeatedly to foreign policy is good idea. Chuck's absolute faith in the capacity of America to lead and lift up the world is nothing short of inspiring. Patrick's point that Americans are reluctant warriors was a good one to which he returned a few times. Andy did a good job of keeping his answers brief and on-point. His strongest moment came during the question about attacking Iran if they developed a nuclear bomb. While the other panelists seemed to be waiting for another to answer first, Warren stood up and gave his answer directly.
The Coalition for Peace will be putting out a voters' guide in time for the primary. If I get my hands on a copy, I'll share with you what it says.
Related: Next Direction was there as well.