Talking Points for the Top National Security Issues of 2018

Talking Points for the Top National Security Issues of 2018

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During their terms in office, elected officials will have to address a variety of national security and foreign policy concerns facing the United States. Recent national polling has indicated that fighting terrorism remains the top policy priority for those Americans surveyed. Policymakers and candidates must be prepared to answer tough questions on this and other national security issues affecting the United States during the 2018 elections.

In this memo, we provide short talking points on the most pressing questions likely to be asked of candidates on these issues. More background can be found in the country and issue briefs included in the rest of Third Way’s 2018 National Security Debate Book.

#1 Terrorism

Q: What should the United States do to defeat ISIS?

A: Democrats and Republicans are united in making sure ISIS cannot harm Americans. Thanks to a global effort against ISIS started by President Obama, the group has lost its hold in Iraq and Syria but we must remain vigilant in our fight against terrorism and have a smart and tough strategy of what to do next. While President Trump has continued the Obama approach of targeting ISIS, he has also been stoking fear at home while alienating our partners and allies, the very communities and partner nations we need to stop terrorists. At the same time, President Trump must do far more to condemn horrible right wing-extremists. Violent right-wing extremism is up under Trump, including during the Charlottesville protests last year. We need a strategy to combat terrorism that understands the diverse, evolving threats we face, brings together all of our different government capabilities, and strengthens our domestic and international partnerships in the fight.

#2: Iran

Q: President Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. What should be done next to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

A: A nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable. The Iran Deal had stopped Iran in its tracks and forced them to dismantle much of their program. Backing out of the Iran Deal was a colossal mistake. It alienated us from our allies and negotiating partners and incentivizes Iran to race for the bomb. The Trump Administration has offered no realistic strategy for now getting Iran back to the negotiating table to keep these constraints in place. Given the hawkish rhetoric of Trump’s team, this decision could lead us closer to another devastating, endless war in the Middle East. The deal wasn’t perfect but it was the best foundation we had to address other longstanding threats from Iran. Congress is left to clean up this mess. We must: 1) try to work with allies to ensure Iran continues with the deal, and not alienate them further with additional sanctions, and 2) make sure Trump doesn’t compound his mistake by leading us into another costly, endless war in the Middle East.

#3 Afghanistan

Q: Should the United States withdraw its troops from Afghanistan or should they remain there?

A: 9/11 was conceived, hatched, and implemented from Afghanistan. So we must prevent the return of safe havens that terrorists can use to attack America. And we need a strategy that does that so we can bring our troops home. Republicans have said we should stay in Afghanistan a hundred years. If we don’t have a strategy, that’s how long it will take. To have an effective strategy, we’ll need a political solution and the support of our allies. But President Trump’s military-only strategy and his attacks on our allies who have helped in our fight in Afghanistan won’t get us there. We need effective diplomacy to bring our troops home. 

#4 Russia

Q: The Russians interfered in the 2016 elections to help President Trump. What should we do about it?

A: Russia is not our friend; it is our enemy. They have a plan to weaken America and our allies. They are succeeding. We need to do three things: 1) stop pretending they didn’t run a massive campaign to interfere in our Democracy, 2) stop them from ever interfering in the future, and 3) get to the bottom of what happened in the last election and punish those who acted against American interests. The Mueller investigation should move quickly, but more importantly it should move thoroughly. And in these midterm elections, the Justice Department and Defense Department should get their heads out of the sand and be on 24/7 watch for Russian meddling.

#5 Mueller Investigation

Q: Trump claims that the Mueller investigation is biased and the Obama Administration started it. Is that true?

A: Russia is our enemy, not our friend. Let’s first and foremost end the fiction that Russia isn’t trying to weaken our country, our Democracy, and those of our friends. They have a plan to weaken America and destabilize the Western World and they are winning the opening rounds. That leads to Mueller. He is tough, by-the-book, thorough, and objective. Trump and his associates are doing everything they can to throw doubt on his investigation. Yet, every claim of bias that they have made has been debunked by either the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee or the Department of Justice’s Inspector General. And Mueller’s already brought charges against 20 individuals and three corporations, including many who have already admitted guilt. When he submits his final report, we will know, based on the quality and thoroughness of it, whether it was worth it or not. Let the process continue.

#6 China

Q: Should the United States continue its current dispute with China over its trade practices?

A: China cheats and its behavior has harmed American workers. President Trump is trying a new approach, bringing us dangerously close to a full-blown trade war in the hopes China will blink. If it works, great. If it doesn’t it will have a devastating impact on our economy, our businesses, and ultimately you. Will it work? Will China blink? Well, considering how China outplayed America in North Korea and President Trump’s decision to protect Chinese jobs over America’s national security in the case of Chinese company ZTE shows China is outmaneuvering the United States thus far.

#7 Allies

Q: President Trump has sharply criticized and imposed tariffs on some of America’s allies and alliances. How should the United States approach its relationship with them moving forward?

Canada, Mexico, and Europe have been America’s closest friends and partners for almost a century. Now it’s Russia and North Korea. President Trump labeled Canada a national security threat; he attacked NATO even though it is the bedrock of U.S. security against Russia, he denigrated our closest G7 allies, he vilifies Mexico daily – these countries fought and died for us in our fight against global security threats. We know who our friends are, and we need to mend those relationships immediately.

#8 North Korea

Q: Is the agreement signed by President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un a good deal?

A: The early indications are that Trump got taken by North Korea and China. Yes, we have to address the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. And yes, direct negotiations are the best way to do that. But it is now obvious President Trump gave more and got less than any American President negotiating with North Korea. All he got was a vague promise to denuclearize that they’ve already broken now that we see that the North Koreans have proceeded to improve their nuclear reactors. The brutal tyrant Kim Jong Un got the legitimacy he craved and the alliance with China he wanted. When President Trump goes back to the negotiating table, if it is even possible to salvage the deal he so badly mismanaged, he needs to demand specific and immediate steps toward reducing North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and the North’s ballistic missiles that threaten the West Coast. 

#9 Border Security

Q: President Trump has said that groups like MS-13 are taking advantage of America’s weak border security to come into the United States and has imposed several policies he says are aimed at strengthening our borders. Should stronger border security measures be put in place?

Over the past 10 years we have spent $150 billion dollars, deployed 20,000 border agents, and apprehended 4 million people trying to illegally enter the country through Mexico. We don’t have open borders. MS-13 is a serious problem. I don’t see how tearing children from their parents is the answer. We can dismantle and destroy MS-13 without putting children in cages or castigating all Latinos.

#10 Cybersecurity

Q: What should we be doing to stop cyberattacks?

A: Cyberattacks are a serious threat in the digital age, and getting worse all the time. Last year, the FBI received over 300,000 complaints about cybercrime and we know the number of attacks is increasing. Unfortunately, cybersecurity is not a priority for this President. He’s made clear that he is not interested stopping the Russians who are responsible for a large share of the attacks. We need ensure the government is doing more to identify and stop the human attacker, in addition to working with industry to make the internet and our devices more secure.

#11 Impeachment

Q: Should President Trump be impeached?

A: Let’s wait for the conclusion of the Mueller investigation. The standard is high crimes and misdemeanors. Donald Trump deserves the same due process he wants to deny others.

#12 Trade

Q: President Trump has imposed new tariffs on several countries including Canada, the European Union, and Mexico. What should we do next?

Harley Davidson – an American company since 1903, the hog that Elvis Pressley rode in 1956 – is leaving America for one reason: Donald Trump. Trump’s trade war is not working. Tariffs – which are taxes on American consumers – won’t work. Angry tweets at Canada won’t work. Angry tweets at companies that are forced to leave because of Trump tariffs, won work. We can do trade deals that address unfair practices. It’s slow, hard work. There aren’t shortcuts. It won’t be solved in 140 characters or less. Ask Harley Davidson.

#13 Corruption

Q: I keep hearing about President Trump’s foreign real estate deals. What should be done about it?

A: It’s a serious problem. The framers of the Constitution wanted to ensure that our government officials wouldn’t be influenced by foreign business dealings, which is why the included the “Emoluments Clause.” President Trump’s refusal to separate himself and his family from his business dealings raises serious questions about whether he is governing in the nation’s interest or in his own financial interests. We should have a thorough investigation to ensure that the President of the United States is putting Americans, not his bottom line, first.

#14 Miscellaneous

Q: Do you think President Trump should have a military parade?

A: Any military parade should be to honor the men and women who serve in our military, not flatter the ego of the President. They are the ones who are sacrificing to serve the nation, and we should appreciate them.

Q: I’m concerned that the biggest national security threat the nation faces is in the White House. What should we do?

A: We have an opportunity this November to restore Constitutional checks and balances and show the President how a democracy works. The most important thing you can do is exercise your right to vote.

Q: We seem to be in an endless war in the Middle East from Afghanistan to Iraq to Yemen. How can we stop it?

A: Congress has abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to declare and oversee the nation’s wars. For almost fifteen years, Congress has remained silent as Presidents have opened up new fronts in this war. Our men and women in the military need to know whether America’s representatives are behind their efforts. It’s a hard debate, but one we need to have.

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