WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren is making strides to characterize her foreign policy vision as a progressive one after she announced she’d be forming an exploratory committee for a presidential run. But her record on the issues and her associations with war hawks contrasts sharply with her liberal rhetoric.
One executive of a defense firm said the perception in the industry is that Warren is not “adversarial” to them.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, the first Democrat to materially signal a presidential run in 2020, is a “big P” Progressive flank to Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialism” from the establishment center. She has mostly made a name for herself as a consumer advocate, but when it comes to foreign policy, Warren is a mixed bag. She has pushed back on US support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen but pushed for further US military support for apartheid Israel in its war on Palestinians.
Warren’s views on countries in the crosshairs of the US State Department largely conform to those of her colleagues on Capitol Hill: Iran is a “bad actor,” Russia and China “are working to undermine the basic human rights we hold dear,” and so on.
Following President Trump’s detente with North Korea at the summit in Singapore last year, Warren hastily issued a statement, reducing the historical meeting to a “photo op” that “doesn’t change the fact that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a threat to the security of the United States, our allies, and the world.”
She has, at times, departed from the beltway consensus and issued anti-war votes, including against a bill that authorized Obama to train and arm so-called “rebels” in Syria in 2014. Warren’s objections to war are typically procedural.
Running for president requires a candidate to define their vision on a host of issues, and chief among them is foreign policy. So far, she hasn’t made her views excessively clear, as many a savvy politician knows better than to do.
Leading up to her announcement on the last day of 2018 that she was forming an exploratory committee for a presidential bid, Warren was ironing out her positions on international issues. In November, Warren, who has sat on the Senate Armed Services Committee for the past two years, delivered a speech at American University and penned an op-ed for Foreign Affairs, both outlining her views.
When General Nicholson, our Commanding General in Afghanistan, visited me in DC, I told him I'd like to return the favor. pic.twitter.com/BxE3J5f3Gx
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) July 4, 2017
According to the Senator, Washington started getting it wrong on foreign policy “beginning in the 1980’s” – a time period, the reader should note, that followed the US withdrawal from Vietnam. Since then, the US has piled mistakes on top of mistakes and engaged in “reckless wars in the Middle East,” she argued.
The basic thesis of Warren’s speech and opinion piece is that “US foreign policy should not prioritize corporate profits over American families.”
Warren makes it immediately clear that she diverges from the Democrats on neoliberal economics. But when it comes to the 2018-issued Department of Defense doctrine which defined today’s era as one of “great power competition” with Russia and China, Warren finds little disagreement.
“We must refocus our security policies by reigning in unsustainable and ill-advised military commitments and adapt our strategies oversees for the new challenges we see in the coming century,” she said.
She bemoaned China and Russia using “tactics to leapfrog the United States in areas like cyber, robotics and artificial intelligence.”
I’m honored to be spending this 4th of July visiting our troops in Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/PVkWCoeZGt
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) July 4, 2017
“Both China and Russia invest heavily in their militaries and other tools of national power. Both hope to shape spheres of influence in their own image,” she said. “Both are working flat out to remake the global order to suit their own priorities. Both are working to undermine the basic human rights we hold dear.”
“Efforts to bring capitalism to the global stage unwittingly helped create the conditions for anti-Democratic countries to rise up and lash out,” Warren said. “Russia has become belligerent and insurgent. China has weaponized its economy without loosening its domestic political constraints.”
While capitalism didn’t exactly deliver the goods in either of those countries, “I believe that capitalism has the capacity to deliver extraordinary benefits to American workers,” Warren said.
She railed against US-backed austerity, deregulation and privatization across the globe, which she said has “reduced faith in capitalism and democracy.” Ironically, she mentioned “a collapsing state in Venezuela” but only within the context of things that hot wars like the 17-year-old one in Afghanistan have reduced the military’s “readiness” to combat.
In her own words, Warren has other issues with the military. She has tried to throw a wrench into US support for the Saudi coalition-led war on Yemen and the Pentagon’s bloated budget a major point of contention in her rhetoric over the past few months.
“It’s clear that the Pentagon is captured by the so-called ‘Big Five’ defense contractors, and taxpayers are picking up the bill,” she said. “The defense industry will inevitably have a seat at the table, but they shouldn’t get to own the table.”
Warren – it should be noted – does not receive significant funding from the defense industry.
But her apparent hostility towards defense contractors is new – in the past, her fiery rhetoric was mostly directed towards financial institutions. It’s also not reciprocated – the defense lobby has given glowing reviews of Warren as a Senator.
According to a “defense executive” in Massachusetts who would not give his name, the industry supported Scott Brown, Warren’s Republican opponent in her bid for Senate in 2012. After Warren was elected and reached out to defense firms like Raytheon and General Dynamics, the unnamed executive told Politico that “there’s certainly not an impression that she’s adversarial” to defense giants in the state.
Raytheon, one of the biggest employers in Warren’s state, where it’s headquartered, “has a positive relationship with Sen. Warren, and we interact with her and her staff regularly,” Michael Doble, a spokesman for the company, said.
“I have seen the senator and her team take a very active role in defense matters in Massachusetts,” Joseph Donovan, a former aide to then-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and now a defense lobbyist in the state, said. “I’ve been in roundtables that her office has organized with major defense contractors and small businesses.”
John McCain and I disagreed on many things, and sometimes quite forcefully. But even when we disagreed, I always respected that his heart was focused on doing what he thought was best for the American people.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 26, 2018
Warren has argued that such partnerships support the state’s economy – much as Bernie Sanders did when he was confronted about his state’s F-35 production. “The folks that work in our industry are just as much her constituents as anybody else is,” the anonymous executive said.
While Warren has railed against bloated military budgets recently, she fought tooth-and-nail for a General Dynamics product produced in the state – the WIN-T – a communications system that Pentagon considered gutting funding for. “Our soldiers’ communications gear can be just as important as body armor and rifles in combat, helping to increase situational awareness, reduce civilian casualties, and prevent friendly-fire tragedies,” Warren argued in a 2013 op-ed. “Now we need to make sure that other investments in necessary programs that protect our families and communities are preserved and that this program continues to be a priority.”
Those comms systems were found later to be “not operationally suitable” by a Department of Defense weapons monitor.
Nonetheless, Warren’s side-by-side fight with General Dynamics lobbyists “crucial to [keeping] that program,” the Romney aide-turned defense lobbyist told Politico.
She also vowed to protect the state’s Westover Air Reserve Base from budget cuts.
I count it as a blessing to have had the honor to serve with John McCain in the Senate and on the Armed Services Committee. If there ever was a true American patriot, John was that patriot. I’ll miss his strength and his maverick spirit, but most of all I’ll miss his kindness. pic.twitter.com/UzYvlRN1No
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 26, 2018
“Massachusetts helps keep our country safe,” she said. “The work that goes on at bases and by defense contractors throughout the Commonwealth is a great example of how investments in research and development can help ensure our nation’s military is ready and able to meet current and emerging needs while also supporting our state’s economy.”
While Warren has only recently begun throwing punches in the realm of foreign policy, she has had an insider’s view of the sausage factory on the Armed Services Committee since December 2016 and “her informal tutors include many mainstream Democratic defense figures who support a strengthened military,” the Boston Globe reported.
One “defense expert,” Mackenzie Eaglen of the neoconservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, lauded Warren for her ability to master the issues. “It’s a hard committee to jump in and sound like you know what you’re talking about. She’s done that. That’s impressive.”
On June 29, 2017, Warren issued a press release celebrating “defense budget goodies she helped secure for Massachusetts, from $10 million to build an indoor small arms range at Westover Air Force Base near Springfield to $45 million in additional defense research funding, some of which will flow to Massachusetts universities and military labs,” the Globe said.
Warren reportedly sought guidance from “at least a dozen current military leaders” which included General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and General John Nicholson, who retired from command of US forces in Afghanistan in September. She also met with of Obama-era foreign policy leaders like Ashton Carter, Obama’s defense secretary, former Secretary of State John Kerry and a host of other defense officials with less-recognizable names.
Kerry, in fact, was a “friend” of Warren’s all the way back in 2013. Warren introduced him at his nomination hearing for Secretary of State that year, saying “It’s an honor to be here with Secretary Clinton and Senator McCain to introduce my senior senator and my friend, Senator John Kerry.”
The following weekend, around the Fourth of July, Warren traveled to the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Afghanistan with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and David Perdue (R-GA). The late Senator John McCain lead the delegation.
When McCain passed away from a brain tumor later in the year, Warren went to bat heavily for the “maverick’s” legacy. On the trip, “every single service-member we saw treated John like a celebrity rock star – and that’s because he was,” Warren said. “They knew how John McCain, the war hero, spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam,” she said, failing to mention that McCain was planning to commit war crimes by bombing a lightbulb factory when his plane was shot down.
“If there ever was a true American patriot, John McCain was that patriot. I’ll miss his strength, I’ll miss his maverick spirit, but most of all I’ll miss his kindness,” she said.
How Warren, as president, would confront key issues faced by the Department of Defense remains untested. On Wednesday, Warren told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow that she more or less agrees with President Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria. “I think it is right to get our troops out of Syria and let me add, I think it’s right to get our troops out of Afghanistan,” she said, going on to criticize Trump for pulling out without “a plan.”
The Constitution gives Congress the power to authorize military action. If @realDonaldTrump wants to expand American military involvement in Syria's civil war, he must seek approval from Congress – & provide a comprehensive strategy with clear goals & a plan to achieve them.(2/2)
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 14, 2018
“We actually need to plan this out and talk about with our allies how we ensure more safety and stability in the region,” she said.
Back in July 2017, following her Middle East trip, Warren criticized Trump for bombing Syria without authorization from Congress, but called for the “Syrian regime” to be “held accountable” for alleged chemical weapons attacks. She has also called on Trump to “address the political future of” Syrian President Bashar Assad.
While Warren has criticized US support for the war on Yemen, she has mischaracterized the conflict as a proxy war between the Saudis and Iran. “We know that Iran’s government is a bad actor,” she said in December. In reality, the Saudis are fighting against a government installed by the Yemeni people after sending the old, Saudi-backed one into exile.
Warren is far less critical of Saudi Arabia’s role in the destruction of Yemen compared to Bernie Sanders. The Atlantic noted that Warren only mentioned Saudi Arabia three times in her speech on foreign policy, compared to Sanders’ 13 at a speech he gave at John Hopkins University in October. “Sanders devoted a paragraph to rising authoritarianism in Israel, something Warren ignores,” the outlet reported.
Warren also signed onto the Senate letter that urged Obama to increase US military aid to Israel to be $38 billion over 10 years, and signed a letter also urging him to veto UN resolutions that would condemn illegal settlements. Obama agreed to do both.
Top Photo | Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to US troops while seated in a US military helicopter during a trip to the Middle East. Photo | Elizabeth Warren Staff Release
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