Mideast turmoil becomes part of 8th District campaign
The race for the 8th Congressional District seat went international Friday, when incumbent Democrat Rick Nolan, during a press conference at his campaign office in Duluth, called for President Obama to bring the question of airstrikes in Syria to Congress for a vote.
“The president cannot go it alone in matters of war and peace,” Nolan said. “The American people will no longer accept or support unilateral decisions by any president — Democrat or Republican — to take our nation to war after consulting with only a few Congressional leaders behind closed doors.”
By calling out the president, Nolan in effect also called out his challenger in the November election, Republican Stewart Mills.
Mills answered questions about further U.S. military involvement in the Middle East during an interview with the News Tribune in Brainerd Wednesday.
“Should we reintroduce boots on the ground to that particular region? No,” Mills said. “But we need to make sure that use of military — if that is special forces, if that is airpower — is left on the table so that we have a full array of capabilities to deal with it.”
During his press conference, Nolan derided Mills’ capability to answer questions about international affairs, saying, “my opponent seems to be pretty well-managed,” and that “he doesn’t want to take positions.” Mills called the current situation in the Middle East “a mess” and blamed Democrats for not leaving behind some armed forces in Iraq earlier this decade for stability’s sake.
Nolan was adamant in an interview with the News Tribune last week that the United States should no longer be involved militarily in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, where havoc from Islamic extremists seems to reign with every viewing of the nightly news. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is the latest example of a group responsible for considerable unrest in the region.
“We just keep sending troops and money and arms and blood, and we have made their problems our problem,” Nolan told the News Tribune. “The sooner we realize that and get out of there the better. These people have been fighting with one another for centuries.”
Nolan, 70, lived with his wife, Mary, in Abu Dhabi for two years in the 1990s, he said. He exported U.S. goods to countries throughout the Middle East. He said he learned some Arabic along the way, and appears in conversation well-versed in the history of conflict there. He said he knows two things for certain about the region — nothing is ever as it seems and that when the U.S. trades or supplies arms to Middle Eastern countries, inevitably those arms come back to be used against U.S. soldiers.
Nolan said he believes supporting one sect in the region makes the U.S. an enemy for all other sects, putting targets on the backs of Americans. Nolan said he would only support humanitarian aid to the region.
“Nobody gets upset when you’re dumping food and water on them,” he said.
Mills, 42, lamented President Obama’s failure to negotiate a status-of-forces agreement while ending the war in Iraq. A status-of-forces agreement would have left a contingent of soldiers behind to train and help stabilize the country following the U.S. military withdrawal in December 2011.
“It’s too bad we didn’t get a status-of-forces agreement because we very well could have gotten it,” Mills said. “If we’d have left behind a contingent like we did in Germany, in Japan, in South Korea, we would not have the vacuum ISIS now has filled.”
But Mills doubted 8thDistrict voters would be swayed by the candidates’ international viewpoints.
“The people within the 8thDistrict aren’t necessarily concerned with foreign policy first,” Mills said. “But at the end of the day if we have people abroad able to launch another Sept. 11-style attack, we need to deal with that.”
Nolan is seeking his second term in the Nov. 4 election, having served as a congressman for the 6thDistrict previously from 1975-81. Mills is vice president of Mills Fleet Farm, a family-owned company with more than 30 retail stores throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Both candidates reside in the Brainerd lakes area.