I interviewed Glen Urquhart the Republican candidate for the Delaware Congressional seat and his opponent John Carney, the Democratic nominee on foreign policy. My conversations with them provided insights into their personality, values and their vision for American foreign policy.
Glen Urquhart, a wealthy businessman with some Washington experience, is primarily a "one of each" candidate. He has one domestic policy issue, the burgeoning national debt, and one international issue, a space based missile defense shield. He can speak passionately, though not necessarily convincingly, on both those issues. But when one raises other topics, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East, US relations with the Muslim World key issues which have dominated American foreign relations for a nearly a decade, he appeared to be out of his depth.
He believes that peace can be achieved only through strength and because America has become weak, it is vulnerable to "irrational people who do irrational things." His panacea to restore American power is investment in a space based interceptor program. This missile shield, he argues, will not only protect the U.S. but also its allies making preemptive wars unnecessary. He believes that this would also resolve the problem of Iran's nuclear program by ensuring Israeli security.
Urquhart says that his leadership style is based on "principle, reflection and is relational" and backed by his faith in reconciliation and pragmatism. The message he is trying to send is that he is a man of faith and principles, who can relate to people and willing learn on the job. He believes he can bring reconciliation between America and the Muslim World. He is proud of his "independent perspective" and that he stood up to his own party.
I asked him about the growing Islamophobia in America. What did he think of the Muslim bashing coming specifically from the Republican national leadership and the Tea Party movement? It is a credit to him that he immediately distanced himself from the proliferation of bigots in his party. He stressed that he did not believe in dogma and believed that everyone, Muslims included, had a right to pursue the American dream and everyone, atheists included, have first amendment rights.
He knows very little about the Shariah, but he opposes it. He sees the Shariah based Saudi Arabia as an ally, but calls the more democratic Iran a destabilizing force. He does not know much about the politics of the Middle East but calls the peace process nothing but propaganda. His "independent perspective" is absent on Muslims issues. Without independent thought he is parroting the least thoughtful slogans from the far right of his party.
John Carney on the other hand came across as a candidate who was comfortable with foreign affairs. He appeared confident in his understanding of the nation's international challenges and addressed them in a thoughtful manner.
He assessed President Obama's performance on foreign policy as mixed. He recognized that the President had delivered on Iraq by drawing down US military presence there as promised. Carney applauded the President's achievement in the nuclear arms reduction area, but conceded that the war in Afghanistan remained an "area of concern."
John Carney thinks that we live in a post 9/11 world in which one of our new challenges is "homegrown terrorism." He feels that we are at "a fork in the road" in the Middle East. He knows that the peace process is a priority and finds the lack of moratorium on Israeli settlements troubling. He understands US dilemmas very well. "We cannot force a solution", he said, but we must work to find common ground between Arabs and Israelis on borders, security, Jerusalem and the final status.
When quizzed on the Park51 controversy and the growing Islamophobia in the US, Carney was very candid. He found the bigotry ridiculous. Freedom of religion and tolerance, he argued, were our founding principles, and the Imam therefore has a right to build his mosque. He however added that given the sentiments of many New Yorkers and the families of the 9/11 victims, the location for the mosque was not a wise choice. This was the only issue on which Carney and Urquhart agreed. Muslims have the right to build mosques, but the location was not the best of choices.
He contends that America is not an Islamophobic country. Today many Americans are anxious about jobs and the future of their children, and Carney believes that some in our national leadership are "using their fear and anxiety to divide and take political advantage rather than bringing us together."
In Congress, he hopes to deal with the threat of terrorism, support the peace process and work to bring back troops from Afghanistan by July 2011.
Delawareans, when you vote in November, remember two things: One, members of the Congress deal with many issues not just one or two. When in Washington D.C. they will have to cope with sharp lawyers, lobbyists and smart experts. You need representatives who have a wide and deep understanding of issues and can safeguard your interests and not fall prey to special interests.
Two, those who believe that the Federal Government is inherently ineffective and have more faith in the private sector's ability to solve our problems, should best stay in the private sector and solve our problems and not join the public service, if they do not believe in it.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor in the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for social Policy and Understanding.