Newspaper article MinnPost.com

International Affairs in International Falls: Why Foreign Policy Is Playing an Outsize Role in the 8th District Campaign

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

International Affairs in International Falls: Why Foreign Policy Is Playing an Outsize Role in the 8th District Campaign

Article excerpt

What issues matter most to the voters of the 8th Congressional District in northern Minnesota?

In a district where the unemployment rate stubbornly lags behind that of the rest of the state and where news of mine and steel plant layoffs seem almost routine, you could argue that jobs and the economy should be at the top of their lists. But what about the big nonferrous mining projects, central among them PolyMet, that have divided the region?

And then there's the Iran nuclear deal.

Though the lakes and hills of northeastern Minnesota are far, far removed from the waters of the Persian Gulf and the hills of Syria, so far the candidates in this competitive race are talking as much about the Islamic State as they are about the North Star State.

While candidates in Minnesota's other marquee contests -- the 2nd and 3rd Districts -- are content to hash out the finer points of tax policy and the Affordable Care Act, in the rematch contest between Rep. Rick Nolan and Stewart Mills is focusing to a surprising degree on foreign affairs. Why does foreign policy figure so prominently in this district's race?

Foreign policy a key campaign issue

The foreign policy debate got off to an early start in the 8th District campaign: Mills' first attack on Nolan this year was not over mining or gun rights, but over the Iran nuclear deal.

In January, the campaign sent out a release claiming that Secretary of State John Kerry "confirms Rick Nolan votes to fund terrorist organizations." That claim is based on a statement from Kerry: he said that of the $100 billion the Iranian government would get in sanctions relief, some may inevitably go to organizations like Hezbollah. The Mills campaign used that to cast Nolan's vote for the Iran deal as a vote to fund terror organizations, a characterization Nolan said was shameless.

Even before that, in September 2015, the American Action Network, a super PAC founded by former Sen. Norm Coleman, began airing ads attacking Nolan for his support of the Iran deal.

The Mills camp has also slammed the incumbent for his support resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., and suggesting that if he "had his way," Guantanamo Bay detainees would be released here. (Which is not necessarily true.)

"Clearly, Rick Nolan in Congress makes America less safe," said Mills' then-campaign manager, Charlie Szold, who now works for the campaign of Iowa Republican Rep. David Young.

There's a lot of campaign bluster there, but it does underscore that there are some significant foreign policy differences between the two candidates.

Overall, Mills advocates for a muscular U.S. foreign policy. He is somewhat of an interventionist, criticizing Nolan for opposing expanded action in Syria, and arguing the U.S. has a bigger role to play in the fight against ISIS.

Speaking with MinnPost, Mills declined to say what level of U.S. military presence in the Middle East would be appropriate, and declined to say if Congress should approve a new authorization of military force for the president to specifically target ISIS.

The Nisswa Republican did say that U.S. forces are currently outmatched against ISIS, and that "if we're sending our troops into battles out-balanced in their favor, we should make sure we have support so that it's a fair and equal fight."

Nolan, meanwhile, generally pushes for a cautious foreign policy. He told MinnPost he believes the U.S. needs to exercise more restraint abroad. "If anything's going to be done, it has to be done by the international community and not the U.S. alone," he said. "It's gotta stop."

"Put an end to the wars of choice, stop the so-called nation- building abroad, and start reinvesting in America" is how Nolan described his international point of view.

Voters in the 8th District, he said, have "seen these trillions and trillions of dollars, vast amounts of treasure and blood go into these endless wars in the Middle East, and they've had it, they want to put an end to them. …

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