My Turn: When it comes to national security, Hassan is best

For the Monitor
Published: 10/19/2016 3:10:03 AM

After peeling back the ugly outer layers of the Trump effect on the pivotal U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire, conventional political wisdom both inside and outside the Granite State maintains the race is so close in large part because Gov. Maggie Hassan is seen as stronger on domestic issues, such as the opioid crisis, while Sen. Kelly Ayotte is more versed on national security.

The reality is that in both strategic direction and in details, Hassan’s national security and defense plan is infinitely better and more thought out than Ayotte’s. And before you think I am just some partisan Democrat saying this, consider that I have spent my entire adult life working on U.S. national security issues in more than 50 countries and am former spokesman for the New Hampshire Republican Party.

While I recognize that most Granite Staters will not parse the details of each candidate’s national security and foreign policy plan or compare them side by side like I have, most New Hampshire voters understand that leadership qualities and executive experience are the two most important criteria in being able to legislate national security issues effectively.

This is precisely why Hassan will be best for New Hampshire on national security, because she has worked from an executive level with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and local police departments to keep Granite Staters safe by enhancing New Hampshire’s Information and Analysis Center, bolstering safety plans at public schools and instituting specialized active shooter courses and trainings for police departments across the state.

Hassan could have taken a politically expedient position on the Iran nuclear deal and opposed it out of hand like many others in tough races have chosen to do while shirking real chances to demonstrate leadership. However, the fact of the matter is that she is right on the Iran nuclear deal – it has stopped Tehran’s nuclear weapons program and is the best deal the international community could have hoped to get. It has already made the Middle East and Central Asia safer.

Having worked in most of Iran’s neighbors – tough countries such as Turkmenistan, Armenia, Iraq and Azerbaijan, I do not say this lightly. Hassan will lead efforts in Congress to make sure that Iran continues to meet its international obligations while reintegrating back into the international community – two things that in and of themselves will help make the world safer.

On the significant challenge of ISIS, Hassan will work closely with the Clinton administration to completely destroy the terrorist group in Syria, Iraq and Libya through air strikes, special operations actions and cyber warfare, while ramping up our intelligence partnerships in the region with countries such as Jordan and Tunisia.

Having worked in Russia and all 15 former Soviet republics, I have seen up close Moscow’s regression into an expansionist, belligerent regional power.

Unlike Donald Trump and a significant portion of the current New Hampshire Republican Party leadership, Hassan understands the necessity of continued U.S. leadership in NATO and how bilateral and multilateral engagement with countries such as Lithuania and Poland in crucial areas such as air power, intelligence sharing and cybersecurity should be increased, not only enhancing these NATO members’ security in the face of Russian aggression but ours as well.

As commander in chief of the New Hampshire National Guard, Hassan supported the 157th Refueling Wing’s NATO Partnership for Peace state program with El Salvador. As senator, she will be in a unique position to draw on her executive experience to lead efforts in Congress for the creation of a national service plan that will enlist up to 5 million Americans to volunteer and serve their local communities to help address critical problems, such as opioid addiction in Manchester, while also increasing the number of Peace Corps volunteers to serve in places such as El Salvador.

Strengthening countries in Central America by a combined national service plan and enhanced NATO state program with the New Hampshire Air National Guard is not only the right thing to do on a humanitarian level but will increase the national security and safety of the United States.

While Hassan’s foreign policy priorities have received scant attention in a campaign where Ayotte’s changing positions on supporting Donald Trump has unfortunately dominated media coverage at the expense of a real foreign policy discussion, Hassan’s national security plan combined with her executive and bipartisan leadership experience will have a profound and positive impact on Granite Staters’ safety and security for decades to come.

(Mark Lenzi was a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Lithuania, a Peace Corps volunteer in Poland and is former spokesman for the New Hampshire Republican Party.)

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