WASHINGTON – A day after announcing he’s considering a presidential run, Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton laid out his defense and foreign policy vision during a discussion Tuesday at the Brookings Institution.
Moulton, a former Marine who served four tours in Iraq, made his case by contrasting his goals with what he called Donald Trump’s foreign policy “disaster,” but said there is still an opportunity for the United States to regain its global stature.
“When an old house gets damaged by a bad renter, or in this case a terrible president, you don’t just restore it to look like it was built in 1950,” he said. “You take the opportunity to renovate it.”
Moulton said he wanted to update the way the United States conducts foreign policy, such as the administration’s approach to alliances.
“We should be asking whether it makes sense to create a Pacific NATO to counter China and Russia,” he said.
Speaking about his possible 2020 bid, Moulton reiterated comments he made Monday at Salem State University, saying: “If I can add to the debate, I’ll jump in.”
In addition to expressing his policy vision, Moulton critiqued the Trump administration’s approach to specific conflict areas.
“We need to be a stronger ally to our key allies and a stronger adversary to our enemies,” he said, explaining the way to do so is by embracing next-generation technology.
Moulton said the Defense Department is spending 16 times more on Navy aircraft carriers than on cybersecurity, causing the United States to fall behind Russia and China.
“We have to stop fighting today’s battles on yesterday’s battlefields,” he said.
Moulton, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, also called for greater spending on artificial intelligence, saying, “If we fall behind in AI, we’ll be behind in national security.”
AI may be an area of agreement between Moulton and Trump. The president signed an executive order Monday to encourage development of the technology. Many Democrats have criticized the order as being weak since it does not provide funding for research.
Moulton expressed frustration with the administration’s policy in Syria, saying troops “don’t even know why the hell they’re there.”
“They don’t know what they need to do to achieve their mission and they don’t know what to do to come home,” Moulton said. “That has got to change.”
Moulton used his remarks to single out Assistant Secretary of Defense Owen West for saying last week that he did not think former Secretary of Defense James Mattis was wrong to oppose the withdrawal from Syria.
“That’s an example of moral courage,” Moulton said, adding that West’s view is reflective of that of many national security officials.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, among others, have testified before Congress in recent weeks that ISIS still poses a threat to national security and cautioned against a hasty withdrawal.
Moulton also said Trump was wrong to suspend military exercises in South Korea as part of an agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last year.
“We’ve demeaned our credibility in the eyes of the world,” he said.
Not mincing words, Moulton said, “We’ve got an erratic, narcissistic leader with authoritarian tendencies who has strange father issues,” before quickly adding, “I’m talking about Kim Jong Un, of course.”
Moulton also discussed the dissolution of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and Russia, saying that while the agreement may have been outdated, “you shouldn’t respond to violations of a treaty by giving up on the treaty.”
“The point is to enforce the treaty,” he said.
Moulton encouraged the administration to negotiate a new treaty with Russia and China to avoid an arms race among the three military superpowers.