Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a 34-year-old Democrat, has impressed party operatives with his fundraising and tenacity on the campaign trail, stoking hopes that he can mount a real challenge to Republican Sen. Roy Blunt.
Democrats are hopeful Kander’s hawkish foreign policy and background as an Army veteran will make him attractive to voters at a time when many of them are worried about national security.
Kander explained his vision for America’s place in the world during a recent wide-ranging interview with National Journal. He discussed how President Obama has disappointed him, why he likes the Patriot Act, and whether the country should consider sending additional ground troops to defeat ISIS.
The interview, edited for length and clarity, follows below.
Polls suggest foreign policy is the top issue in this election. Are they right?
It’s right that foreign policy is at the top of voters' minds right now. It’s important. Our country is at risk at the moment. On many of these national security issues, I’m not in line with my political party. But I just base my decisions on what I think is right for Missouri and the country. And it’s one of the reasons, for instance, I was the only Democratic challenger running in a competitive seat to oppose the president’s deal with Iran. [Conner Eldridge, a Democratic candidate in Arkansas, also opposes the Iran deal.]
In principle, was the Iraq War a good idea?
At this point, everybody agrees that that was a huge strategic error. If you watch, for instance, what’s going on in the Republican debate for the presidency, you see, overwhelmingly, everyone on both sides of the aisle seems to agree that was a mistake. And that’s something I understood that at the time, and Senator Blunt did not.
Should President Obama should have kept troops in Iraq instead of a complete withdrawal?
I think that the focus at this point has got to be what we do now. That’s why, for instance, the president’s speech, for me—I feel the president could have done a better job explaining what we need to do now to combat ISIS rather than talk about what we’ve been doing. And I didn’t hear much new from the president the other night.
You don’t think the president did a good job addressing the nation about ISIS?
I thought the president could have done a better job.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the president’s handling of ISIS?
I’m not going to get in to doing scales of 1 to 10, because then you don’t know what you’re comparing it against. I think it’s very clear that we need an aggressive strategy from the president. But we also need a more aggressive strategy from Congress. We need Congress to do more than just engage in partisan games. And so far that’s not what we’ve seen.
Specifically, what should Obama do better?
We have to be willing to engage ISIS militarily, economically, and even on the Internet without delay. For instance, I think we waited too long to engage al-Qaida and the Taliban in Pakistan. And we should not make a similar mistake with ISIS elements throughout the world.
So you think we should send additional troops in Syria or Iraq?
Ground troops … have to be a last resort. I think they should always be a last resort. But as I think we have that conversation going forward, we need to make sure it’s not just a conversation of whether we should send people in, but also how those people get out. I think in the past we have not always had that conversation. But it’s clear that as we go forward, if military leaders say that that is the only way we are going to be able to destroy ISIS, then that’s what we’re going to have to.
Aren’t we close to that last resort now?
One of the things we definitely need to do in the short run, we need to make sure there’s a collation in place willing to be a part of any military force. It’s clear that Sunni Arab nations in the area, for instance, need to be part of any coalition. But again, my criteria is that American troops should be a last resort.
But you’re not ruling them out?
Do you agree with President Obama’s Republican critics that the president has mishandled global affairs more broadly than just ISIS?
I’ve been disappointed with just about everybody in Washington when it comes to this issue and many others. I don’t think this is an exception.
Would you have voted to change the Patriot Act?
I realize there are a lot of folks in my political party who disagree with me on this, but I think the Patriot Act is an important law enforcement tool and it makes our country safer. And with the threats we face, I think we need to do everything we can to keep America safe.
It would be, frankly, very helpful to have somebody who was a former Army intelligence officer to be able to provide oversight. Because there is a question of privacy, but the other question is: Are we doing this in a way that actually allows us to effectively collect intelligence?
You’re running to represent a state that includes the city of Ferguson. Let me ask you: Is it “All Lives Matter” or “Black Lives Matter?"
Look, I have no problem invoking the term “black lives matter,” and I think a lot of politicians have let the semantics get in the way. We have to make sure, with regard to that national conversation, we are doing everything we can, that law enforcement is put in a position where it can trust the community that it is protecting and the community it is protecting can trust law enforcement. And we have a lot of work to do in that regard. It’s an important national conversation, and we have to keep moving forward to do it. I’ve been to Ferguson dozens of times over the last year to talk to residents, small-business owners, and law enforcement personnel to see what people there actually need. The events there have changed the conversation in Missouri and across the country, but just changing the conversation is not good enough. There’s still action that needs to be taken.