Ex-Marine Seth Moulton Focuses on National Security
Seth Moulton (Credit - Twitter)
Seth Moulton (Credit – Twitter)

On the Campaign Trail:

Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachussetts is an ex-Marine, one of three military veterans in the 2020 Democratic race. If he runs (he says he’s in “exploratory” mode until May), military service and national security issues will be central to his candidacy.

Moulton is a self-described moderate. His abortive challenge to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was based on his view that the party was skewing too far to the left.

This is the conventional wisdom of the Washington blob, suggesting that President Moulton’s national security agenda would follow the contours of traditional Clinton-Bush-Obama policies. Like Clinton and Obama, he tends to avoid ideological choices by saying he’ll be “smarter.”

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On North Korea: Trump ‘Making World More Dangerous’

We need to move away from a situation where we are solely focused on achieving an overall, all-encompassing agreement—an incredibly difficult task to achieve—while North Korea uses the time we’re negotiating to continue advancing its program. Given that North Korea has an estimated 20 to 30 nuclear warheads, fissile material for 30 to 60 more, and a progressing nuclear program, we must work toward an interim agreement that halts North Korea’s program in exchange for limited sanctions relief. We don’t yet know whether the North Koreans would agree to any deal that dismantles their nuclear program in exchange for significant economic incentives. We need to test that proposition while halting Pyongyang’s progress, and an interim agreement would do just that.

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On Hong Kong and China:

Human rights must be a key focus of our foreign policy, both with China and around the world. The United States should publicly condemn China’s human rights abuses and continually raise them at the highest levels in diplomatic dialogue. We should also pursue targeted sanctions on entities and individuals who are involved in repression, and make clear that we support Hong Kong’s autonomy. On China policy writ large, we need to take on China but do so in a smart way. That means working towards a trade deal that helps Americans and American workers; building a cyber wall to keep our intellectual property safe in the face of Chinese aggression; and establishing a Pacific version of NATO to counter the growing security threat China poses to the region. 

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On Israel and A Two-State Solution:

‘Yes, I unequivocally support a two-state solution. Israelis deserve to live in peace and security, and the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. 
Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East and will continue to be. But we cannot continue to support their current right-wing government’s policies that have made a two-state solution virtually impossible. There’s certainly a lot of blame to go around in this conflict, but the Israelis have failed to live up to the standards we demand from our allies, and that needs to change. ‘

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On NATO: ‘Strengthen For A New World’

On issues of war and peace, Moulton says the United States must break with the policies of the past, most significantly on NATO. Far more explicitly than other candidates, he calls for rethinking America’s military alliance with Europe.

In a February 2019 speech at the Brookings Institution, Moulton said:

In the wake of Trump’s handling of NATO many will call for re-strengthening that alliance, and I am among them. But NATO was established under 1949 rationale … We need to rethink the strategic role and purpose of NATO. Now is the opportunity presented to us ironically by this Administration to renovate and strengthen it for a new world.

On Russia: We Need an Effective Strategy

‘The United States needs to hold Russia accountable for its ongoing aggression against Ukraine. We should do so by increasing sanctions to impose costs on the Russian government—ones that specifically impact Vladimir Putin and his close allies—and by continuing to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, a step the Obama administration should have taken. The actions we take against Russia must also be part of a broader strategy to counter Moscow’s malign behavior. That means strengthening NATO’s military capabilities and modernizing it to counter cyberattacks with the same resolve we’ve used to stop tanks from rolling into Europe.’

Council on Foreign Relations interview

Russia’s desperate situation is precisely what makes it so dangerous – and precisely what should concern us here in the US – an emboldened President Putin increasingly driven towards rash, short term calculations. Without a proactive, effective strategy to meet Russia on the advanced battlefield of hybrid warfare and counter President Putin’s whole-of-government strategy against NATO, Russian influence will only continue to grow despite their fundamental economic weakness.

Atlantic Council Speech — 2.2.2016

On Iran: ‘Remains An Enemy’

Let me be clear, the Iran Nuclear Deal is an important step towards preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But Iran remains our enemy and the deal will only be effective if it is strongly enforced.

Just within the context of our relationship with Iran we can see how “no better friend, no worse enemy” can be effectively employed. Where Iran is compliant, we uphold our diplomatic commitments without compromise; where they continue to flout international agreements outside the nuclear deal, supporting international terrorism and threatening us and our allies, we will stand strongly against them.

Source: Moulton’s Remarks at the Atlantic Council

On Venezuela: No Use of Force

The Trump administration’s approach to Venezuela is a throwback to the Cold War: intervene in support of a coup, blame Cuba for everything, and in the process, make America a foil for Maduro to use with his people as the reason his economy is faltering. 
Maduro is a dictator who is killing his own people, and he has lost the legitimacy to lead. But we have learned from experience that when the United States tries to dictate outcomes in other countries, we often end up provoking a backlash and uniting different factions against us as the outsider. Moving forward, we should continue to sanction Venezuelan leaders and encourage the opposition. But if my time in the Marines taught me anything, it’s that the United States is not the world’s policeman. Nor should we try to be. 

Council on Foreign Relations interview

On February 6th, Moulton signed onto House Resolution 1004: Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela Act as a co-sponsor.

On War: Alliances for Arms Control

In summary, it’s time to completely re-imagine our arms, our alliances, and our arms control for this new and rapidly changing world. All three are indispensable to meet the challenges of the new world order, which emphasizes the importance of an all hands-on deck approach to national security. Russia and China have embraced this, terrorist groups embody it, but here in America we have regressed.

On Afghanistan:

On Trump’s Foreign Policy:


In sum, Moulton is a self-conscious “national security” candidate whose military service is central to his identity and his agenda. He is a hawk on Russia, less so on Iran.

On the interventionist/anti-interventionist spectrum, President Moulton would be closer to the reluctant interventionist end, probably along the lines of Obama.

In the Eyes of ‘the Blob’ and the Secret Intelligence Agencies:

President Moulton would probably work well with policymaking elites, intelligence chiefs, and military leaders disenchanted with Trump, thanks to his military experience and conventional views on national security issues.

Research: Daniel Ortiz

Return to Insider’s Guide to the 2020 Democrats on War and Peace

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