Campaign season often lends itself to matters of frivolity, but it’s no exaggeration to say the newest discussion point in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate campaign is a matter of life and death. This week, DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken released a letter he sent to the U.S. Department of Justice, calling on that agency to investigate reports that American citizens, including some from Minnesota, had left the country to join the Islamic State militant group.
The Islamic State, sometimes referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has gained control of large areas in Syria and Iraq in a calculated offensive that has left thousands dead and displaced several hundred thousand people. In the course of its military actions, the militant group has exhibited shocking brutality, claiming responsibility for mass executions of Syrians and Iraqis and, in recent weeks, the videotaped executions of two American journalists.
Even before Franken went public with his Sept. 2 letter of concern, the Republican Party of Minnesota was targeting the Democratic incumbent for what it called “broken promises” on the topic of Iraq. The state GOP released a video contrasting statements Franken made on the campaign trail leading up to the 2008 election, when Franken had said the U.S. should begin the process of pulling its troops out of Iraq, with recent news reports detailing ISIL’s attacks and subsequent U.S. airstrikes.
The RPM also called a press conference Friday morning to draw attention to the “failed foreign policy” carried out by Franken and President Barack Obama, with a number of conservative veterans, including former GOP U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hegseth and state Reps. Bruce Anderson (R-Buffalo) and Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake), scheduled to appear.
In an interview, Franken’s Republican opponent Mike McFadden said ongoing violence in Iraq and Syria was attributable to a larger shortcoming in leadership from both Obama and Franken. Like the state GOP, and numerous other conservative political figures, McFadden made repeated reference to Obama’s acknowledgement at a recent press conference that the White House “[did not] have a strategy yet.” McFadden argued that a lack of U.S. leadership on world affairs was to blame not only for ISIL’s swift rise to power, but also Russian’s continued encroachment in Ukraine and this summer’s conflict between Israel and Gaza, where a tenuous ceasefire is in place.
“[Obama] has made this world a dangerous place, where our allies don’t trust us and our enemies don’t fear us,” McFadden said. He added: “Al Franken has supported [Obama’s] failed foreign policy every step of the way.”
McFadden argued the perceived weakness of the United States in global security could be traced back to the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the killing of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
In his letter, Franken also made reference to Obama’s remark about the lack of a coherent approach to combating the Islamic State.
“I was troubled by the President’s recent suggestion that the Administration has not yet developed a comprehensive strategy to address the growing threat of ISIL’s activities in Syria,” Franken wrote.
It is believed that two young Minnesotans have been killed while fighting with ISIL in the Syrian civil war. Franken’s letter urges the Department of Justice to use any legal resources available to “prevent Americans from taking up arms with ISIL, or from reentering our country if they do.”
McFadden called the involvement of Minnesotans in radical militant groups a “tragedy,” and said Franken’s letter is “too little, too late.” McFadden also said he would hold an informal meeting with members of Minnesota’s East African community on Thursday night.
“They’re very concerned about fact that citizens of the United States are going to Syria and fighting with [ISIL],” McFadden said. “It’s problematic, and needs to be addressed, and it’s something Senator Franken should have been on top of years ago.”
Though he faulted Obama and Franken for not formulating a strategy of their own, McFadden stopped short of offering his own alternative, saying only that the decision to involve U.S. troops should only be made “when there’s a strong strategic interest and a very strong scope of mission.”
Though his views are ultimately his own, McFadden’s view on foreign affairs has been shaped by input from advisers like former Minnesota U.S. Sens. Rudy Boschwitz and Norm Coleman, Franken’s opponent in 2008, as well as George Schulz, who served as U.S. Secretary of State for the bulk of Ronald Reagan‘s presidency. McFadden also said he spoke often about foreign policy with Dan Sullivan, a law school friend and former Marine who is also the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Alaska.