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Mark Udall, Democrat candidate, US Senate

Mark UdallIJN Associate Editor interviews Cong. Mark Udall, currently serving Colorado’s second congressional district, and now running for the US Senate in November’s election.

Q: Is the current US approach — working through the UN for limited sanctions — a sufficient response to Iran??

“We have to do more. A nuclear-armed Iran is a threat, not just in the region where Iran is located but the entire world. You can’t take any option off the table. The administration took its eye off the ball with Iran, particularly in the early years, and we’re now trying to regain some lost ground.

“The next administration has to use every tool in the toolbox – sanctions, diplomacy, better intelligence gathering.

“One of the ironic outcomes of our invasion of Iraq has been that it emboldened and strengthened Iran. It’s one of the reasons I opposed the quick action to go to war in Iraq. Iran and Iraq were effectively checkmating each other.

“We’d also have to convince the Chinese and the Russians that it’s in their interests to hold Iran’s feet to the fire.

“We should take Ahmadinejad’s comments at their face value when he talks about Israel. We didn’t do so with another evil leader, seventy-some years ago, and we found ourselves in a world war.

“The next president has to have Iran at the very top of his foreign policy list.”

Q: If Israel decides to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, what do you think should be the appropriate American response?

“I’m always reluctant to talk about hypotheticals. If Israel were to take such a step, of course I think we stand with Israel.

“Any time you use force — and I say this as a member of the Armed Services Committee — you have to be thinking about the political goals. If you’re going to use force anywhere in the world the goal has to be to create a more stable and more peaceful world. That’s the difficult question when you consider military action and Iran.

“I think we have time but we don’t have an excessive amount of time. I’m reminded of the great basketball coach, John Wooden who used to say, ‘Be quick, but don’t hurry.’ That axiom applies to the situation in Iran.

“The opportunities we have, though, are still significant to prevent such a day arriving. We have to become more focused on sanctions and we can also think about some additional carrots. We want to have some really big sticks and a lot of carrots.

“One of the carrots is doing all we can to reach out to the Iranian population that’s under the age of 35 and is very Western oriented and not particularly happy with the mullahs and with Ahmadinejad himself.”

Q: Please describe what’s going on today on Wall Street, and what should be done about it. Why did you vote against the bailout plan?

“We got to where we are on Wall Street for a number of reasons. Greed and a lack of oversight on the part of this administration are the two fundamental reasons.

“All you have to do is look at the SEC’s decision to relax the rules granting credit-default swaps, these very complicated instruments that are now part of the meltdown on Wall Street. When they relaxed those rules, they didn’t increase the oversight. There was one person, from what I know, who was in charge of this shadowy, very complicated marketplace. We now have something on the order of $55 trillion in credit-default swap instruments in place.

“I voted against the bailout because I didn’t think it directed enough of our taxpayer dollars into the hands of middle class working Americans. I wanted to see what’s now being proposed for front-and-center in the plan, [namely,] to inject a significant amount of this capital into banks. [With that], the taxpayers take a preferred stock position so that we’re first in line if the bank has trouble. We’re also first in line if the bank thrives; therefore we would get back our initial investment and a return on that investment.

“In the initial legislation in the package that came back from the Senate, I also voted no. There were a lot of ‘mays’ and ‘encourages’ in the legislation. Those are much softer legal terms than ‘shall’ and ‘must.’

“Number two, I’ve long held that we ought to have a large-scale rewriting of people’s mortgage contracts. That’s the way to stabilize the economy. Until the housing market bottoms out, stabilizes, we’re going to continue to see the roiling in the markets. In the package that came forward, there was not a direct provision to do so.

“This is our money. I thought it should be going to help people on Main Street, people in our towns, cities and suburbs. You’re hearing now again some conversation about perhaps taking those steps.

“The bill that was finally passed also didn’t include the kind of oversight I wanted. I wanted the country’s best capitalists on the oversight board, people like Warren Buffet, Mike Bloomberg and T. Boone Pickens.

“Finally, there weren’t strict enough provisions when it comes to CEO pay and golden parachutes. Americans want the people who got us into this mess to be held responsible. The last thing they should receive is golden parachutes on the way out the door.

“Having said that, it passed, with a majority of the vote in both houses. My job now is to continue to ask those questions in a way that I think will have as immediate an effect as possible.

“This is an arcane world, one that the average American doesn’t spend time understanding, and we have to get back to the fundamentals: You don’t loan more out of banks and financial institutions than you have collateral to back up. We’ve gone from a 10-to-1 type loan ration to 30, 40 and 50-to-1 ratios. The average family doesn’t handle their finances that way. The financial system shouldn’t either.

“We need oversight and accountability in the short-term. And in the long-term we have to reconfigure the whole financial services regulatory framework.

“This is an indictment of the last 14 years of the deregulation fever that so many people contracted; that if you just turn everybody loose, everything’s going to be great, and what’s good for CEOs is good for the economy. That’s been proven wrong.”

Q: List the steps you would advocate to address the issue of healthcare in America today.

“We have 800,000 Coloradoans who are uninsured, over half of them working age adults. They have to pay their own medical bills. Too many people are an illness away from being bankrupt. That’s an unconscionable situation.

“It’s also not wise to let our country drift further in regards to healthcare. Why? Because it affects our economy and our national security.

“The goal ought to be to cover every American with affordable insurance and provide access.

“Secondly, healthcare ought to be about giving power to patients and their doctors instead of insurance companies.

“Third, I want to see people have access to the kind of plan that every federal employee has, which puts that doctor-patient relationship front and center and offers affordable choices.

“So how do we do that? We support, and in some cases doctors require, a reform-based system and those reforms ought to be targeted at improving access, driving down costs and then making sure doctors can practice medicine as they were taught to do.

“I would take a look at self-insurance programs, direct tax cuts to the families, give small businesses help by giving them access to purchasing pools so they can share the risk. Insurance companies shouldn’t be able to exempt people because of pre-existing conditions. I hear a lot about that.

“Finally, I think you could encourage experimentation at the state levels, use the states as they were designed to be used, as laboratories for public policy.

“To do that, you need a national agreement that there would have to be some adjustments in the Medicare and Medicaid rules and in the tax code itself, which in many cases is helpful; in other cases provides disincentives to the goals I want to reach.

“Then there are the federal laws which set a lot of national standards for healthcare and would make it difficult for the states to be the laboratories of experimentation.”

Q: Are we fighting Islamic terror in the right countries? If not, where and how do you think that fight should be waged?

“We’re fighting it in many of the right places, but I think we have to do more and we have to be more effective.

“High on my list is to finish the job in Afghanistan and then to work with the government in Pakistan to root out al-Qaida and the terror cells that exist along the border with Afghanistan.

“It’s why I feel so strongly about handing, in a careful manner, Iraq back to the Iraqis. We won the war in Iraq and now it’s time for the Iraqis to win the peace.

“We’re going to be in the region. We’re going to have forces in Iraq, clearly, and we need to help continue the training of the Iraqi security forces. We need to make sure that the borders of Iraq are maintained and respected. We have to have a diplomatic presence there as well.

“We also have to rebuild our military. The military is stretched to the margin. All you have to do is talk quietly to active duty general officers, as I do, and you’ll hear story after story about our mid-level officers resigning their commissions because they’ve had three tours of duty in Iraq over the last five years. Their families are suffering. That’s going to be key in being able to fight the war on terror.

“We have to continue to learn from the successes . . . when it comes to counter-insurgency doctrine. We have to be tough, but we also have to be smart. We have to understand the nature of the adversary, how to defeat our adversary.

“I believe that we have to have a global counter-insurgency and that has to include elements not just of military force but smart diplomatic efforts so that we can strengthen our friendships and alliances with those who live in the regions where terrorism thrives. We have to be smart about economic opportunity in the countries where terrorism has legs.

“Finally, one of my themes is that this is another reason why energy independence is so important. We’re funding both sides of the war on terror right now. If I have one criticism of President Bush, if I could go back in history and the president would have to listen to me, it would have been on the 12th of September, 2001. He should have put forward a call for energy independence.

“We know that we’re vulnerable, but we also know that with the new energy regime in the world – alternative fuels, wind and solar, another look at nuclear power, smart, responsible drilling, clean coals – that we won’t be dependent on the pleasure of dictators and petro-nationalists that either directly or indirectly fund terrorist elements, whether it’s the Saudis, the Bahrainis, the Venezuelans, even the Russians.

“And we really have to redouble our efforts with regard to nuclear proliferation. That includes a full funding of Nunn-Lugar, which is the program that wraps up all the loose nuclear material in the old Soviet Union.”

Q: Would you describe your race against Bob Schaffer as a below-the-belt campaign? Aren’t some of the ads being run by both campaigns an insult to the intelligence of Colorado voters?

“Coloradoans will have the final say, obviously, on the 4th of November. I’m telling people they’ll have their TVs back in two- and-a-half weeks.

“We do have all these outside groups that have been running ads. I’ve been the focus of an unprecedented barrage of ads — $14 million, 12 different groups, over two dozen ads – so I’ve been saying that I’m going to vote early because if I keep watching those ads I’m not going to want to vote for myself!

“In my campaign, we’ve run a series of ads where I talk about what I want to do and what I would focus on in the Senate. When I have run ads critical of Congressman Schaffer, I’ve run them in a contrasting manner where I talk about his record and my record.

“This is a tough campaign, and I would hope that there’s a way to do it differently in the future, but now I’m on the field and the point is to give my best case to the public here in Colorado. The voters are the referees and they’ll decide.”

Chris Leppek

IJN Assistant Editor |

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