|Adam Gussen (right) turns to Rep. Scot Garrett (center) during the candidates forum moderated by Daniel Kirsch (left).|
Rep. Scott Garrett, the Republican representing New Jersey’s fifth Congressional district, faced off on Sunday for the first time against his challenger, Adam Gussen, the Democratic deputy mayor of Teaneck.
After this year’s redistricting, much of Teaneck is now part of the fifth district’s revised borders.
The two met at a forum sponsored by this newspaper and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern Jersey at Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah.
The meeting drew about 100 people.
Garrett argued that the United States must undo “the failed policies” of the last four years to restore the country.
Gussen charged that Garrett favors “big business and special interests” at the expense of New Jersey families.
The two candidates were asked questions on topics including the relationship between Israel and the United States; the country’s policy on Iran; the future of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security; the economy, and employment.
This article, the first of two, deals only with the foreign policy questions.
Garrett opened by declaring his commitment “to try to undo some of the damage that has been done to our country over the past four years.” That can be done, he said, by reducing both the size of the government and taxes.
“We don’t even want to go back to some of the failed policies of the prior administration as well,” he said.
Gussen opened by referring to his experience on Teaneck’s town council as well as his day job as a business development executive of Global Political Risk and Trade Credit Insurance.
“I know the tough decisions local government can face, and how government can be a partner that helps solve problems,” he said.
In his private sector work, “day in and day out I work with small and medium sized companies to expand and grow their revenues. It’s easy to see how career politicians do not understand the needs of businesses,” he said.
His reason for running: “Because we need leadership that will tackle the major problems affecting America head on, and not just the problems of hyperpartisanship.”
Dan Kirsch, a former JCRC president and the debate’s moderator, asked about the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Garrett, having won the coin toss, answered first.
“In a word, I would characterize our Mideast policy and relationship with Israel as a disaster – an absolute disaster – over these last four years,” he said.
President Obama, he said, “tried what some have characterized as a ‘charm offensive,’ and this has been a disaster in the Mideast.”
He accused Obama of “treating our friends as enemies, and enemies as friends,” pointing to the president finding it “more important to appear on television and do fundraising events than to meet with the prime minister of Israel.”
As a result of Obama’s policies, “we see the Mideast is in flames again,” he said.
Instead, America “should take a leadership role as we had in the past. We should make sure the world and Israel knows that she is our ally and we are hers.
“I have always felt there has been a bipartisan position on this, in the House of Representatives, to ensure the strong relationship with Israel stands. Under this administration, this bipartisanship has failed. We have not worked with Israel as we should,” Garrett said.
Gussen began his rejoinder by saying that “regardless of how Congressman Garrett may want to frame this as being about Obama, this is about the candidates for the fifth district.”
He said that the U.S.-Israel relationship “is one of great strength. Israel is a democratic country in a sea of despotism. Over six decades we have had a strong relationship with Israel based on shared values, and we need to continue this relationship.”
Gussen characterized the last four years as a time when America provided Israel with advanced defensive technology, including the Iron Dome anti-missile systems and an X-band radar station in the Negev, thus “giving Israel real-time data to protect from any possible threat from Iran.”
Military support, including joint training exercises, “is stronger and more concerted” than before, Gussen said.
“Garrett wants to frame it with some PR slips rather than the reality of the policy over the past four years. Israel is safer today that it was because of Iron Dome and the significant relationship we have,” Gussen continued.
“I have a deep and genuine love for the Jewish state of Israel. Our need to stand shoulder to shoulder cannot waiver,” he said.
But in his reply to Gussen, Garrett countered the notion that Israel is safer than it was four years ago, saying, “just this week they had a drone shot down in Israel.”
Obama’s perceived snubbing of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not a PR slip, but “the policy of this administration from day one.”
Garrett said he had served on a conference committee dealing with a particular bill that tried to impose additional sanctions on Iran. “Where did we get the pushback from? Not from the other side of the aisle in the Senate. From the administration. They said we don’t need to do additional economic sanctions. They said all we need to do is containment if they [the Iranians] go further.”
Foreign policy was revisited later in the discussion, with the moderator asking specifically about Iran.
This time, it was Gussen’s turn to answer first.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. This is an unacceptable position for a world leader. We cannot allow Iran to achieve nuclear capabilities under any circumstance,” he said.
Gussen took the opportunity to attack Garrett for voting to give copper mining privileges to Rio Tinto, a company that is partnered with Iran in an African uranium mine, while rejecting a Democratic amendment to that measure that would have required the mining company to divest from its relationship with Iran. All the Republicans in the House voted for the measure and against the amendment.
Gussen said that while “sanctions are the first step,” he is concerned that “no matter how difficult it becomes for Iran diplomatically, they will always prioritize hate and war over feeding their people. We cannot expect rational behavior from them.”
Consequently, “we must use every bit of leverage we have politically and globally to prevent” Iran’s nuclear ambitions. That, he said, means “being able to leverage our position on the global stage with the governments of China, Russia, and India, the people who are still buying oil from Iran, people who have worked around sanctions, people who do not have the same values we have on the issue. We must continue to bring pressure to bear.
“There is a red line: We cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weapons or to continue to pursue the capability,” Gussen concluded.
“The mining bill?” Garrett responded. “The truth of the matter is that the companies involved there were all in compliance with sanctions. No Israeli group, no Jewish group had complained.”
He said the Obama administration has had a “disastrous” effect on Mideast policies, “with Iran specifically.”
“One thing I’ve seen in my years studying international relations is this part of the world respects strength and not some sort of charm offensive,” he said.
He recalled the contrast between President Jimmy Carter and his successor, Ronald Reagan.
“Immediately after Reagan was elected, our hostages were released,” he said.
(Actually, the hostages were released not after the November 1976 election, but 20 minutes after Reagan finished his inaugural address in January 1977)
In contrast, Obama “does not stand up for American principles. This president would rather be on TV than meet with the prime minister of Israel. At the same time, he is more than happy to welcome a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to come to the White House,” said Garrett, referring to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
“What kind of message is it when this president wants to decimate this country’s military?” Garrett asked. “We cannot decimate our military and think we will have a strong positio in the world community.
“Containment – which apparently is the policy with regard to Iran and nuclear aggression – will not work,” he concluded.
Gussen replied, “I said from the start that containment will not work, and there’s real issues that we need to face.”
If Garrett “wants to continue to paint me with the same brush he paints the administration, that’s not my thoughts, that’s not my beliefs.”
Regarding the Rio Tinto mining company, “Rio Tinto was sanctioned by the U.N. six times” for violating sanctions. “It operates the world’s largest uranium mine, puts Iran as their largest partner. Rio Tinto wants benefits so they can mine copper. Garrett is okay with giving away the house to big business even if they’re in bed with Iran.”