WMUR: Updated: Ayotte says Clinton has not ‘demonstrated vision to keep country safe’ As originally appearing in WMUR
BY JOHN DISTASO
MANCHESTER, N .H. —During a speech Monday that called for a more aggressive U.S. stance against ISIS, Russia and Iran, Kelly Ayotte did not mention either presumptive presidential nominee.
But the Republican incumbent acknowledged in an interview after her appearance at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics that foreign policy leadership begins at the White House, and she reiterated her intention to vote for Donald Trump in November.
Ayotte, who is in a tough re-election battle with Gov. Maggie Hassan, charged that Democrat Hillary Clinton “has not demonstrated the effective vision to keep our country safe.”
Ayotte also said that in her own role as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she will support or oppose administration policies without regard to who – or which party – is in the White House in 2017.
In the speech to a gathering of business leaders at a Politics and Eggs event, Ayotte laid out a broad military, political and diplomatic strategy for defeating the terrorist group ISIS.
Charging the Obama administration’s approach has been “belated and incremental” and was “slow to acknowledge the severity of the threat posed by ISIS,” Ayotte made several military-related proposals.
She called for a “dramatic” increase in the number of military personnel who direct air strikes – known as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers – and said the U.S. should “implement a far more aggressive campaign of regular special operations raids.”
Ayotte said the Obama administration “should initiate a more intense campaign of these raids targeting ISIS leaders, headquarters elements and key nodes in both Iraq and Syria.” She called for “a more aggressive air campaign against ISIS, including the aggressive use of A-10 aircraft” and for a loosening of constraints on rules of engagement for pilots that now “prevent them from quickly attacking obvious enemy targets of opportunity.”
Ayotte said the U.S. must ensure that Iraqi Kurds “have everything they need as we focus on re-taking ISIS-controlled territory, including Mosul.”
She also called for a more “assertive” approach to confront Russian activities in Syria.
“Russia’s supposed ‘withdrawal’ from Syria was mere propaganda,” Ayotte said. “Russia has been bombing the moderate forces supporting our efforts in Syria. The bottom line is that the administration’s Russia reset has been an abject failure. The administration’s failure to respond appropriately to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only invited more bad behavior. Russia has undermined our efforts at every turn.”
She called for the establishment of a safe zone in Syria, which, she said, would reduce the need for Syrians to leave their country and “flood Europe.” The U.S. should “push” NATO allies, especially Germany, to increase defense spending and insist that NATO play a greater role in the training of the forces of “partners” in the Middle East, she said.
Ayotte also called for a series of diplomatic initiatives, such as increasing pressure of Syrian leader Assad to step down, “and to replace his regime with one that is inclusive of Sunnis. This will require us to be more forceful with Russia and Iran, who are propping up the Assad regime. But we should not expect diplomatic progress with respect to Assad if we do not achieve significant progress on the battlefield.”
In the interview, Ayotte was asked which presidential candidate she is more comfortable with to lead U.S. foreign policy going forward.
“I think that there have been some major missteps by Secretary Clinton in her role as Secretary of State, including supporting the Iran deal, which I’ve opposed; including pressing the reset button with Russia, which has been a failure; including many of her efforts – whether it’s her failure to have a follow on (force) in Libya. We saw the weapons go awash and we now see ISIS there,” Ayotte said.
“So, I believe that there are serious concerns about how she’s conducted U.S. foreign policy that need to be addressed in this campaign.”
“I don’t agree fully with Donald Trump on all of his foreign policy positions, but I believe that I will be voting for him in this election,” Ayotte said. “And I don’t think that (Clinton’s) handling of foreign policy, if you look at the history and the outcome of various events she’s been involved in, I don’t think that she has demonstrated that she has the effective vision to keep the country safe.”
But Ayotte added that as a member of the armed services panel, “Whoever is in that corner office, I’m going to stand with them when I think they’re doing what’s right.
“For example, recently the president decided to keep a follow on force in Afghanistan and I’m appreciative that he’s done that, because I think it is really important that that does not devolve again in terms of a safe haven for terrorists,” she said.
“But when there is a disagreement, I’ll be very clear, and that’s why it’s important to have voices like me who understand these issues and are willing to stand up regardless of who is in the White House – whether it’s their own party or the other party.”
“On Donald Trump, I’ve been very clear where I don’t agree with him. I don’t agree with him on everything, but for example, on the Iran agreement, I agree with him.”
Hassan’s campaign responded that Ayotte’s support for Trump discredits her foreign policy judgement.
Hassan spokeswoman Meira Bernstein said Ayotte shows that “she is willing to put her political party before the safety and security of New Hampshire. While national security experts from her own party have said that they cannot support Trump for president because he poses a danger to our vital interests, Ayotte has fallen in line behind her party’s nominee. Coupled with missing nearly half of her Homeland Security Committee hearings and repeatedly voting against expanding background checks to prevent dangerous individuals, including terrorists, from buying guns, it’s clear that Ayotte does not put the safety and security of Granite Staters first.”
Ayotte, in her speech, said since the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal was approved, Iran has “continued to support terrorism and undermine our interests in many areas around the world. They have also tested ballistic missiles without recourse.”
She said that while she has introduced legislation to impose sanctinos on Iran for its ballistic missiles program, the Obama administration “has not taken this seriously enough, and Iran is unabated.”
Ayotte also addressed domestic terrorist attacks. She called for beefed up policies to ensure that the process for vetting refugees and visa applicants – including those seeking to travel under the Visa Waiver Program – are “secure, reliable and accurately identify and deny entry to those who have ties to terrorism.”
She called for passage of bipartisan legislation she has cosponsored to keep guns away from terrorists “while protecting the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
Ayotte also said the nation’s defense budgets must be based on a practical need to address national security interests and threats, “rather than arbitrary, across-the-board budget caps.” She said she opposes sequestration, “which has inflicted serious damage on U.S. military readiness, as well on our defense industrial base.”