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Christie’s tough take on national security

During a speech in New Hampshire, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) talked about not immediately knowing where his wife was for much of the day on Sept. 11, 2001. He said Americans are becoming "complacent" about national security. (Video: Facebook/Chris Christie)

In New Hampshire today, New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie delivered a hawkish and detailed national security speech, referencing his experience as a U.S. attorney in prosecuting terrorism cases. In doing so, he advanced an argument for himself as a credible commander in chief.

The most effective part of his speech was his defense of intelligence gathering. In pointed criticism he declared:

I’ve used the Patriot Act myself and personally reviewed the applications. I’ve prosecuted terrorists, and sent terrorists to jail. And I’ve seen what happens when our intelligence community, legal system and law enforcement work together. We can use information to save lives.  . . . At the simplest level, intelligence helps us prevent the next attack. But at its best, intelligence is a force multiplier for all our national capabilities. If we want to manage events – and not have events manage us – then we need superior knowledge of the world around us.

He  rightly dismissed the scare mongering about data mining “driven by some purist, theoretical vision of how we should manage our intelligence efforts”:

When Edward Snowden revealed our intelligence secrets to the world in 2013, civil liberties extremists seized that moment to advance their own narrow agenda. They want you to think that there’s a government spook listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids. They want you to think of our intelligence community as the bad guys, straight out of The Bourne Identity or a Hollywood thriller. And they want you to think that if we weakened our capabilities, the rest of the world would love us more.
Let me be clear – all these fears are exaggerated and ridiculous. When it comes to fighting terrorism, our government is not the enemy.  And we shouldn’t listen to people like Edward Snowden, a criminal who hurt our country and now enjoys the hospitality of President Putin – while sending us messages about the dangers of authoritarian government. And, frankly, we don’t need advice from Hollywood, the guys who made our intelligence agencies the villains in practically every movie from the last twenty-five years.
But instead of taking on the ideologues, the Obama administration and the Democrats have taken the path of least resistance. They’ve apologized for our intelligence collection, promised that we will collect it only in ways that protect the privacy of foreign citizens, and cut back on vital funding for our intelligence services.

Rather than dismantle the program, he said, “We need to toughen our anti-terror and surveillance laws to give our intelligence services the legal mechanisms to do their job.  . . . We should begin by passing a clean extension of the Patriot Act. At the end of May, vital pieces of that legislation are going to expire, including Section 215 – essential for our intelligence agencies to access the data they need to stop suspected terrorists. I used this tool extensively, aggressively and legally as U.S. attorney and I can tell you this: it works.”

This was a timely and well-reasoned argument for re-upping the Patriot Act. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are on the other side of this debate, but the facts are on Christie’s.

Christie’s speech made the case in great detail about the need to properly fund the military. After enumerating our military inadequacies he argued: “Congress and the President should repeal the 2011 Budget Control Act as soon as humanly possible, get back to regular order in budgeting and restore funding levels to what Secretary Gates proposed in his fiscal 2012 budget – modest increases in defense spending through the end of the decade that will make a massive difference to our troops. It’s the right thing to do – and we should do it now.”

His clarity and boldness on this will do him some good if he decides to run in 2016.

And finally, Christie spoke about the importance of alliances. He pinpointed a key turning point – when Obama (and all three freshmen presidential contenders) backed down from using force to preserve the red line:

In 2013, President Obama talked about defending a red line for our nation if the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. Well, he used chemical weapons on his people. President Obama’s response?  Never mind.  His unwillingness to stand behind his own words has made America weaker and less reliable in the world.  He damaged the credibility of the presidency.
And when the world saw that our word was not our bond, are we surprised at what happened next?  Are we surprised that Vladimir Putin chose to annex Crimea and invade eastern Ukraine? Are we surprised that Iranian-backed militias are rampaging across Yemen? Are we surprised that Bashar al-Assad continues to butcher thousands of men, women, using barrel bombs and conventional munitions dropped out of Russian helicopters? Or that with Iranian support, the moderate Syrian opposition has been sidelined by extremists and ISIS?

With regard to the Middle East he argued, “If we can’t be respectful to our best friends in the world [Israel], then we’re not going to get very far with anyone else – and it’s no surprise this administration has such an abysmal record on diplomacy.  . . . If we truly care about defending Israel, then we need to consider what the region will look like tomorrow – and then take action today.  President Obama seems unwilling to stand up to anyone in the Middle East—except for Prime Minister Netanyahu.  It is embarrassing and dangerous.”

And as most of the 2016 contenders have done, he called out the president for working feverishly on a bad deal with Iran. He suggested that “we need to contain it with our moderate Sunni Arab allies, while at the same time rolling back the shadow of ISIS. We need to do more to organize our allies into a strong coalition on the ground in Yemen, and to train and equip the moderate opposition to Assad in Syria and the tribal elements in Iraq that are a threat to peace. We should develop new tools to blunt Iran’s regional influence, including ways to fight the flow of cash to their puppets: Hezbollah, the Houthis, Syria and Iraqi militants. We should link our sanctions regime to the threat Iran poses to the region, and treat all these threats as connected, which the Obama Administration doesn’t – and come up with a real coherent strategy with our Sunni partners.”

It was one of the toughest and meatiest foreign policy speeches we’ve heard from the 2016 GOP field. Christie remains a politician with immense skill, and with a series of speeches (entitlements, tax reform, and now defense), he hopes to convince voters that reports of his political demise have been greatly exaggerated. Today’s speech surely helped.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) urged Congress to abandon its budget caps and boost defense spending on Monday, telling a New Hampshire audience ,"we need to fix this." (Video: Reuters)