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November 21, 2018 3:19 pm

‘I Will Never Be Afraid to Criticize a Democratic or Republican President’: New York Jewish Military Vet Max Rose Heads to Congress

avatar by Ben Cohen


Newly-elected NY Congressman Max Rose following his 2018 midterms victory. Photo: Reuters.

At a time when politics in the US is dominated by fierce partisanship and ideological dogma, there is a reassuring nuance about newly-elected New York Democratic Congressman Max Rose’s views on how America should change from within, while maintaining its pivotal role in world affairs.

“I will never be afraid to criticize a Democratic or a Republican president,” the 32-year-old military veteran told The Algemeiner during an extensive conversation on Tuesday. “But when a president is successful in pursuing goals and policies that benefit the American people, I will applaud that.”

Rose’s career path to the US Congress began with university degrees from Wesleyan and the London School of Economics, followed by five years of active duty in the US Army’s 1st Armored Division. A platoon commander in Afghanistan in 2012-13, Rose was wounded in Kandahar province after his vehicle struck an IED by the roadside. He went on to receive a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his Afghan service.

Given his academic studies in history and philosophy, and his stint as an intern for New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker when Booker was mayor of Newark, it was perhaps inevitable that Rose would succumb to the temptation of returning to politics. In the 2018 midterms, Rose was one of nearly 40 Democrats who took seats in the House of Representatives away from the GOP — in his case, winning a comfortable victory by a margin of six points over his rival, incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan, in New York’s 11th congressional district, which encompasses Staten Island and most of southern Brooklyn.

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A descendant of Russian Jewish immigrants who was raised in a traditional Jewish home in Brooklyn, Rose emphasized the need for a determined response to rising antisemitism, at a time when hostility toward Jews has become both a national and a global headline.

“We need to come to terms with the fact that there has always been antisemitism, not just in America but throughout the world,” Rose said. “There are times when it rears its roaring head with more frequency and more severity than in others.”

At present, he remarked, “every statistic out there for hate crimes, for hateful speech, for horrible incidents, shows that antisemitism is on the rise — that’s not an opinion, that’s a statement of fact.”

Less than a month after the massacre of 11 Jews by a neo-Nazi gunman at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, Rose reflected that the sources of antisemitism in this country were “multi-varied,” all of them amplified by social media platforms.

“What I do know is that we need to take every measure possible to not only counter these hateful acts of antisemitism, but also do our best to prevent them,” Rose said. “With strong language, strong policies, and also with educational programs.”

The slaughter in Pittsburgh had further cemented his views on the need for gun law reform as well, Rose noted. “An AR-15” — the assault rifle used by Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers — “should certainly never be sold in this country again,” Rose said. More widely, gun reform advocates will be heartened that army veteran Rose also supports “universal background checks, so that no one in this country with a mental health issue or a criminal background can ever again buy a weapon — second-hand sales, gun fairs, internet sales, it doesn’t matter.” He would, he continued, “be a real advocate for this issue in the halls of Congress.”

On key foreign policy issues, Rose can also be expected to speak his mind. In general, world affairs is a subject he clearly warms to, and he ran on a platform that emphasized, among other measures, stalwart support for Israel, the strengthening of human rights globally, and the explicit recognition of Russia as a hostile foreign power. Was there a “Max Rose” philosophy of foreign policy that he championed?

“The ‘Max Rose doctrine,’ is that what you’re looking for?” Rose laughed. “Look, as a freshman member of Congress, I have no delusions of grandeur, ok? But what I can tell you is that any statement on how one views America’s role in the world has to begin almost with a negative; what is your philosophy not centered on?”

Rose is manifestly not an isolationist. “I believe that American engagement has, for the most part, been a good thing,” he said. “But I don’t believe that American engagement can accomplish anything it wants. We have to be realistic.” The 2003 invasion of Iraq, he said, was “the greatest foreign policy blunder in modern American history.”

Rose continued: “So now we find ourselves in the middle ground, right? What is key here is to provide some substance to the position that says, ‘I’m for engagement.'”

In crafting that answer, Rose cited the maxim of Ben Rhodes, a senior aide to former President Barack Obama, that the US shouldn’t do “stupid sh_t” in its foreign policy.

“That’s not what I’m saying either,” Rose clarified. “My point is that in order to confront 21st century threats, as well as ensure that the 21st century is an era of greater global stability, harmony and economic growth, we need to engage the world in an integrated, holistic way.”

Said Rose: “As the first post-9/11 combat veteran to hold public office in New York, I can say that we grew up in the counter-insurgency era.” The response to that challenge involved not just the armed forces of the US, but its intelligence services, its diplomats and its economic development agencies, he observed.

“There is no threat or challenge or opportunity in the global sphere that can’t be tackled with that same approach,” Rose argued. “Gone are the days when we say, ‘That’s the State Department’s problem,’ or ‘That’s the military’s problem,’ or ‘That’s USAID’s issue.’ From global warming to ISIS, everything requires an interconnected effort, and we need to address that from our budgeting process all the way to execution.”

How would the model advocated by Rose work in the case of Iran? “The approach first of all has to be a long-term one,” he responded. An opponent of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated by the Obama administration, Rose explained that a large part of his objection lay in “the fact that it was a 10-year deal.”

“We need to understand that there’s a global Cold War going on, not only in the Middle East, and it has worldwide ramifications,” Rose said. “Anything with a 10-year horizon is not enough. To put it into perspective, 9/11 was 17 years ago, and it still feels like yesterday in the minds of many Americans and New Yorkers.”

Iran had to be faced with the reality of “security consequences if it develops a nuclear weapon, but also that there are significant economic incentives for it not doing so,” Rose commented. “The other thing we need to do is to stop putting Iran’s nuclear weapons program in a silo. The issue with Iran is not just its development of nuclear weapons, but its support for terrorism and insurgencies throughout the world.”

Rose said that he had friends in the military who faced death in Iraq “because of what Iran was doing there.”

“We cannot forget that,” Rose said. “We cannot deal with Iran as just a potential nuclear adversary, we have got to look at the entire picture.” The US should also remember that “deals can be broken.”

“But am I optimistic for the future? Of course I am,” Rose continued. “Iran will not pursue a long-term nuclear weapon if we act correctly, and Iran will cease its destabilizing efforts, like funding Hezbollah in Lebanon.” To be sure of that outcome, however, required much more than fervent confidence in the policy at hand.

“Trust and verify — that’s how I will always proceed when it comes to America’s national security,” Rose said, as we concluded our discussion. “Never blind faith.”

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