Democratic congressional candidates differ on NATO, military spending

The Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for Illinois’ 6th Congressional District seat have differing opinions about the importance of NATO and American military spending, both for its own defense and the protection of U.S. allies.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove is facing primary challenges from Mahnoor Ahmad of Oakbrook Terrace and Charles Hughes of Chicago.

The candidates fielded questions about America’s role in NATO and other issues in questionnaires and during a joint online interview with the Daily Herald that can be viewed at

Casten, a former energy industry entrepreneur who’s seeking a fourth term, said NATO’s existence is crucial to the “post-World War II order in Europe.” The organization’s collapse, he said, “is (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s dream.”

“The world has realized that we are not so far away from the aggression and the territorial expansion of Russia as we might have thought we were,” Casten said.

As others have said before him, Casten acknowledged the U.S. role as “the world’s peacekeeper,” often stepping in when other nations have internal or external crises.

“We may not like being the world’s cop. We’re not always the best at being the world’s cop. Goodness knows we’ve made plenty of mistakes. But who else would you rather have in that role?” Casten said.

Casten also argued that isolationist movements in the U.S. historically have emboldened other nations to aggressively expand, from Germany in the 1930s to Russia, China and Iran during former Republican President Donald Trump’s administration.

Ahmad, a health care advocate making her first bid for elected office, was critical of the amount of money the U.S. spends on its military, calling it “absolutely unsustainable.” She insisted the U.S. needs to be “for peace” and to pursue diplomacy and statesmanship instead of using military might.

“Endless wars and endless military spending need to be curtailed,” Ahmad said. “The U.S. needs to reclaim its position as adept diplomatic leaders rather than rely on military might and trillions of our tax dollars, which should be invested in our communities.”

Additionally, Ahmad said U.S. military bases in Germany and other nations “may not be needed” in the post-Cold War era. But when pressed, Ahmad said she supports NATO and protecting U.S. allies.

Hughes, an operation tech with Nicor Gas who’s making his third bid for Congress, praised NATO for doing “a lot of great things” and protecting Europe. He also criticized Trump’s boast during a February rally that he had told the leader of a large NATO country that he wouldn’t protect it if attacked by Russia while not spending enough on national defense.

NATO countries have committed to spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defense, or at least working toward that percentage.

The 6th District includes parts of Cook and DuPage counties.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Niki Conforti of Glen Ellyn in the Nov. 5 general election.

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