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Todd Wilcox brings ground-level view of foreign affairs to U.S. Senate race

in 2017/Top Headlines by

If companies want to know who to trust to do business in civil-war-torn Ukraine, they might contact Maitland-based Strategic Risk Management LLC. for privately-researched background intelligence reports.

Companies that need to move goods through the dicier parts of Afghanistan might call on Winter Park-based Innovative Logistics LLC to handle the planes, warehouses, trucks and security.

And if the U.S. Department of Defense, or a trusted American ally, wants special operations training and support services to prepare missions in some other unstable backwater nation, they might turn to Maitland-based Patriot Defense Group LLC.

All of these companies are founded, owned and operated by Todd Wilcox, the Orlando Republican running for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat.

When Wilcox talks about foreign affairs, he can draw from ground-level experiences of his personal deployments in Army special operations and as a CIA paramilitary officer, and from the private, international intelligence, security, logistics and training services his businesses sell for a living.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but I probably have more from tactical- to strategic-level experience in national security … than anybody in this race, and comparable to the most experience of those currently sitting in the Senate,” he said.

Wilcox faces U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis of Pointe Vedra Beach and David Jolly of Seminole, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, and homebuilder Carlos Beruff of Bradenton for the Aug. 30 Republican U.S. Senate primary. He said he has repeatedly offered to debate any of them anywhere, anytime, particularly on national security.

His foreign affairs positions may be colored conservative by his life in the military, business and Republican Party. But they’re also nuanced by his own public service and business requirements to understand countries down to the level of rival warlords and ethnic tribes.

So Wilcox’s statements sometimes take on President Barack Obama‘s foreign policies in broad terms, saying he only uses carrots and not sticks to forward American interests, or accusing him of neutering the military and botching negotiations with Cuba and Iran.

But he also cautions about some of the fine-print complexities in places like the Middle East, which he calls “a mosaic of ethnic, tribal and religious isles.”

“Part of the problem is career politicians who don’t understand the issues we are dealing with,” he charged. “I think we as a nation should focus more on stability and education before democracy.”

Consequently, he decries U.S.-imposed democratization efforts as doomed in places ranging from Iraq under both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, the Gaza Strip, under Bush, and various countries following the Arab Spring uprisings under Obama. Wilcox also disagrees with Obama’s goal of deposing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“Our precipitous pullout of our forces in Iraq, which is what led to ISIS, was right in advance of the 2012 presidential election,” he said. “It’s a campaign promise this president made to his base, that turned out to be almost as disastrous as the decision to invade Iraq in the first place.”

With rising international terrorism, globalization of business and communications, and what he calls “this borderless environment we are now in,” Wilcox also advocates updating and overhauling U.S. laws that draw lines of power, responsibility and authority between American national security intelligence and covert operations, the military and law enforcement.

He conceded risks to American civil liberties but said much needs to be clarified when it comes to everything from border security responsibilities to American legality of enhanced interrogation techniques (which he says have worked) and indefinite confinements in Guantánamo Bay.

He also pushes an unconventional position on North Korea. Wilcox advocates a long-term effort, using those pillars, to work toward Korean reunification.

As a former Army infantry officer and Green Beret, he talks about war as a very last resort and belittles politicians who don’t.

“There will be nobody more deliberate about the decision than elected leaders who have led men into combat. We have too few elected leaders who have that experience,” Wilcox said. “And what we see time and time again is a political class of chicken-hawks who beat the drums to go to war, who never have served in combat themselves.”

Among his opponents in the U.S. Senate race, only DeSantis, a former U.S. Navy Seal commander and judge advocate general, and Democrat Pam Keith, have military experience. Keith, of Palm Beach Gardens, also has the unique background of growing up all over the world as the daughter of an American Navy officer and diplomat, before being commissioned as a Navy officer herself.

Wilcox cited the pillars of American power as diplomacy, economic sanctions and investments, intelligence, covert action, cultural, cyber, military and space resources and said they should all be focused “first and foremost on peaceful resolution to instability.”

“But once we decide to go to war we should use ever pillar of American power at our disposal to destroy our enemies,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox’s companies open him up to two criticisms he vehemently denies. His companies, he insisted, are not war profiteers. Nor are they, he declared, so-called “black ops” companies, which perform, under contract to governments or private interests, dirty work internationally.

“We compete on those contracts competitively. And because of where we’re at, we only take contracts where we see that we are value-added. So this notion that somehow we’re war profiteers is a false nation,” Wilcox said. “We only go after contracts that we feel are contributing to America’s strength, or the strength of our friendly foreigns. There’s a lot of philosophical approach to all three of these businesses.

“Those are the skills I’m bringing to the table. And I’m not doing it because I need a job. I’m doing it because my wife said, ‘Quit yelling at the TV. If you’re not going to do anything about it sit down and shut up.’ I’ve never been one to sit down and shut up.”

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Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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