By SEN. DAN SULLIVAN
I. Lessons from the Korean War
A few weeks ago, Julie and I, and many members of our family, were up at our fish camp on the Yukon River, as we are every summer. Being outdoors in Alaska is a great way to clear your head and focus on the freedoms that we enjoy in our state and our country.
It also gave me time to reflect on the last six months, since, thanks to so many readers of Must Read Alaska, I won a tough reelection last November, despite being outspent massively by national liberal Democratic money. To all of you, thank you for your support. And a special thank you to Suzanne Downing, who founded and runs MRAK, for providing a space for conservative voices.
In 2015, I was part of a wave of new Republican senators who retook the Senate majority, booting liberal Harry Reid from his position as Senate Majority Leader. For four of the six years of my first term, I worked closely with my Senate colleagues and President Trump and his administration to achieve historic accomplishments for our state and for our country. The list is long.
But this didn’t happen. Now, with the Democratic Party in control of the White House, Senate and House, the “anti-Alaska” agenda that I frequently warned about last year on the campaign trail is upon us. This is new territory for me as your Senator. I have never been in the minority. It can be disorientating, and I have been thinking a lot about what our strategy should be to deal with this more difficult time, politically, for our state and our country.
On May 3, I gave my annual address to the Alaska Legislature, where I worked through some of my thinking and strategy.
I told our legislators that, as a U.S. Marine and Korean War history buff, I found some inspiration from the past. I talked about one of the most epic battles of the Korean War—the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir—where 20,000 United States Marines, in thirty below zero weather, were surrounded by 120,000 Communist Chinese soldiers and had to retreat.
When the dismayed Marines asked their commanding officer how he would explain the retreat, the first in Marine Corps history, he remarked, “Retreat? Hell, we’re just attacking in another direction.” Colonel Chesty Puller, the Corps’ most decorated officer, remarked similarly, “The enemy is in front of us and behind us, they are on both of our flanks, those bastards can’t get away from us now.”
Through grit and determination, attacking and counterpunching, and sticking together, the United States Marine Corps won the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir against great odds.
Some of Alaska’s more liberal legislators didn’t think much of my speech, even writing a letter telling me so, so I must have had some good ideas.
II. A Focus on Alaska’s Economy
One lesson from the Korean War is this: Even when all seems stacked against us, it is critical to focus and look for ways to gain ground where we can. For me that has meant to focus on Alaska’s economy.
No state’s economy has been hurt more by COVID-19 than ours. So my number one priority in the past six months has been on ways to bolster Alaska’s economy, small businesses, and working families, with a focus in three areas: tourism, oil and gas—especially the NPR-A Willow Project—and continuing the build-up of our military in Alaska.
We’ve made important progress in each:
A. Tourism: The summer of 2020 tourism season was on track to be one of our best. Of course, with the pandemic, it was our worst. With Canada shutting off its ports to cruise ships and its borders to overland travelers, this summer’s tourism season, just a few short months ago, was looking similarly bleak, risking the livelihood of countless small businesses and workers in this vital sector of our economy. When it became clear that Canadian officials were not going to work with us to help address requirements that stem from an arcane law that requires cruise ships to stop in Canadian ports before heading to Alaska, we got to work to pass legislation to change the law. Cruise ships are now arriving in Alaska, giving our pandemic-decimated small businesses a fighting chance to have a successful tourism season this summer.
B. Willow: The Willow Project in the NPR-A is probably the most important and strategic project for our state since the development of Prudhoe Bay. It is expected to produce upwards of 150,000 barrels of oil per day at peak production, generate $10 billion in revenue for state, local and federal governments, directly create approximately 2,000 construction jobs, with thousands more indirect jobs to support construction. The massive infrastructure of Willow should also open the rest of the NPR-A for further exploration and production opportunities for Alaska for decades to come.
I worked very closely with the Trump Administration to ensure final federal regulatory approval to start the construction phase of Willow this past January. We achieved that, but then like clockwork, the new Biden Administration put it on hold, and, of course, radical environmental groups sued to stop construction from beginning this past January. I raised the importance of this project with every single Biden cabinet nominee up for confirmation, and in so doing was able to convince the administration to support Willow and defend a lawsuit against this project of vital importance to Alaska. I raised the project with President Biden himself during an Oval Office meeting with the rest of the delegation—including giving him a handout on the project’s importance. And, now Willow is on track to see first oil by 2025. This is a huge victory for Alaska and America’s energy security. But the battle is far from over. Far left anti-Alaska members of Congress recently asked the Biden Administration to reverse its decision supporting Willow. I will fight such anti-Alaska Democratic policies with all I have.
C. Alaska’s Military: I have been leading the charge against the Biden Administration’s defunding of our military with its inadequate budget for our troops and their families. Just last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which I sit, delivered an overwhelming rebuke of the persistent attempts by President Biden, Majority Leader Schumer, and Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (yes, it’s true, a socialist is in charge of the U.S budget!) to cut our military, when the Committee overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I co-sponsored, to require a real increase of 3 percent, or over $25 billion, to the Pentagon’s budget to take care of our troops and their families by making them more lethal.
I’m also glad to report that this NDAA includes a number of vital provisions that I secured recognizing the strategic importance of Alaska to our nation’s defense, including a new Arctic Security Initiative and approximately $155 million in new military construction for our state. This, of course, is good for our national security, but also an important way to continue to bolster the Alaska economy and help our hard-working families and small businesses.
In fact, since I arrived in the Senate, I’ve been making the case, successfully, that for the defense of our country, we need to build up our military presence, including the Coast Guard, in Alaska. All told, we’ve been able to secure more than $1.7 billion in military construction for Alaska. And I expect that to continue even though many national Democrats would rather cut military funding and readiness.
I get a commitment from all Senate confirmed officials—whether Democrat or Republican—to come to Alaska and see first-hand why the father of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. Billy Mitchell, called Alaska the most strategic location in the world. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was recently in Alaska, keeping this commitment to me, and was clearly impressed with what he saw. During Secretary Austin’s press conference, the secretary said that his trip served as a “keen reminder how strategically important Alaska is to our national security and defense.” He said that he intends to keep Alaska’s forces “as lethal and as ready as we can,” to “invest appropriately in the infrastructure needed to keep them ready and to keep them vigilant” and to “adapt and modernize our training and the tools that we give our troops up here.”
III. Long Term Battles Ahead
The above issues have been a focus of mine over the past six months because they are so critical to Alaska’s economy and working families. But as a U.S. Senator, I am also focused on the long term battles that are before us, being pushed by many national Democratic elected officials like President Biden, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi that have the potential to negatively impact our great nation for decades to come.
I’m particularly concerned with: The war on American energy production and jobs; the Biden Administration’s open border policies; the national Democrats’ reckless socialist tax and spend policies; the far left’s push to infiltrate American institutions and classrooms with their woke, anti-American culture; and the threat that Communist China poses to our country and the globe. I’ll be discussing these issues and many more in subsequent MRAK columns.
As I said earlier, so much of what we’re facing is new territory for me. I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes and I will no doubt make some more. And I’m just as sure when I do, you’ll continue to let me know, which I appreciate.
But I do want you all to know that everything I do is guided by fidelity to our Constitution, and by the conviction that we live in the best state, in the greatest country in the history of the world. As your Senator, together with all Alaskans, I am working hard to keep it that way.
Sen. Dan Sullivan is a Republican member of Alaska’s congressional delegation.