U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass, has had no shortage of opportunities to hold out homeland security as a priority of his past term.
A member of the House Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security committees, Keating launched an investigation in the aftermath of last year's Boston Marathon bombings to sniff out any dysfunction that might have prevented the government from preventing the fatal finish-line attack. It was a "lonely job," he said, with so many loath to question the FBI or other security agencies. But he learned that the Russians had, in fact, tried to warn the United States about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers suspected of carrying out the attack.
On one of his two trips to Russia, he obtained information on Tsarnaev's time in the country and assessed security ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Back home, however, Keating has been absent from matters of foreign affairs and homeland security, according to his Republican opponent, Chatham lawyer John Chapman, who has cast the two-term congressman as invisible, out of touch and consistently opposed to measures he feels would secure the border and counterterrorists.
In a campaign advertisement earlier this month, Chapman criticized Keating for voting against $700 million in funding for border security efforts.
"What he did with the 'no' vote is he voted against securing the border," Chapman said. "We have to go to the source of the problem with the immigration problem we have, and that's the border."
Keating said the bill called for deploying National Guard troops to the border, even though they would not be armed or allowed to make arrests.
"It's a huge expenditure that doesn't improve our security. It weakens it," he said.
Instead, Keating said, he supports continuing efforts to incorporate new technology — such as drones — to monitor the 2,000-mile border.
"That would be far more effective in securing the border," Keating said.
The GOP primary race came to focus on immigration and border security after Gov. Deval Patrick proposed housing young unaccompanied immigrants at Joint Base Cape Cod.
Chapman wrote a letter to Patrick opposing the offer, and he has often noted that Keating made no public remarks on the proposal.
Keating said he gathered facts rather than rush to make a statement and learned that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was unaware of Patrick's offer and was not considering the base as a shelter site.
"That's the right way to handle a situation: Get the facts first and don't use it as a political wedge to enhance your own ambitions," Keating said. "That's the way you do it. I'll take that criticism every day, because that's being a leader versus being a politician. I think it demonstrates the difference between the two of us."
ISLAMIC STATE OF IRAQ AND SYRIA
Chapman introduced a new angle to the immigration debate during the primary: With such porous borders, he said, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria could send extremists into the United States.
With that argument, Keating said, Chapman has been "fast and fancy with the facts."
"We have threats, but what I see so recklessly used politically, not just here but around the country, is merging those two issues. And it's just not accurate," Keating said, basing his statement on remarks made by top federal security officials.
Both candidates said they support airstrikes against ISIS, and they both oppose deploying American ground troops in the "traditional sense," as Keating put it. Where they disagree is on a proposal that passed last month to arm and train Syrian rebels.
Keating voted against the proposal out of concern that the rebels are infiltrated by terrorists and setting their sights more on removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad than quashing the ISIS threat.
"These rebels are already infiltrated with ISIS and al-Qaida terrorists. No. 2, the Syrian rebels' primary objective is to overthrow the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad. So the primary goal and objective of the group we're recruiting from is not to attack ISIS," Keating said.
Chapman said he would have voted to arm and train the rebels, but wants to see ISIS disassembled before the United States turns to al-Assad's regime.
"Frankly I'm disappointed Bill Keating voted against that legislation," Chapman said.
"As I've said, ISIS poses a threat to the region and here at home, as well as overseas."
Iraq and Afghanistan
Chapman said the strife in the region stems from the Obama administration's "failed policy "» of withdrawing troops a few years ago."
But for his vision of returning America to global leader status, Chapman said he does not wants troops to return for any mission other than advising the Iraqi and Afghan militaries.
"I don't think any troops should be going back there right now," Chapman said.
But, he added, "I think the United States has a role to play there. We have to be a strong America."
Keating cited Iraq's refusal to sign an agreement allowing American troops to stay, and former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's replacing of trained leaders with cronies, for the dissolution of the country's military.
"Now in Afghanistan, with the new leadership, we're having agreement to keep some security forces there. That's the difference," Keating said.
Noting the success of Kurdish forces and return of American advisers, Keating said he felt optimistic about the future of the Iraqi military.
"In Iraq, I think there's some hope because of those factors that we'll be successful. There's some reason for optimism in Iraq."
This article originally appeared in the Cape Cod Times.