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U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce June 3, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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In a speech Friday morning that Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign billed as “his most comprehensive remarks to date on U.S. foreign policy,” the former governor instead turned toward an area where he has more experience: the economy.

“Ultimately, the source of America’s global strength is our own prosperity at home,” O’Malley said. “No fighter jet or troop battalion will keep us as safe as a vibrant economy, a strong democracy, and a growing middle class.”

“Only with a stronger and more inclusive economy can we maintain our security,” he continued.

For a candidate with little direct experience in foreign policy, O’Malley’s remarks Friday were a moderate foray into national security issues in a Democratic primary that has largely been defined by economic questions. Unlike Hillary Clinton, the globetrotting former secretary of state, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who can point to his vote in opposition of the Iraq war and other Senate business, the border O’Malley perhaps knows best is the state line of Maryland, where he was governor for eight years.

But O’Malley has been brushing up on his foreign policy chops, formulating a national security vision partially in concert with an informal advisor and fellow alum of the 1984 Gary Hart presidential campaign, Doug Wilson. O’Malley has met before with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Wilson said, and made several trips to Israel and Palestine.

During his keynote address at the Truman National Security Project conference in Washington D.C., O’Malley did not name specific proposals for addressing any major foreign policy issues, instead speaking generally about strengthening U.S. cybersecurity, combating climate change and “degrading” the Islamic State, “not only with military power” but with “political solutions.”

He made a reference to the attack on American diplomats in Benghazi, but did not mention Clinton herself. “And we must recognize that there are real lessons to be learned from the tragedy in Benghazi,” O’Malley said. “Namely, we need to know in advance who is likely to take power—or vie for it—once a dictator is toppled.” Clinton has been criticized by Republicans for her handling of the crisis in which a U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens was killed.

Climate change, O’Malley said, is an urgent challenge facing global security, calling it “a very real existential threat to human life” and “the greatest business opporuntiy to come to our country in a hundred years. He pointed to the Internet as the new frontier of national security, saying that stolen intellectual property and cybercrime cost American jobs and “could grind our national and metro economies to a halt.”

But ultimately, O’Malley said that America’s role is to advance a rising global middle class, focusing on economic development at home and abroad.

“Only with a stronger and more inclusive American economy, will we succeed in pursuing a more effective foreign policy for the cause that we lead: of a rising global middle class—free from oppression, want, and fear,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley has so far rested his candidacy largely on his economic platform. He points to Maryland’s growth during the recession, and calls for separating commercial and investment banks, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and expanding Social Security. He has framed himself as an economic populist and a progressive alternative to Clinton.

O’Malley hasn’t been a particularly vocal observer of foreign policy in the past. Even during an eight-day trip to Israel and Palestine in April 2013, his third to the country, he shied away from reporters’ questions on the conflict. “I’m sure all of you will ask me foreign policy questions,” he said as he opened the floor, the New York Times reported that year. “I respect your right to ask them, and I hope you’ll respect my right to shy away from answering them.”

He said last year during the war with Gaza in which over 2,000 Gazans and more than 60 Israelis were killed that “Israel has a right to defend itself,” but when pressed, O’Malley didn’t comment on whether the violence was disproportionate.

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