Thursday, May 21, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 257

Officially Declared Candidates:

·      Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR)

·      Dr. Ben Carson (R-MD)

·      Carly Fiorina (R-VA)

·      Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

·      Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

·      Sec. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

·      Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

·      Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

·      Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA)

Quote by A Smart Person: “Unlike presidential administrations, problems rarely have terminal dates.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Welcome to the American Singularity.

Why the Singularity?

·      The presidential nominating process is one in which everything, large and small, is sucked into its gravitational maw, allowing nothing to escape its grasp as events pass through the campaign cycle’s event horizon.

·      There is no more singular political experience on the planet than electing the President of the United States.

·      The United States is still the most free, most prosperous and brightest beacon of hope to billions around the world.

Every action and reaction feeds into this black hole of press coverage, donor reactions, voter sentiment and activist opinions. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. Legions of reporters, bloggers, opposition researchers, trackers, social media monitoring services, vacuum up every last syllable.

Every week we’ll take a look at the campaign as it unfolds, and how events reflect the campaigns, the issues of the day and the country at large. Have a tip, piece of advice or something to add? Email me – reed@jedburghs.com

This Week: National (in)Security

Author’s Note: Three people I highly respect: one former Navy SEAL, one former official at the Defense Department, and another from the Department of Homeland Security, were kind enough to answer some of my amateurish questions for this post. I thank them for their time and thoughts. They have asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely and I have honored their request.

The last week has been a bumpy road for a number of Republican presidential hopefuls. Jeb Bush started the snowball down the hill as he answered a question from Megyn Kelly on the wisdom, “knowing what we know now,” of invading Iraq in 2003. Over the course of the week, Bush tacked to three more different answers – illustrating how the war – started over a decade ago – is still political quicksand. It’s easy to get in, and harder than hell to get out. Senator Marco Rubio, talking to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, had an equally difficult time trying to parse what’s good, what’s bad and what he would have done 12 years ago.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. Courtesy Fox/YouTube

Iraq has highlighted for most of the Republican field, how difficult it is to discuss national security and foreign policy issues without the benefit of first-hand experience. Of the current field, Hillary Clinton has spent more time in more countries discussing more issues than any other. But given the fact that she’s attached to President Barack Obama’s hip on many of the, often questionable, actions he’s taken while in office, her experience may not ultimately accrue to her benefit.

The bulk of the GOP field has opted for the ‘traditional Republican’ hawkish stance on national security. Full-throated and muscular, it’s the political equivalent of beating your chest and telling your rivals, “Come on, I dare ya!”

They all agreed we have a lot of work to do. “I think it’s fair to say that Obama has weakened our presence and projection of power,” said the former DHS official. “Iraq, Syria, Iran; unrest has fomented in the world. Every Republican has criticized [the Administration] but no one has alternatives.”

Are “Neocons” Now “Paleocons”?

Earlier this year, Jeb Bush announced some of the names helping shape his foreign policy and national security posture. They were names from another time – literally. Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Zoellick, John Negroponte. They all have gold-plated foreign policy credentials. But is it really possible that we have not produced even a handful of new minds on these issues since the Reagan administration? Have we really gone 30 years without any new ideas beyond Neoconservatism?

A Ven diagram analyzing the overlap of Jeb Bush's foreign policy team with that of Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Courtesy Washington Post

A Ven diagram analyzing the overlap of Jeb Bush's foreign policy team with that of Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Courtesy Washington Post

Even if we take out academia, what about the tens of thousands of men and women who’ve served in the military, the state department or the intelligence services whom have seen the post 9/11 world develop first hand? Where are they and why aren’t Republicans utilizing their ideas and experience. If we truly want a “New American Century” why are we still relying on advice from folks who came of age when the Soviet Union still existed and was our greatest threat?

Russia

Since our “Russian Reset,” Vladimir Putin has demonstrated time and again how he feels about the United States and our objections to his aggressive action. Yet we’ve done little of consequence. “[Russia] will be studied for years,” said the former DHS appointee, “after Syria [and Obama’s false ‘redline’], it signaled to the world that we would not follow through on our word. Putin decided to take advantage.”

I asked my experts whether or not we should risk military confrontation with Russia to protect Ukraine and/or Eastern Europe. “Yes,” said the Pentagon veteran. “Putin only understands force. I would put NATO troops in Ukraine and dare him to come any further.”

The retired SEAL, however, disagreed: “Best way to [expletive] with a crime lord is to mess with his finances.”

The Warfighters

We have the finest military on the planet. We have had the greatest fighting force for 60 years and despite China’s rise and Russia’s belligerence, that fact is unlikely to change any time soon. But are our troops ready to fight? I asked my experts.

“I think after 15 years of war, we still have one of the most amazing military forces the world has ever seen,” said the former DoD official.

Added the Navy SEAL: “Our military, especially in SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is the sharpest and hardest it’s ever been.”

But whether or not to utilize those forces brought much different answers based on the experiences involved. Several Republican candidates have threatened Iran with military action if they continue their question to obtain a nuclear weapon – Rubio went so far as to see he’d go to war with Tehran. What are candidates missing about the potential consequences of additional unilateral military action in the region by the US?

An AK-47 assault rifle. Courtesy Wikimedia

An AK-47 assault rifle. Courtesy Wikimedia

“I have stared at the business end of an AK[47] and lost many friends in the ME [Middle East] and Afghan[istan] over the last 14 years. Sabre rattling is for ignorant bullies,” said the retired SEAL. “They are missing that it could be a total [expletive] disaster that does not work and makes everything worse. It is fun and games to talk about how hard you are when you’re not actually making the calls. Play out [a] ground war in Iran a few moves and see where that gets you…nowhere good, and horrible standing at home and abroad.”

And as Matthew Dowd noted in a recent column, taking the country into war is the most profound action a President can take. Shouldn’t we have a full-throated discussion about the pros and cons of such a choice? Isn’t in our country’s and military’s best interests that we have such an argument?

A Fundamental Lack of Seriousness

Recently in a speech to the Republican faithful in South Carolina, Sen. Rubio cribbed a line from the series of successful “Taken” movies starring Liam Neeson. When discussing terrorists he said, “We will look for you. We will find you. We will kill you.”

Courtesy @TeamMarco/Twitter

Courtesy @TeamMarco/Twitter

When it comes to terrorists, I agree with Rubio’s sentiment. What I disagree with is the tongue-in-cheek manner used to score political points. It’s not statesman-like, it’s not professional and does injustice to the very real danger in which soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Special Operations forces and intelligence officers find themselves.

Raiding a terrorist compound is not a video game. Direct action, either tactical or strategic has real consequences and those hoping to occupy the Oval Office should at least appreciate the gravity of giving such orders and all their potential outcomes.

Who Pays for All This?

Most of the Republican field has talked about military action, destroying ISIS and ensuring the Pentagon budget has what it needs. What we haven’t yet heard is how we’re going to pay for any of this. While we discuss deficits and debt as threats to our future, none have actually laid out how another massive, full-scale military campaign would be financed. After spending nearly five trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the coffers are starting to look a little bare.

As Republicans we stress living within our means. We regularly excoriate Democrats for their profligate spending and refusal to consider budget cuts. But with our deficit stretching to the moon, at some point we will have to begin making choices. We will ask the American people to pay more for overseas operations? Are we willing to have an honest conversation about our priorities – both domestic and international?

In Closing

I asked my friend the former Navy SEAL what his advice would be to presidential candidates on national security. This was his response:

“Take it seriously and don’t do a bunch of military grandstanding when it is not you that has to go in and fight. Admit what you don’t know and take guidance and counsel from the generation of veterans who have just been on the ground during 15 years of war. Respect the lives of our troops…above all else. Taking the lives of others should only be for the highest of purposes. Always seek counsel from those more experienced and wiser than oneself when approaching these issues. Take to scholars and generals alike. History matters.”