According to a recent Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll of likely caucus goers in Iowa, national security is now at the front of voters’ minds. Unlike the previous two elections where the economy trumped defense as the issue that most concerned voters, recent events in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South China Sea are making voters nervous about national security and the ability of our government to keep us safe.
The slew of candidates running for president in 2016 have taken advantage of national security’s return to prominence to bolster their commitment to maintaining a strong military and a credible force that they say could keep us safe. However, the candidates eschew few specifics in favor of saber-rattling in a race to see who can capture more votes through fear-mongering. Responsibility goes out the window as candidate after candidate promises endless wars and a bigger Pentagon budget.
It is time for our candidates to become the adults in the room and stop reducing the complexity that is inherent in these issues. It is easy to argue for increased defense spending and bolstering the defense-industrial complex, but that is not a viable alternative to having a plan to effectively address the problems that truly threaten our security. More ships, submarines, planes or boots on the ground will not make us safe unless they are part of a strategy on how to make the world a safer place.
Our military’s current involvement in the Middle East in the fight against ISIS is an example of how pouring in more resources does not win a fight. While ISIS continues to tear through the Middle East, the President openly admits that we have no strategy to win against ISIS and Congress has effectively abandoned its constitutional responsibility to authorize wars by refusing to vote on Authorization of the Use of Military Force against ISIS.
In the mean time, we continue to pump more money and resources into our allies in the Middle East in the hopes that this would help them win the war against ISIS. Recently, the Pentagon announced that equipment worth more than $1.6 billion will be given to the Iraqi government to help fight ISIS and the White House is set to announce the deployment of 450 more troops to train Sunni fighters, in addition to the 3,000 personnel already deployed there to train and assist Iraqi personnel.
The likelihood of this equipment and support making a significant difference in the fight against ISIS remains to be seen, but there are already indications that providing hardware and trainers will not be enough. Currently, ISIS is using more than $1 billion worth of American humvees captured from the Iraqis to conduct raids against opposing forces. To makes matters worse, in Al-Asad, there are too many American trainers with no Iraqi recruits to train.
Unfortunately, the harsh truth about the ineffectiveness of confusing excessive defense spending with a credible war plan is not making 2016 presidential candidates tone down the saber-rattling. Senator Marco Rubio wants to increase defense spending without exactly explaining why. Not to be outdone, Senator Rand Paul proposes a $190 billion increase in defense spending over two years, paid for through crippling offsets in domestic spending. Finally, Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the GOP’s most reliable defense hawk on the Hill, doesn’t even bother with niceties as he promises more war if he is elected president.
With this kind of rhetoric, it is almost impossible to hope that the candidates for 2016 will treat their voters like adults any time soon. After 14 years of war, it is irresponsible to continue treating our nation’s security like a playground fight of who has the newest and shiniest toys. It’s time for our politicians to have a real conversation with their constituency about the difficult choices we have to make to keep our country safe.