On Wednesday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Democratic and Republican nominees for president, respectively, will debate each other for the final time before the November election. With so much of this political cycle focusing on he-said, she-said accusations, outrageous comments, previous failings, personality quirks and a clash of deeply unpopular candidates loathed by important elements in their own parties, it would be refreshing and helpful if Clinton and Trump, assisted by a thoughtful moderator, focused on issues.
Two issues that desperately need more attention this election cycle are the future of the United State’s role in Afghanistan and the future of American military readiness. Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will “build a military that’s gonna be much stronger than it is right now. It’s gonna be so strong, nobody’s gonna mess with us,” and Clinton’s assertion that we “cannot lose our military edge, and that means giving the Pentagon the stable, predictable funding it needs to make smart investments” both fall short of specifics.
While both candidates appear to agree, at least on a big picture level, that the nation needs to increase military spending, what they are not talking about is readiness, which involves funding, but doesn’t necessarily relate to the acquisition of new weapons systems or the addition of new military personnel. Readiness is a lot about maintaining the current force and its capabilities and, where necessary, growing it to make sure force size is aligned with national security priorities.
Such a conversation goes well beyond throwing money at the military so it can be “so strong” and it involves a conversation about what exactly “smart investments” are.
Additionally, a topic that has general escape scrutiny this election cycle is the future of Afghanistan. The threat of ISIS, immediate and dangerous, has grabbed its share of headlines for good reason, but the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan threatens to undo much of the hard work of U.S. forces who have been fighting there for the last 15 years.
According to a Washington Post story over the weekend, one U.S. advisor in Afghanistan described the U.S. presence there, with its restrictive rules of engagement and extremely limited personnel, saying, “We’re like a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.” A national security expert told the paper that the U.S. strategy is “just enough to lose slowly,” hardly a winning plan.
One person who is talking about readiness and Afghanistan is Jim Banks, an Indiana state senator and Congressional candidate who appears poised to win in Indiana’s 3rd District. Banks, a Navy Reserve officer with a recent deployment to Afghanistan, wrote in a recent editorial that Congress needs to work on providing regular funding for the military so readiness can become less dependent on short term political fights and more focused on long-term needs.
“The current model of Congress passing short-term spending bills at the eleventh hour means the Department of Defense often is unable to effectively compete in pricing for contracts or suppliers, which wastes tax dollars,” Banks wrote.
He also pointed out that military readiness is something the next Congress will need to take seriously:
“In the midst of the most complex threat environment our country has faced in over a generation, today the U.S. military is in a readiness crisis that threatens our ability to confront and deter adversaries and address the challenges we face. Our armed forces are smaller, less prepared and less equipped than at any point over the last several decades.”
If these topics merit attention from a Congressional candidate, let’s hope they receive attention at the final presidential debate.