A budget deal, a feud over veterans, Ben Carson’s foreign policy, and more


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Lincoln Chafee joined the ranks of former Democratic candidates for president, but unlike Jim Webb isn’t leaving the door open for an independent candidacy.  And Joe Biden decided against joining the fray.  Meanwhile, the two most prominent Democrats still in the race sparred in Iowa, Hillary Clinton emerged relatively unscathed from the Benghazi committee’s hearings, and a budget compromise means there might be some stability for the military but opened a rift among GOP candidates.

Budget Deal?

Wow, that was quick.  Congress and the White House have reportedly reached agreement on a two-year budget deal.  It almost feels strange for a deal to be announced before we get to the 11th hour ahead of a looming shutdown.  Defense hawks favor the bill, which reflects a compromise that increases both defense and non-defense spending.  That said, this was the standard President Obama had previously insisted on, which means candidates have weighed in on a deal many of them see as an Obama victory.

Given the defense hawkishness that generally prevails among the slate of GOP presidential candidates, they’re not showing much love for the deal.

In promising to filibuster the spending bill, Rand Paul criticized his fellow candidates and Senate colleagues that support increased defense spending (namely, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz): “Many of them on the stage have supported spending that would’ve added to the debt.  I think that is irresponsible and shows them to be part of the problem, not the solution.”

Bernie vs. Hillary

You’ve probably heard that Bernie Sanders went after Hillary Clinton in his speech at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa.  He sought to differentiate himself from her on a variety of issues, one of which was her support for (and his opposition to) the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  And yet he spent barely over a minute of his nearly 30-minute speech on it, and it was the only foreign policy issue he discussed.  In case you needed another sign that Democrats don’t look poised to choose their candidate on the basis of foreign policy or national security…

And Jeb vs. Hillary

Jeb Bush also took Clinton to task for her claim that problems plaguing the VA have “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be” and that Republicans have politicized the issue.  She told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, “I don’t understand why we have such a problem, because there have been a number of surveys of veterans and, overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment.”

Bush called her comments an “insult to our vets” and promised to make fixing the agency a priority.  His wasn’t the only criticism — that also came in from Rubio, Sen. John McCain, and the head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, among others — but he gets bonus points for following his up with this:



The House Select Committee on Benghazi heard testimony from Clinton on Thursday in an 8-hour session.  Clinton, of course, testified in her capacity as secretary of state at the time of the 2012 Benghazi attack, but the outcome would naturally have an impact on her campaign for the White House.  So how’d it go?

Commentary in USA Today concludes that GOP members didn’t achieve any “clear wins.”  Coverage in The Washington Post largely concurs: “Only a handful of times did Republicans succeed in putting her on the spot, more often engaging Clinton on topics that seemed tangential to understanding the 2012 attacks that killed four Americans.”  What does the GOP’s perceived non-win mean?  According to NBC’s perspective, the attempt by GOP members to appear apolitical resulted in a Clinton win.

Clinton’s campaign publicized what it treated as validation of her performance in front of the committee — from 9–10pm EDT it recorded its best hour of fundraising yet, despite not sending a formal solicitation for cash.

Fresh off a strong debate performance and with the specter of Joe Biden’s entry into the race no longer a threat, Clinton’s performance capped what many observers saw as a very good week for her.  Marco Rubio disagrees: “I think this is the week it was proven that she lied about Benghazi.”

And as we’ve become accustomed to in recent weeks, Mike Huckabee weighs in with a particularly unique viewpoint:  


Ben Carson, Frontrunner

For the first time in months, Donald Trump no longer tops the national polls in the GOP primary race.  Ben Carson does.  Seems like a good time to take a look at where the new leading candidate stands on defense and foreign policy issues.  Here’s what his campaign has to say:

On Guantanamo Bay: “Radical terrorists captured in countries all over the world must be detained safely while awaiting trial by military commission. Gitmo is, by far, the single best facility for this dangerous job. Keeping Gitmo open is a critical element in our never-ending efforts to keep the American people safe from another cataclysmic terrorist attack.”

On Russia: “President Putin must come to learn that there will be grave and serious consequences when Russia engages in naked aggression against other sovereign nations and free peoples. All options should remain on the table when dealing with international bullies such as President Putin.”

On Israel: “Israel is our only democratic ally in the Middle East. She is surrounded by nations that threaten her very existence. We can never let her enemies believe that our deep commitment to Israel’s peace and security will waver.”

A Republican Russia Rift?

Trump is far from a conventional GOP candidate.  And yet one issue is emerging on which he is strikingly differentiated from his opponents for the Republican nomination: Russia.  Specifically, the Russian intervention in Syria.  As Gerald Seib writes, “[Trump] essentially welcomes the Russian intervention in Syria, saying Moscow is doing the world’s dirty work by fighting Islamic State forces there. He acknowledges that Ukraine is a problem, but says it’s largely the problem of Europe, and particularly of Germany. Overall, he says that as president he would have a ‘great’ relationship with Mr. Putin. These are not small differences. They put Mr. Trump at odds with not just most other presidential contenders, but also with many GOP voters.”


The Senate passed a cybersecurity bill on Tuesday, after years of work toward it and despite concerns over privacy issues.  Few candidates have weighed in yet, although they’ll hopefully be asked about it in tonight’s debate.  One of the few candidates who has issued a comprehensive cybersecurity plan so far is Jeb Bush.  Writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, Adam Segal gives the plan a mixed review.

From the Campaign Trail

Jeb Bush talks Israel and the Middle East: “When we have gaps between Israel and the United States — when there’s doubts about our capabilities and commitment to them — the rest of the Arab world looks and says, ‘well, the United States cant be a serious partner with us. They’re not even going to support Israel.  We’re going to have to take actions ourselves.’   And what we’re going to see if we don’t watch it is the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Arab world as well because the United States no longer is a trusted ally.”

Marco Rubio on Cuba: “The policy is based on the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate into political freedom for the Cuban people.”

Lindsey Graham is exasperated by his opponents’ poor grasp of foreign policy: “Just look at Donald Trump’s foreign policy. What is it? What is he going to do about ISIL? What is it? What is it? What is his game plan to destroy ISIL? Does anybody know? … How am I losing to these people?”

On the Hill, Senate Side

Armed Services

Alternative Approaches to Defense Strategy and Force Structure
Oct. 29, 2015

Foreign Relations

The U.S. Role and Strategy in the Middle East
Oct. 28, 2015

Homeland Security

Assessing the State of Our Nation’s Biodefense
Oct. 28, 2015

Veterans’ Affairs

VA Mental Health: Ensuring Access to Care
Oct. 28, 2015

On the Hill, House Side

Armed Services

Transition Assistance Program — A Unity of Effort
Oct. 28, 2015

Assessing DOD’s Assured Access to Micro-Electronics in Support of U.S. National Security Requirements
Oct. 28, 2015

Homeland Security

Terror Inmates: Countering Violent Extremism in Prison and Beyond
Oct. 28, 2015

And then, there’s this

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy registered his 15,000th Senate vote this week — on an amendment to the cybersecurity bill passed on Tuesday.  His first vote?  In 1975, to establish the Church Committee and charge it with investigating allegations against the CIA, including plots to assassinate foreign leaders.


John Amble is managing editor of War on the Rocks.


Photo credit: Michael Vadon