Clinton’s Veterans Plan, Rubio’s Defense Plan, and Bush’s WWII Preemption Plan

November 11, 2015

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Another GOP debate focused mostly on the economy. Hillary releases her VA reform plan. Rubio releases his military modernization plan. Jeb talks time travel. Here’s all you need to know this week on the politics of national security.

Rubio, the National Security Candidate

Campaigning in New Hampshire, Marco Rubio made the case to voters that his youth makes him uniquely well suited to be commander-in-chief. “The nature of warfare is always changing and the leaders of the past are almost always blind to these changes,” Rubio said, criticizing “outdated leaders” of both political parties.

Rubio’s comments came as his campaign released his plan to rebuild and modernize the military. Our own Bryan McGrath highlights six points that he says make it the right one for “the new security environment [and] the serious threats we face.”

So does Rubio deserve a reputation as one of the GOP’s smartest voices on defense and foreign policy? Writing in The New Republic, Daniel Benaim says no. “Instead of real vision — an incisive analysis of the world today and actual solutions to its complex challenges — Rubio offers attitudes and platitudes,” he writes. “Scratch the surface and it is difficult to identify a single major new idea or overarching strategy beyond reversing what President Obama has done, shifting the tone toward more forthright condemnation of authoritarians with whom the Obama administration has sought pragmatic and targeted cooperation, and projecting ‘strength’ through a more confrontational approach backed by military spending.”

Graham Says “Not so Fast”

So Rubio thinks he’s best prepared to be commander-in-chief? His Senate colleague John McCain disagrees. The Lindsay Graham campaign’s first television ad, airing in New Hampshire, features McCain touting Graham’s national security credentials. “Lindsey is the only candidate with a comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS and the only one prepared to be a commander-in-chief that’s worthy of the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform.” Watch the ad here. (For the record, that’s not proper wear of the IBA.)

Graham’s low poll numbers kept him out of last night’s fourth Republican debate, which like last month’s third debate was intended to focus mostly on the economy. Despite the disappointment, he says he’s in it for the long haul. His exclusion from the debate does mean that viewers weren’t treated to another display of Graham essentially saying, to hell with your topics, we’ve got China to confront and Islamic State fighters to kill! Graham’s campaign manager criticized the decision to limit the number of candidates invited to participate: “It is ironic that the only veteran in the race is going to be denied a voice the day before Veterans Day.”

Speaking of Vets, Hillary Has a Plan

Hillary Clinton touched off somewhat of a political firestorm a few weeks ago by claiming Republicans overstated problems plaguing the VA. After quickly backtracking, she held an event yesterday to announce her plan to reform the troubled department. Central to her plan is countering Republican intentions that she claims amount to privatizing VA facilities: “VA must maintain the ultimate responsibility of coordinating and ensuring comprehensive and quality health care for every veteran and the specialized services that they deserve — critical functions that would disappear if the VA were privatized.”

Clinton also addressed issues with the GI Bill, medical records integration between the Defense Department and the VA, and improving services for women. Read her full plan here.

Sanders Votes No on Defense Spending

The Senate voted 91–3 yesterday to pass the National Defense Authorization Act. The $607-billion bill was the product of an agreement between Congress and the Obama administration reached last month to avoid a government shutdown. Bernie Sanders was among the three who voted no, and took the Defense Department to task in his explanation for his vote: “If we are serious about ending waste, fraud, abuse and excessive spending, we have got to focus on all agencies — including the Department of Defense. This bloated Pentagon budget continues to pour money into outdated weapons systems that don’t function properly. The Department of Defense is the only federal agency that cannot pass a clean audit.”

Jeb: Tough Talk on Hitler

In a video from The Huffington Post, produced as part of its ’16 and President series, Jeb Bush was asked if, given the opportunity, he would travel back in time and kill a baby Adolf Hitler to avert WWII and the Holocaust. “Hell yeah, I would! You gotta step up, man.” Bush’s recently unveiled new campaign slogan is “Jeb can fix it.” I think he means history.

Back-to-Back One-on-Ones with the Democrats

While the Democratic presidential candidates aren’t participating in nearly as many debates during the 2016 cycle as the GOP, each of the three remaining candidates sat down with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for a recent event in South Carolina. Foreign and defense policy got limited attention, but here are a couple highlights:

Clinton, asked about her hawkish reputation: “I want us to use diplomacy, which is why I spent 18 months putting together the sanctions against Iran so that we could force them to the negotiating table to try to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon and end the talk of bombing them and going to war against them, but instead using diplomacy. So that is how I will approach these issues. However, I will not — I think it’s irresponsible to rule out force. I just will not do that. But it should always be the last resort, not the first choice.”

Sanders on taking on the Islamic State: “I know that Saudi Arabia and all these countries, they want American ground troops to be in combat right now. I disagree. I think what this war against the barbaric ISIS organization is about is for the soul of Islam. And I think you’ve got a lot of Muslim countries there who are going to have to roll up their sleeves and get their troops on the ground and start taking on ISIS in a way they have not yet done. And I think, also, and I feel very strongly about this, the United States has got to be supportive. So does the United Kingdom, so does France, so does Germany, so do countries all over the world who are facing threats from ISIS. What has gone on in recent years, wherever there is a military issue, the world is saying, ‘hey, no problem, American troops, American taxpayers, they’ll do it, we don’t have to do anything!’ Wrong. The whole world is going to have to get involved in coalition to take on ISIS. Not just the United States.”

Hillary the Neocon

Rand Paul might have foreshadowed the questions to Clinton about her hawkishness. He told Chris Matthews before the Democratic forum, and in front of a crowd of Democratic supporters, that he thinks she’s a neocon and predicted more U.S. involvement in Middle East wars under a Clinton presidency.

Uh-uh, says a Clinton spokesperson in response.

And then there’s this…

While foreign policy featured only lightly in last night’s debate, Chris Christie did take a moment in the undercard debate to tell us how he’d deal with China’s island-building in disputed waters: “They’re building those artificial islands in the South China Sea and the president … up until recently, wouldn’t sail a ship within 12 miles or fly a plane over it. I’ll tell you this, the first thing I’ll do with the Chinese is I’ll fly Air Force One over those islands. They’ll know we mean business.”


John Amble is the managing editor of War on the Rocks.


Photo credits: Gage Skidmore; Gage Skidmore; Karen Murphy