Trump’s Plan for Vets and the Politics of Boots on the Ground

November 3, 2015

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Veterans’ issues take center stage

Hillary Clinton’s missteps and subsequent backtrack on the problems plaguing the veterans’ healthcare system seem to have had one positive outcome. As this article puts it, “Clinton’s comments just a few weeks before Veterans Day have thrust the department’s recent scandals into the middle of campaign soundbites. … The episode has created the first real veterans discussion of the 2016 presidential campaign.”

While virtually all of the GOP candidates have criticized Clinton’s original comments, one among the crowded field has a unique opportunity to gain from the issue’s heightened prominence. Marco Rubio has recently called for his VA Accountability Act to be brought to the Senate floor. Iraq War veteran Christopher Neiween argues that, beyond the politics, the act would be good for vets.

For what it’s worth, John McCain says that criticism of Clinton isn’t just about her comments, but her record. According to McCain, Bernie Sanders, the former chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has done more for vets than his Democratic rival. “The fact is we were able to come together and pass legislation that was nearly unanimous in both the House and the Senate, so [Sanders] does have a record of advocacy for our veterans. … To my knowledge, I know of no activity, legislative or otherwise, that Hillary Clinton was engaged in during her time as a United States senator.”

Trump’s plan

The biggest move on veterans’ issues came from Donald Trump. This week, he traveled to Norfolk, Va., and with the USS Wisconsin as a backdrop, unveiled his reform plan for the VA. Pointing to the department’s recent scandals, Trump thinks he knows what the problem is: “Under this plan, we’ll ensure the VA is spending its dollars wisely, not corruptly. … I believe a lot of it’s corruption, personally. Nobody can be that incompetent.”

Check out the full details of Trump’s plan here.

At least one veterans group has criticized the lack of detail in the plan.

The politics of boots on the ground

The Obama administration announced that a small number of special operations forces would be sent into Syria. How did the candidates react?

Republican responses varied:

Rand Paul brought the issue up during a rally: “I think that war on the ground should be fought by those who live there. I’m not for sending Americans over there.”

John Kasich pointed to a February interview to show that he saw the need for “boots on the ground” long ago.

Rubio said the decision to send the small contingent is an “important start.”

Mike Huckabee took to Twitter:

Lindsey Graham criticized it as an incremental step and argued that Russia, with its more assertive stance, was “mopping the floor with Obama.”

There was little consensus from Democrats, either:

Clinton hedged, offering cautious support and saying that she “sees merit” in the decision.

A Sanders statement urged diplomacy, not military action, and warned that it “could lead to perpetual warfare.”

Carson on Russia in Ukraine and the Middle East

New GOP national frontrunner Ben Carson was asked by ABC News what we would do to deal with Putin’s increasing aggression.

In Syria, he says the United States needs to work with Putin: “Look where most of the refugees are, at the Turkey-Syrian border. I think we should establish a no fly zone there and we should enforce it. We should be doing this in communication with Putin to try and decrease the likelihood of conflict and keeping the forces apart.”

But in Ukraine: “… we need to be opposing him in other parts of the world. … We need to reestablish a missile defense system in the eastern bloc of countries so that we oppose him [Putin]. Let’s keep him on the run, we need to recognize that, you know, his fuel is oil. And we need to do everything we can to develop our energy resources at an economical rate so that we keep the oil prices down, which keeps him in his little box.”

A very Rand Paul Halloween

Rand Paul hosted an event in Iowa on Halloween complete with libertarian-themed costume contest. The runner-up received a t-shirt, signed by Paul, emblazoned with “Don’t Drone me, Bro” on the front:

Credit: Iowa Starting Line (Twitter)

Foreign policy? What foreign policy?

The Republicans held their third debate last week. Aside from the uproar over the moderators’ handling of the event, what treatment did foreign policy and national security questions receive? Very little. To be fair, the CNBC-hosted debate was intended to focus on the economy. And yet…

Lindsey Graham was widely perceived to have won the undercard debate. And as Leo Shane III writes for the Military Times, he did so by largely ignoring the topical restriction that was intended and focusing like a laser beam on the defense issues on which he has staked his candidacy, directing tough talk toward America’s adversaries: “When it comes to dealing with me, you’ve got a clenched fist or an open hand. You pick. … The party’s over, to all the dictators. Make me commander-in-chief and this crap stops.”

Speaking of dictators…

While Graham talks tough, other GOP candidates are turning their backs on the notion of American democratizing missions abroad. The L.A. Times traces the latest emergence of a “long-running argument [among Republicans] between neoconservatives and so-called realists, who are more willing to tolerate repressive governments if they advance American interests and preserve stability.”

O’Malley: Look beyond NATO

The only remaining challenger to Clinton and Sanders in the Democratic field, Martin O’Malley, gave a wide-ranging speech on foreign policy during a campaign stop in Iowa. Among other things, he talked about the United States’ place in a world of shifting geopolitics: “I believe we need a foreign policy of engagement and collaboration with like-minded people around the world. That’s going to require new alliances. NATO has served us well. We have commitments to NATO, we must honor our commitments to NATO, but there are also other alliances that need to be formed in order to manage events like failed nation states and the rise of sort of these genocidal groups like ISIL.”

Predicting Paul Ryan’s foreign policy

Newly installed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a notorious budget policy wonk. But in his new role, he’ll inevitably be more prominent on foreign policy issues, too. And many questions remain, argues Alireza Ahmadi: “Will he avoid costly, difficult battles with President Obama or a future president on foreign policy issues he is not passionate about? Will he fight those battles to pacify his ultra-conservative elements in his caucus as to garner support on complicated budgetary issues he does care about?”

More Clinton emails

Friday’s release of 7,000 more emails from Clinton’s email server brings the total to nearly half of the 55,000 mandated by a federal court to be released by January. ABC News has some highlights from the latest batch, including her thoughts on the Israelis (they can be “cocky”), Osama bin Laden’s circumcision (huh?), her vulnerability to Chinese hacking (probably shouldn’t have made that joke), and emoticons (she lost them on her new Blackberry … sad face).

Which Dem is the real Dem?

Is Hillary really a Democrat when it comes to foreign policy? Nope, argues H.A. Goodman; she’s actually more of a Republican. Bernie Sanders is the real Democrat, he says. From the Iraq War to constitutional powers, here’s his argument.

On the Hill, Senate side

Armed Services:

Future of Warfare
November 3, 9:30am

Revisiting the Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces
November 5, 9:30am

Foreign Relations:

Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine and the Propaganda that Threatens Europe
November 3, 2:30pm

U.S. Policy in North Africa
November 4, 10:00am

On the Hill, House side

Armed Services:

Aircraft Carrier – Presence and Surge Limitations. Expanding Power Projection Options
November 3, 2:00pm

Future Options for the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent – Views from Project Atom
November 3, 3:30pm

Foreign Affairs:

U.S. Policy After Russia’s Escalation in Syria
November 4, 10:00am

Demanding Accountability: Evaluating the 2015 “Trafficking in Persons Report”
November 4, 1:00pm

Challenge to Europe: The Growing Refugee Crisis
November 4, 2:00pm

Deplorable Human Rights Violations in Cuba and Venezuela
November 6, 10:00am

Homeland Security:

Defending Against Bioterrorism: How Vulnerable is America?
November 3, 10:00am

A New Approach to Increase Trade and Security: An Examination of CBP’s Public Private Partnerships
November 4, 10:00am

Veterans’ Affairs:

Examining VA’s Information Technology Systems that Provide Economic Opportunities for Veterans
November 3, 2:00pm

An Examination of Continued Challenges in VA’s Vets First Verification Process
November 4, 10:30am


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


Photo credit: Gage Skidmore