The 2020 Presidential Race
I like Jay Inslee and his single-minded focus on climate change, though he has other good policy goals too.
Elizabeth Warren has a ton of really good policy ideas to take on the banks and corporations and help lift the lower and middle classes. Her positions on foreign policy look good too.
A foreign policy that lifts the fortunes of all Americans must also take an honest look at the full costs and risks of our military actions. All three of my brothers served in the military. I know our servicemembers and their families are smart, tough, and resourceful.
But a strong military should act as a deterrent so that most of the time, we won’t have to use it. That’s not what where we are today.
For nearly two decades, this country has been mired in a series of wars – conflicts that sap American strength. The human costs of these wars has been staggering: more than 6,900 Americans killed, another 52,000 wounded. Many more who live every day with the invisible scars of war. And hundreds of thousands of civilians killed.
The financial costs are also staggering. The U.S. has put more than a trillion dollars on a credit card for our children to pay, a burden that creates a drag on our economy that will last for generations.
Meanwhile, Congress has shirked its responsibility to oversee these ever expanding conflicts. Despite America’s huge investment, these wars have not succeeded even on their own terms.
17 years later, the Middle East remains in shambles. U.S. counterterrorism efforts have often undermined other efforts to reinforce civilian governance, the rule of law, and human rights abroad. We have partnered with countries that share neither our goals nor our values.
In some cases, as with our support for Saudi Arabia’s proxy war in Yemen, U.S. policies risk generating even more extremism. Widespread migration of millions of people seeking safety from war-torn regions has allowed right-wing demagogues to unfairly blame the newcomers for the economic pain of working people at home.
And even with all the blood and money we have spilled, America still faces violent terrorist groups that wish to do us harm.
While our leaders were focused on wars in distant lands, the world changed under our feet. Would-be rivals like China and Russia watched and learned, and they are hard at work developing technologies and tactics to leapfrog the United States, in areas like cyber, robotics and artificial intelligence. Neither military nor civilian policymakers seem capable of defining success – but surely this is not it.
The first responsibility of government is to do what is necessary to protect ourselves at home and abroad, but it’s long past time we asked the question: what actions make us truly safer? Let’s start by reexamining our force structure around the world. The United States has troops deployed in harm’s way in over a dozen countries today. Take Afghanistan. We’ve “turned the corner” in Afghanistan so many times that we’re now going in circles. Poppy production is up. The Taliban are on the rise. Afghan forces are taking unsustainable losses. The government is losing territory and credibility. On my trip to Afghanistan last year, I met American servicemembers who were young children on 9/11. This isn’t working.
Yes, we can-and we must-continue to be vigilant about the threat of terrorism, whether from Afghanistan or anywhere else. But rather than fighting in an Afghan civil war, let’s help them reach a realistic peace settlement that halts the violence and protects our security. Let’s make sure that the three brave Americans killed in Afghanistan this week are the last Americans to lose their lives in this war. It’s time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan – starting now.
Next, let’s cut our bloated defense budget. The United States will spend more than $700 billion on defense this year alone. That is more than President Ronald Reagan spent during the Cold War.
It’s more than the federal government spends on education, medical research, border security, housing, the FBI, disaster relief, the State Department, foreign aid-everything else in the discretionary budget put together. This is unsustainable.
If more money for the Pentagon could solve our security challenges, we would have solved them by now. How do we responsibly cut back? We can start by ending the stranglehold of defense contractors on our military policy.
It’s clear that the Pentagon is captured by the so-called “Big Five” defense contractors-and taxpayers are picking up the bill. If you’re skeptical that this a problem, consider this: the President of the United States has refused to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia in part because he is more interested in appeasing U.S. defense contractors than holding the Saudis accountable for the murder of a Washington Post journalist or for the thousands of Yemeni civilians killed by those weapons.
The defense industry will inevitably have a seat at the table- but they shouldn’t get to own the table. American security and American values should come ahead of the profit margins of these private companies. It is time to identify which programs actually benefit American security in the 21st century, and which programs merely line the pockets of defense contractors- then pull out a sharp knife and make some cuts.
America should also be reinvesting in diplomacy. Foreign policy should not be run exclusively by the Pentagon. Yes, we should expect our partners to pay their fair share. But diplomacy is not about charity; it is about advancing U.S. interests and dealing with problems before they morph into costly wars. Similarly, alliances are about shared principles, like our shared commitment to human rights, but they are also about safety in numbers. Not even the strongest nation should have to solve everything on its own.
We should also look at where our defense spending is actually counterproductive. For example, the President has threatened Russia with a nuclear arms race, saying we’ll simply outspend our rivals. Boy, is that wrong. The United States has over 4,000 nuclear weapons in our active arsenal, and our conventional military might is overwhelming.
Trump’s nuclear arms race does not make us-or the world-any safer. Let me propose three core nuclear security principles.
One: No new nuclear weapons. I have voted against and will continue to vote against this President’s attempt to create new, more “usable” nuclear weapons.
Two: More international arms control, not less. We should not spend over a trillion dollars to modernize our nuclear arsenal, at a time when the President is doing everything he can to undermine generations of verified arms control agreements. Instead, let’s start by extending New START through 2026.
Three: No first use. To reduce the chances of a miscalculation or an accident, and to maintain our moral and diplomatic leadership in the world, we must be clear that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal.
More-of-everything is great for defense contractors – but it’s a poor replacement for a real strategy. We need to be smarter and faster than those who wish to do us harm. We need to tap our creativity to anticipate and evaluate both risks and responses. And we need to better weigh the long-term costs and benefits of military intervention. That’s how we’ll keep Americans safe.
These are all great points, especially since I don't expect any presidential candidate ever to get into deep conspiracy.