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GOP candidates promise a bigger, better military

Amid blistering attacks on each others' campaigns, the Republican presidential candidates at Thursday's sixth national debate did express a common theme in their plans: The military needs more money and attention.

All seven candidates at the event lamented the current readiness and funding for the armed forces and promised as next commander-in-chief to build a stronger fighting force than President Barack Obama has.

"We are not the world's policeman, but we need to stand up and be ready. And the military is not ready," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told the South Carolina audience.

"We need to rebuild our military, and this president has let it diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships. It is disgraceful, and in a Christie administration, they would know much, much better than to do that."

The Republican attacks came just two days after Obama's final State of the Union address, where he accused campaign officials of fear mongering on national security and military readiness. He argued that more defense spending and more aggressive use of military might will not translate into better international partnerships or homeland protection.

But throughout the debate, the candidates pushed back against that message. Business mogul Donald Trump bluntly stated that "our military is a disaster" and promised make rebuilding the force a top priority. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson was less fatalistic, saying that "we have the world's best military, even though [Obama] has done everything he can to diminish it."

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio accused the president of being "more interested in funding Planned Parenthood than he is in funding the military." He also blasted Obama for downplaying the threat posed by Islamic State fighters in the Middle East.

"If you listen to the State of the Union the other night, [Obama] described them as a bunch of guys with long beards on the back of a pickup truck," he said. "They are much more than that.

"This is a group of people that enslaves women and sells them, sells them as brides. This is a group of people that burns people in cages, that is conducting genocide against Christians and Yazidis and others in the region. This is not some small scale group."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said recent defense policies are "gutting" the military.

"The deployments are too high for the military personnel," he said. "We don't have procurement being done for refreshing the equipment. The planes are older than the pilots."

"We have to eliminate the sequester, rebuild our military in a way that makes it clear that we're back in the game.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — who spent most of the event fending off attacks from rivals on personal issues — referenced this week's detention of two Navy ships by Iranian forces as further evidence of Obama's failed security strategy.

"I give you my word, if I am elected president, no service man or service woman will be forced to be on their knees, and any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America," he said.

Of the group, Ohio Gov. John Kasich comments on defense were the least fiery, though still not complimentary to the president. His comment that "in foreign policy, it's strength, but you've got to be cool" seemed aimed at the bombastic comments of his fellow candidates, but he also criticized the president for diminishing America's standing across the globe.

One more Republican debate is scheduled before the first primary election contest — the Iowa caucuses — on Feb. 1. The next Democratic debate is scheduled for Sunday.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for the Military Times newspapers. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

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