Businessman Mike Bloomberg served as mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013. Military Times reached out to his campaign for answers on several questions related to his military and veteran policy plans if he is elected president.
To see all of the candidate responses, click here.
President Donald Trump has touted that the U.S. military is now stronger than ever before, due to increases in military spending and fewer battlefield restrictions on troops. What is your assessment of the current state and readiness of the armed forces? Are they in a better place than they were four years ago? Why?
For decades, the U.S. military has been the most capable and combat-experienced in the world. That remains true today. With no military peer competitor, the American people can be confident that the men and women of our armed forces can meet any conventional security threat.
However, while the U.S. military is a professional, disciplined force, I don’t think that President Trump has treated it as such. He has ignored the advice of senior officers, overruled commanders’ advice on military punishments and made strategic decisions that have abandoned our partners on the battlefield. China and Russia are making major systematic efforts, with some success, to erode U.S. military advantages. Both clearly hope to deter the U.S. from taking military action in regional crises which engage their national interests.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has continued to invest in retrograde legacy platforms rather than funding the transition to advanced new technologies which will define the future battle space. His administration hasn’t invested nearly enough resources in unmanned aircraft, ships, submarines and drones; cyber weapons; new space capabilities; and the applications of AI and machine learning to the battlefield. Our adversaries are not making the same mistakes.
The Army is to be commended for substantially improving its readiness. But I believe that readiness requires intense focus and hard choices. With President Trump’s limited understanding of the world and his constant misapplication of American power, he undermines the capabilities of U.S. armed forces, weakens our alliances and emboldens our enemies. That is hardly an endorsement of the president’s defense policies.
After one year of your administration, what size will the U.S. troop presence be in Afghanistan? In Syria and Iraq? In Europe?
We must end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home. But we must do it in a wise and deliberate manner. The first thing I will do, in conjunction with the Afghan government, our NATO allies who are with us in Afghanistan and other partners in the region, is to reenergize the talks with the Taliban that President Trump so cavalierly cut off and bring all our diplomatic resources to bear to foster a lasting peace in Afghanistan.
At the same time, as mayor, I led the New York City’s recovery from the 9/11 attacks by organizing local, state, federal and international partners to protect the city. I am determined not to allow terrorists to strike America again. I would leave a small, residual force in Afghanistan focused solely on intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism, to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda and Islamic State. U.S. special operations units have also served bravely and effectively in Iraq and Syria to roll back Islamic State. Unlike President Trump, I would not withdraw those forces suddenly, placing them and the larger mission at risk, on a whim or a phone call.
The stationing of U.S. forces in Europe is a sign of our commitment to the stability and security of our NATO allies. Any troop drawdown there, especially one based on little but mercenary concerns, would only encourage Russian adventurism. As president, I would work to ensure NATO remains strong, united and vigilant.
What is the top personnel policy problem you see facing the armed forces today? How will you approach that issue differently from the current administration?
The U.S. has been involved in the lengthiest period of conflict in its history. Despite the sacrifice and danger, young men and women continue to respond to the need to defend the country. While their commitment has been noteworthy, we cannot demand such sacrifices in perpetuity. With only one percent of the country involved in military service, strains on this system are already beginning to show. Recruiters are challenged by an ever-dwindling pool of qualified and interested youth, coupled with low unemployment that provides alternatives to military service. For those already in uniform, the erosion of benefits, truncated retirement system and perceived disrespect from their commander-in-chief have many military families questioning their resolve to continue to serve.
I am committed to a drawdown in U.S. troops in Greater Middle East conflicts to help alleviate that strain. But this should be carried out in a responsible fashion, using patient and consistent diplomacy to protect our vital interests and prevent further instability – which the Trump Administration has failed to do. Additionally, my administration will candidly acknowledge the stresses imposed on our servicemembers. Mental-health, over-prescription of opioids, toxic base housing and an under-acknowledged sexual assault crisis are challenges to building a cohesive, strong defense that is worthy of the sacrifice of our citizens.
Counseling services and expanded educational opportunities for transitioning service members and veterans will help staunch the erosion of trust. I will also prioritize investments in quality military housing, schools, education, community and base facilities, with rigorous oversight and transparency in budgetary outlays and construction results. Finally, I will restore the armed forces’ trust in their commander-in-chief, by respecting the chain of command and once again honoring the rule of law.
Should the Defense Department budget increase or decrease? To what level?
As commander-in-chief, I would ensure that the U.S. military remains the best-trained, best-equipped and most lethal force in the world. At the same time, a spiraling national debt poses a major threat to our national security and reducing it requires that we undertake a careful review of the Pentagon’s budget and acquisitions allocations. We need to stop wasting precious resources on weapons platforms that may be outdated before they’re ever deployed. The Pentagon must introduce greater rationality and discipline into its budgeting process, while broadening competition among and spurring greater innovation by defense contractors. And we have to reduce corporate influence on this absolutely vital process.
Today’s wars, not tomorrow’s, are increasingly fought using electronic, cyber and space weaponry, and using rapid advances in artificial intelligence. These are the conflicts for which we must prepare and, as always, doing so will strengthen the American innovation economy – our unique strategic advantage.
In addition to military spending, our country’s security depends on investing in education, diplomacy, foreign aid, alliances and scientific research and innovation. The Trump administration has proposed slashing or sabotaging budgets in all these vital areas including, specifically, cutting funding for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development by nearly 30 percent. That’s the last thing we should be doing and, as president, I would ensure those diplomatic and development budgets are increased rather than cut.
What is your plan to deal with the rising number of suicides in the military and veterans community?
Every day across our country and abroad, servicemembers, veterans and even family members take their own lives at an astonishing rate. Among veterans, the number has reached up to 20 a day. We are losing more men and women to suicides than to combat. And the problem is getting worse, not better, so whatever we are doing is not working.
This epidemic is not just tragic, it is unacceptable – and as president I will take immediate action to address it. The first step is to bring this crisis into the open, both to educate the public on the challenges that service members and veterans face, and to eliminate the stigma associated with mental-health issues. I will increase funding for the VA’s Executive Director for Suicide Prevention office and will direct the VA and DOD to conduct a thorough study of the root causes of rising suicide rates, along with recommendations for how to address them.
Critically, we need to recognize that this isn’t just a problem for the VA, which does not provide the necessary scale or range of mental health services and therapists. I will work to break down barriers between the VA, DOD and other relevant government agencies, so that we develop a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach focused on prevention and mental health providers. This includes making robust mental-health services available for active-duty service members before they leave the military and partnering with non-profits and peer networks in communities across the country.
Unlike President Trump, who has done nothing to address the link between military and veteran suicide and its association with firearms, I will enact common-sense laws that will significantly reduce access to guns for people who pose a danger to themselves or others. Let’s remove the critical enabler for this at-risk population. I will include stronger background checks and a national permitting system that would allow law-enforcement authorities to block the sale of guns to people with a history of violence or behavioral health risks. I will also work with Congress to pass a federal “red-flag” law so that families can protect their loved ones from suicide by petitioning courts to temporarily remove their guns.
What would be your top policy priority involving veterans, and how will you approach that issue differently from the current administration?
America cannot ask its next generation of young men and women to serve if we do not properly care for the previous one. As president, I would immediately fill the nearly 50,000 empty positions within the Veterans Administration, hiring the best medical staff the country can afford so that veterans aren’t forced to rely on lower-quality, more expensive and slower treatment in private hospitals. I would especially ensure that the resources devoted to mental health and suicide prevention are robust, easily accessible and available to every veteran and their family, wherever they may be. Having built a world-class business whose lifeblood is data, I would also work to ensure that every servicemember can finally have a single medical record from recruitment to retirement, and that veterans have a single point of access through which they can take advantage of all the benefits they and their loved ones have earned.
But, care goes beyond health. I’ve seen first-hand how hard it is for veterans to find the kind of long-term careers that are as fulfilling as their service in the military, and how much trouble even well-meaning companies have recruiting and retaining veteran employees. One of my top priorities would be to establish a true partnership between the military and the private sector, crystallized in a network of centers across the country that would reinvent the process of transitioning to civilian life. These would give new veterans the tools and training they need to find lasting careers or start their own businesses, while educating companies about the intangible skills they offer and how best to nurture them. Veterans represent the elite of American youth. If the country doesn’t take advantage of the talents, dedication and drive these young men and women have already shown in their years of service, we will all lose.
Have administration officials gone too far in pushing veterans health care services into the private sector? Would you repeal or alter existing VA community care programs?
While the private sector has a large role to play in transitioning veterans to civilian work, it is the government’s responsibility to provide the high-quality, low-cost and accessible care they so richly deserve. Rather than privatizing the VA’s healthcare services, which, in some areas, can lead to poorer quality care, I would ensure the VA has the resources it needs to fill gaps in care, and work to develop the cutting-edge technology needed to make access seamless and easy.
Veterans should have the right and the resources to use private doctors and hospitals if they cannot reach a VA facility without undue burden. But they should never be forced to do so because we have failed in our responsibilities to them.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.