The Problem With Donald Trump’s Plans For The Military


Responding to Donald Trump’s words on veterans and war is a formidable challenge. Much of what he’s had to say thus far in the presidential race lacks experience, reason, or logic.

How exactly does one respond substantively to things like what Trump said of John McCain: “He is not a war hero. He is a war hero because he was captured, I like people that weren't captured, OK? I hate to tell you.”

Or here’s Trump on his experience at a military high school: according to a forthcoming book, Trump “always felt that I was in the military.” and received “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”

But the latest Trump quote going around has little to do with his opinion of McCain or his views on his own experiences. The latest episode surrounds how Donald Trump would run the American military if he were to be elected commander-in-chief.

Speaking on the deck of the decommissioned USS Iowa, the Republican frontrunner said, “We’re going to make our military so big, so strong and so great, so powerful that we’re never going to have to use it. We’re going to have a president who is respected by Putin, respected by Iran.”

It’s not the first time Trump has delivered such a line. At a speech in Mobile, Alabama, in July, Trump said, “You know the thing I’ll be great at that people aren’t thinking? And I do very well at it. Military. I am the toughest guy. I will rebuild our military. It will be so strong, and so powerful, and so great. It will be so powerful and so great that we’ll never have to use it. Nobody’s going to mess with us, folks. Nobody.”

At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss this line as another glossing over of the complex military, foreign policy, and other policy discussions that politicians are supposed to be experts with. Thus far through the campaign season, Trump has occasionally come across like a student who neglected to read the book, but is still convinced he can ace the test.

The obvious problem, of course, is that the United States already has the most powerful military in the world by a long shot. The U.S. currently spends more on military and defense than the next seven top countries in the world combined. We spend roughly three times more on defense spending than China, and roughly six times more on defense spending than Russia, the two countries that Trump claims he as president would stand up to.

When Trump says he would rebuild our military to make it the best in the world, what exactly does he think is wrong with it? Who does he think has a stronger military right now?

But there’s a bigger problem, a philosophical problem. Trump’s military philosophy perhaps gives us insight into his background as a businessman. In his world, every party is a rational actor. Deals get made over dollars and cents; interests and preferences are apparent and communicated.

In this world, Trump would be right. Why would anyone go to war with a country with a military the size of the United States? In a conventional war, they would get trounced. Of course, people who study international relations know this. That’s why modern democratic societies don’t fight one another. Democratic societies behave rationally, and the weaker party would never commit to a war that it would lose.

The issue with Trump’s line is that in the real world, there are irrational actors. Wars are fought with both parties seeking asymmetrical advantages. The 9/11 hijackers didn’t compare their might to that of the U.S. military before planning their attack, nor does the rest of al Qaeda, nor does the Islamic State, nor does the Taliban. Terrorism itself becomes an rational act for groups that are so small and so radical that they could never advance their agenda without resorting to violence and fear.

In this real world, this modern world where terrorism is such an enormous part of national security concerns, it is painfully important that anyone who seeks to run the country understand this. An inability to grasp this reality is perhaps why a tough-talking businessman is not well suited to step into the West Wing.

Trump claimed to have learned more at a military high school than people learn in the actual military. I beg to differ.

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Danals
Ryan Kules

Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.

On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.

Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.

Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.

Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.

"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."

While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.

"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.

Read More Show Less
(Courtesy of Roman Sabal)

A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.

Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.

Read More Show Less
Jeff Schogol

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.

Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.

Read More Show Less