On defense: Questions for Clinton and Trump at CINC forum
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This coming week the candidates will participate in a Commander-in-Chief forum, with the objective of witnessing a side-by-side comparison in real time with regard to their positions on our National Security posture.

The candidates on the stump have limited their comments on National Security to sound bites (although the NATSEC community has come down hard on Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE, virtually declaring him unfit for the office). Let’s level the playing field — assume a blank slate, and let each candidate articulate clearly and concisely what they would each do as President to secure the liberty and well being of the American people.


There are some basic questions to ask, and their answers should give the public better insight on who actually is qualified to be commander in chief.

First and foremost, the next President is going to take office with deployed soldiers, sailors and Marines already in harm’s way. In all cases, we are operating these deployments under an Authorization of Use of Military Force from 15 years ago. Going to war used to be something the executive branch and legislative branch did together.

The way our constitution is set up is this — Presidents have the power to take the country to war. With this in mind, the first set of questions for either candidate has to be — what is your evaluation criterion for use of military force, either against a foreign nation or for some other purpose (humanitarian assistance for example)?  Will you apply these criteria to the situation as it currently exists in the world?  What is your perception of the role of Congress in waging war?

While the deployment of troops can address some of the conventional threats we face, there is no amount of firepower that can be used to protect our National Grid or other critical infrastructure components. We have seen foreign country involvement in the hacking of political parties, as well as the virtual daily break in of private companies’ networks to steal corporate secrets or hold their information ransom.

While our military power might be the greatest in the world, we have peers in the cyber domain. The question: what are you are going to do to ensure the protection of our critical infrastructure and other soft targets that have become completely reliant on automation literally millions of data networks and devices.

One of the candidates recently said we would “be ready with serious political, economic and military responses” in the event of a cyber attack. What exactly would be our military response, especially considering some of the origin of these attacks are coming from nuclear capable countries?    

Lastly, those who have served put such a premium on leadership and emotional intelligence for our commander in chief. The President holds the nuclear codes which could start a unimaginable war. When the U.S. was behind in the space race, the legislative and executive branch worked to put together programs to close the gap.

In the 1950’s, The National Defense Education act gave loans to students to study Math and Sciences. President Kennedy gave perhaps the greatest example of a mission statement ever: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”  The military, more than any other branch of service, wants to know your mission statement.

We also want to understand your intent; we want to know what is so important that it must never fail. We know what past Presidents have stood for. For this, the next question is simple — what is the greatest threat to America today? We recognize the leader creates goals and objectives that sometimes mean enduring short-term pain for long term gain, and in this case, perhaps go past your time in office. What topic relating to our military will you fight for today, knowing that it will likely take your entire term to implement or impact the country well after you are out of office? What is your moon shot?

We will swear in a new Commander in Chief on January 20, 2017, and for the sake of the republic, the next President will need the hit the ground with a moral compass and vision to lead this great nation. There is no more important duty than our Commander in Chief. We are counting on both candidates to answer these questions.

Army Major Mike Lyons (Ret.) is a Senior Fellow with the Truman National Security Project and is a military analyst for CBS News.

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