Presidential Campaign

Trump’s and Clinton’s policies would further burden an exhausted military

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When Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations shortly after the Paris attacks, she emphasized that U.S. ground troops would be needed to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS):

A more effective coalition air campaign is necessary but not sufficient. And we should be honest about the fact that to be successful, air strikes will have to be combined with ground forces actually taking back more territory from ISIS. … We can and should support local and regional ground forces in carrying out this mission.

While Clinton hides behind the semantics of “mass deployment” to appeal to both hawks and progressives (she’s against sending tens of thousands of Americans, but is comfortable with a lesser number), the reality is that she’ll most likely send more Americans into war than PresidentObama. The Los Angeles Times writes that Clinton believes the “U.S. needs to ‘be prepared to deploy more’ special operations forces than Obama.” In terms of Americans fighting alongside others in Middle Eastern wars, Clinton wants to “give U.S. troops currently in Iraq more leeway to embed with Iraqi units engaged in combat.”

In addition, The Guardian writes that Clinton “called for greater use of American ground troops” and pushed for a no-fly zone. The problem with this idea is that ISIS doesn’t have an air force and Russia is already conducting bombing missions.

In addition, Clinton has already flip-flopped on her call for U.S. ground forces, as illustrated in an International Business Times article:

[The] announcement that the U.S. would be deploying troops to fight the so-called Islamic State militant group in Iraq likely caught Hillary Clinton off guard, considering she said earlier in the day that she didn’t think putting boots on the ground was such a prudent idea. Clinton’s latest opinion on the topic was an abrupt departure from her previous stance, when the Democratic presidential front-runner less than two weeks ago expressed her support to “broaden” anti-ISIS efforts by bringing U.S. troops to the conflict-ridden region.

Clinton is now officially less hawkish, but still aggressive enough to send somewhere in between a mass deployment and special forces deployments, according to her latest rhetoric. If anyone doubts Clinton could be a Republican on foreign policy, a piece in Vox headlined “Hillary Clinton will pull the Democrats — and the country — in a hawkish direction” argues that she “will take a more aggressive approach to world politics.”

{mosads}On what should be the opposite end of the political spectrum, Republican candidate Donald Trump is just as bellicose. Trump is open to sending U.S. ground troops to Syria, saying “We’ve got to get rid of ISIS quickly, quickly.” As president, he’d likely be influenced by hawks within the GOP, and perhaps even the neoconservative advisers who have already courted Clinton. Between Trump and Clinton, voters know that ISIS must be defeated, but aren’t given the exact number of U.S. ground troops needed to achieve the military victory.

America’s dilemma with both Trump and Clinton echoing essentially the same plan against ISIS is that either candidate in the White House could burden the U.S. military even further. A Voice of America piece explains the problem of an overburdened American military:

With more than 250,000 American troops deployed in nearly 130 countries, many analysts are questioning whether the United States military is stretched in ways that could undermine its future capabilities should new threats arise. …

U.S. military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recruitment shortfalls in some branches of the armed forces, such as the Army and National Guard, have alarmed some observers who warn that the military is overburdened and overstretched. …

[S]ome observers say that the draft cannot be discounted as a possibility for beefing up the number of American troops.

In other words, the more we engage in perpetual wars, the greater the likelihood that “beefing up the number of American troops” will result in a draft. As those “some observers” note, “the draft cannot be discounted” in future American wars.

It’s no secret that Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in a Veterans Affairs (VA) crisis, a military suicide epidemic and an exhausted military. In 2016, the next president will face a monumental choice: accept the limitations of America’s military might or continue to wage war.

As Micah Zenko writes in Foreign Policy, there exists the reality of “mission creep” in our fight against ISIS, and the next president might ultimately decide to increase U.S. involvement exponentially:

Mission creep has occurred because Obama … continues to pursue a strategic objective that is totally unachievable. The United States and the other 61 members of the “coalition,” either solely or in combination with Iraqi and Syrian ground forces, simply will not commit the degree of military power needed to ensure that Assad falls or the Islamic State [ISIS] is destroyed.

If Clinton or Trump is elected, the odds are that they’ll “commit the degree of military power” that some observers feel is needed to defeat ISIS.

This could undoubtedly lead to yet another massive counterinsurgency war like Iraq and Afghanistan, especially considering the fact Obama has already sent troops to Iraq and Syria and prolonged America’s involvement in Afghanistan. We saw the same type of “mission creep” during the Vietnam War.

Both Trump and Clinton would be more hawkish than Obama, who’s already overseen 9,041 airstrikes against ISIS at a cost of $5.4 billion. Both Trump and Clinton have already shown a willingness through their tough rhetoric to send more Americans to the Middle East. When you combine “mission creep” with the reality that the Army faces a recruiting deficit, the next logical possibility is a reinstated draft.

Based on her prior rhetoric, the foreign policy goals of Hillary Clinton might require a draft, especially if the former secretary of State will have a “neocon” foreign policy. Her foreign policy was labeled “neocon” by a leading conservative historian in The New York Times. Neocon advisers could also find their way into Clinton’s administration, as noted in another New York Times piece, as well as into a Republican White House if Trump is elected.

In contrast, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), running for the Democratic nomination, offers the only alternative to an overburdened military being led by Clinton or Trump. Sanders calls for the Saudis and others to send their own ground troops. In 2016, only Sanders warns against the consequences of perpetual wars and only Sanders mentions the amputees and wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ultimately, American voters have a choice between Sanders, on one end of the spectrum, and both Clinton and Trump demanding that America lead the way against ISIS. What many observers overlook is that the tough talk of politicians is eventually backed up by the men and women of the U.S. military. If the next president engages in future quagmires, we might not have a military large enough to achieve our objectives.

Considering two major wars, a military suicide epidemic, a VA crisis, and U.S. troops recently deployed to Syria, Iraq and staying longer in Afghanistan, don’t discount the reality of a military draft if Clinton or Trump becomes president.

Goodman is an author and a journalist.

Tags 2016 presidential campaign Afghanistan War Bernie Sanders Donald Trump ground troops Hillary Clinton Iraq Iraq War ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria special operations Syria

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