3rd District Day: National Security Issues

Of the many speakers at Congresswoman Niki Tsongas‘ recent Third District Day, two spoke about national security issues. They were General James Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps; and Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Here is what they said:

Gen James Amos

General James Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also spoke. He said he works with Niki Tsongas throughout the year. He said she’s always thoughtful and prepared and never backs away from tough issues. “When she asks a question, you know you’re in the no BS zone.”

General Amos praised our accomplishments in Afghanistan, mentioning that the Marine commander there, General Joe Dunford, is a native of South Boston. Last week Afghanistan held an election and had 62% turnout which General Amos said was greater than in most US elections “and we don’t have people trying to kill us.” He said we should feel good about Afghanistan; that things have changed dramatically there and “it’s about as good as it can get.”

Reviewing the security environment around the world, General Amos said that the USMC is reorienting on the Pacific and that North Korea is his greatest concern. “You have a 30 year old ruler who is unstable, can’t be trusted, and requires our close attention.” Other areas of concern around the globe are Syria, Libya, Mali and the Ukraine. None of these, as he put it, “have played out yet.” China, on the other hand, is of less concern. General Amos said we must pay close attention to China but “it’s in all of our best interests to have good relations with China.” He said he was “pretty optimistic” about China and “doesn’t sense any peril” from there although he said it is very important for us to keep US military forces in the Western Pacific “to encourage good behavior.”

General Amos closed by asking rhetorically “what should America do with its military?” He acknowledged that the country is weary of war but that it continues to be very important for us to “find the right balance of forward deployed forces not to pick fights but to encourage good behavior.” He said “we’re still a maritime nation with 90% of our goods arriving by sea which makes freedom of navigation and stability in the global economy” critically important to America’s well being.

Congressman Adam Smith

Adam Smith represents the 9th Congressional District in Washington State and is the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Smith, whose district is home to thousands of Microsoft workers, said that technology and innovation are hugely important to the military and to a democracy. The biggest challenge facing national security now is the effects of sequestration because the law that established those automatic cuts extends out for eight more years and the resulting cuts will “devastate” the military as well as America’s ability to finance infrastructure repairs, innovation and research. Smith acknowledged that the military could cut 10% and perhaps be even more efficient, but because of the bureaucracy it is impossible to cut the right 10%. He also called discretionary spending the “seed corn of our society” and eliminating such spending seriously hurts our future prospects. He acknowledged concerns about the deficit but said we’ve had $7 trillion in tax cuts since George W. Bush became president so he thinks it’s time to restore tax rates to the Clinton era which he said “worked pretty well.”

Congressman Smith then focused on the military. He said America needs to be actively engaged around the world but shouldn’t be the world’s police force. Referring to Iraq and perhaps Afghanistan as well, Smith said “putting 100,000 troops on the ground with the plan being to stay there for as long as needed is not a good strategy.” He said militarily we’re at a point best illustrated by a quote from Winston Churchill who said “gentlemen, we are out of money; we have to start to think.” Smith assured everyone that the Armed Services Committee is “the most bipartisan committee in Congress” and that its members from both parties work together closely to solve these issues. The primary goal is to protect “readiness” which combines training, equipment and maintenance. When all the favored projects and programs are protected, readiness is the last thing standing and therefore the easiest to cut. For every cut there is a constituency but if Congress doesn’t make the tough decisions it will reduce readiness and we will have a hollow military force.