Since 1776, there have been 559 million Americans of whom 41 million have served in the military. That amounts to 7 percent overall, and I believe it is much smaller now in the age of the volunteer army. Very few of our elected officials today have worn the uniform. There is a scary ignorance of the gravity of national security threats we face or the extraordinary burdens borne by the few who are responsible for our defense.
This I presume is a major reason for the conspicuous omission of national defense from the increasingly acrimonious political debates. In earlier times it has always been a prominent political issue and rightly so. One would think that in this age of random terror and widespread political instability it would be a hotly-debated topic but amid the name-calling and insults, it has received scant mention.
There were a few fleeting comments about terrorism in which various candidates attempted to outdo each other in their pledges to bomb the Islamic State to smithereens and make the sand dunes glow. It was abundantly clear that they were unaware of the capabilities and limitations of military action and had no real idea what they are talking about. The slang term for bellicose politicians who have never heard a shot fired in anger is "chicken hawk," and it is not complimentary.
We do have serious national security issues that need to be addressed. President Obama has been out of his depth in this area. He is inclined to avoid conflict and generally speaking that is a positive quality, but the President of the United States has an obligation to project our nation's power. Obama came into office pledging to shut down the terrorist prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, and extricate our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been unable to fulfill any of those goals. He simply has no national defense strategy.
Beyond the immediate threats on the ground, we have a more fundamental challenge -- redefining the role of our military in terms of what we hope to achieve and the resources we can allot to national defense. There is a critical need for new thinking and resolute leadership to wean us away from outdated concepts and weapons systems. The military is top-heavy with redundant brass that requires ever more bases and offices to justify its existence. Congress requires us to maintain military bases we do not need and to build weapons systems the Pentagon does not want or have any practical use for. We cannot afford it.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a monolithic creature comprised of disparate elements that were tossed together haphazardly in a time of panic. There are some 22 congressional committees and subcommittees looking for its shoulder. This is a surefire recipe for chaos and incompetence and that is what we are getting.
The candidates should be discussing these issues. I have an uneasy feeling many of them are not even aware of these issues.
Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.