A question for each candidate
October 21st, 2012
09:34 PM ET

A question for each candidate

By Michael O'Hanlon, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings (where he was a colleague of Rice’s for several years), teaches at Princeton and Columbia and Johns Hopkins and is a member of the CIA External Advisory Board. The views expressed are his own.

Beyond the issue of Benghazi, where as I wrote earlier this week I hope that tempers begin to cool and the September 11 tragedy begins to be placed in more reasonable perspective, I have two major concerns that can be posed in the form of a probing question to each candidate before Monday’s final presidential debate.

Time for Afghanistan clarity

For President Obama, having heard the vice presidential debate and Mr. Biden’s repeated statements that U.S. forces will be out of Afghanistan by 2014, is it not true that this is in fact contrary to administration policy?

You traveled to Kabul on May 1 and signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with President Hamid Karzai that envisions – crucially and correctly – a U.S. commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014.  Although we do not yet have a status of forces agreement that would facilitate an American troop presence beyond that date, the clear hope and expectation is that we will negotiate one in time to make possible a follow-on force. To be sure, the current NATO mission as presently construed will end in 2014, but isn’t it true that you are expecting American forces in more modest numbers will still be needed after that date? And isn’t it important that Afghans hear this message from us loud and clear, to reduce their phobias and paranoia that they will soon be left entirely to their own devices (as happened after the Soviets withdrew in 1989)?  After all, in the minds of many Afghanistan watchers, such fears tend to heighten the risk of state collapse and civil warfare along ethnic lines, because Afghans tend to revert to ethnic and militia loyalties when they are unsure of the future of the national government.

Defense – how will you pay for it?

For Governor Romney, your defense spending plan is confusing. On the one hand, you promise to reverse President Obama’s planned cuts of some $487 billion over 10 years, relative to earlier plans, as codified in the 2011 Budget Control Act.  (You and the president both oppose possible sequestration cuts that could kick in starting January 1, so that is not really the issue here.)  There were also cuts of some $100 billion (over five years) announced earlier by then Secretary of Defense Gates that you would presumably overturn as well, for a total difference with the president of some $600 billion over a decade. But your website also talks about the goal of keeping defense spending at least at 4 percent of GDP apparently indefinitely into the future. This would make your plan somewhere between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion greater over that period than President Obama’s.

Is this latter target for defense spending an aspirational goal or a serious plan?  If the latter, how can you possibly pay for it while also reducing tax rates, protecting most entitlement spending, and constraining the deficit?


soundoff (183 Responses)
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    October 22, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
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    India has become too big to govern or create any value for western countries or even for its own population. We have invested a lot of resources in India over the past two decades and given a lot of aid to prop it up. There has been no investment on this return. Instead India has squandered all the resources in building nuclear weapons while poverty remains rampant in the country. We need to revisit our relationship with India. American taxpayers will not tolerate this anymore. We need to take care of our own populace going forward. We cannot be exporting jobs to India or giving it financial or technical handouts.

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    I just have a few questions for the tea party folks. Did you people blame Reagan in 1982 when 299 people including 240 Marines were killed with the terrorist attack? What about the 1983 Embassy bombing in Beirut, only a year later, resulting in 63 dead? How about the 9/11 attack in spite of all the warnings by CIA and all the ignoring of the Bush administrations which resulted on the biggest terrorist attack on our soil? Did you blame Bush for the incompetency of his administration then?
    You people are so much inside your bubble and are so blinded with your convictions and prejudice that have lost all sense of realty and facts and sadly are not willing to educate yourself.

    October 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
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