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What to Do: Policy Recommendations for 2017 is an ongoing project from AEI. Click here for access to the complete series, which addresses a wide range of issues from rebuilding America’s military to higher education reform to helping people find work.
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Since the end of the Cold War, America’s presidents—George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—have employed the US military repeatedly. However, none of them thought it necessary to make serious or substantial long-term investments in the US armed forces. The next president must begin to rebuild America’s military.
The current force is too small; its equipment—largely the legacy of the Reagan-era build-up—is too old; and it is not trained or ready for a large or long fight. The military services are in danger of losing their best, brightest, and most battle-tested people: the “all-volunteer force” marks a moral compact between the American public and the small number of Americans who risk their lives to keep the rest of us safe. That compact requires us not only to care for the wounded, the widows, and the retired but also to provide those who would go in harm’s way with the means for victory. When we fail to do so, it breaks faith with those in uniform.
This failure also endangers America. Even in the current hothouse media environment, it is impossible to miss what the decline of US military power means for the world, in Europe, in East Asia, and most especially across the greater Middle East. Things are falling apart as the American center cannot hold.
This report shows a way forward. Grounded in a traditional understanding of our national security goals and strategy, the path is clear. Defense planning for the next administration must:
Sound defense planning demands a long-term perspective, resting not on what changes—threats and technologies—but on what remains constant—American security interests and political principles. Since 1945, the one constant of international politics has been the military power of the United States. Our next commander-in-chief must rebuild America’s military power.
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