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In World War II, a surrendering German general demanded his American counterpart’s credentials. The US Army general, Charles Canham, pointed to the battle-hardened soldiers of his escort and replied, “These are my credentials.” General Canham understood that the strength of US national security is its human capital.
This lesson seems almost forgotten by presidential candidates–with one exception. Donald Trump addresses the human costs of military service at each campaign event. While opponents have remained relatively silent on this topic or even argued that the problems of veterans are overstated, he has developed solutions.
Trump also displays agility in his foreign policy proposals, including an appreciation that a President ought to exercise care– for human as well as strategic reasons — in projecting military power. In stark contrast to the business-as-usual elite political class in both parties, Trump recognizes the cost that a stale national security strategy exacts, in both blood and treasure. For many in the military his forthright leadership will secure the welfare of our service men and women while achieving national objectives.
American service members have always done what is asked of them. Nonetheless, the human costs of military service include economic and family turmoil, post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, physical and mental disabilities, substance abuse, criminal justice issues, and homelessness. Veterans have a suicide rate 50 percent higher than those who do not serve in the military. A 2013 Department of Veterans Affairs study indicates more than 20 veterans a day committed suicide from 1999 to 2010.
In response, Trump has not limited his support for veterans and service members to campaign rallies. Most recently, his raising $5.6 million ($1 million of his own money) for veterans’ charities has almost unbelievably become the source of “controversy.” Paradoxically, one segment of the press criticizes him for not moving along donations fast enough while another criticizes for not vetting veterans’ groups sufficiently before mailing out checks. The truth is that Donald Trump kept his word to veterans. What other candidates have recently made similar tangible efforts?
He has also developed a creditable plan that reforms the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy; requires Veterans Affairs facilities to compete with non-Veterans Affairs hospitals; and provides Veterans Affairs with doctors, technology, and services that specialize in women’s healthcare and younger veterans’ needs. His plan puts in place needed technology that links patients to doctors and assists veterans in managing their own care; improves mental health programs; increases funding for post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and suicide prevention services; and funds research for best practices for veteran treatments. Who better to gain efficiencies in bureaucracy than a leader with proven business acumen?
However, reacting to the consequences of war is not enough. Because the human cost of war is so great, service members deserve leaders with strategic vision. A Pentagon axiom states that when the only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Trump, like President Reagan before him, prefers a strong military linked to tough negotiation to deter future threats, rather than habitually calling upon the men and women of the military as the only and, in isolation, often ill-advised application of national power. He also supports strong, unequivocal responses to manifest threats such as ISIS.
Trump proposes reexamining all aspects of US foreign policy. He believes friends should more equitably share burdens in alliances and decision-makers should carefully reassess traditional adversaries. He sees post-World War II US strategy as on autopilot and in need of radical review, while resources for highly trained service men and women should remain vital. Service members are trained to cyclically assess, adapt, and improve in a continuously changing environment. Political leaders should be required to do the same.
The establishment has much to lose by questioning the status quo, but the nation stands to lose more by persisting in the current inflexible course. In contrast to others, Trump exudes leadership. Famed military strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote of leadership, “Two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.” Despite pundits who scoff at Trump’s ideas, he has the intelligence and courage to act in the interest of the American people.
Many Americans, too-long ignored by the political elite, also have a visceral sense that the national direction must change. This is why Trump’s message resonates. Given the present course, the nation also risks disaffection of veterans and service members. Veterans and the military are already experiencing withholds in capabilities and benefits. Trump’s leadership can turn this around. Like General Canham, Donald Trump understands that people are the nation’s credentials.
Brigadier General Andrew F. Hutchinson, Pennsylvania National Guard, Retired, is a former Chief of Staff of the Pennsylvania National Guard. He is a combat veteran, recipient of the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Naval Postgraduate School, and the Army War College.