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Trump and Clinton Prep to Strut before an Audience of Soldiers and Vets
By Gar Smith
On September 7, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are set to appear on the same stage in a broadcast NBC is calling the“Commander-in-Chief Forum," an event devoted to "national security, military affairs and veterans issues." The candidates will not debate face-to-face. They will appear separately, back-to-back.
For an event that marks the beginning of one of the most critical presidential debates in US history, NBC is mounting a disturbing preamble. Instead of focusing on the full range of domestic issues that are roiling the electorate – lack of good jobs, declining wages, rising housing costs, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure, mass incarceration, and the tandem proliferations of gun possession and police violence -- the lead issue selected by the National Broadcasting Corporation, is war-fighting.
Under NBC's marching orders, the two candidates will vie for the allegiance of "an audience consisting mainlyofmilitaryveteransandactiveservicemembers."
The evening is being sponsored by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veteransof America, an organization that has received a respectable 86% Charity Navigator rating and whose mission is to "connect, unite and empower post-9/11 veterans."
Does NBC plan to broadcast similar follow-ups sponsored by other public interest groups including, perhaps, The American Federation of Teachers, The Service Employees International Union, The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union?
Wouldn't the national dialog benefit from a series of similar debates held before audiences composed of (1) the unemployed and under-employed, (2) the homeless, (3) the elderly, (4) the disabled, (5) the ill and infirm?
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that our national viewing audience will be tuning in to any Trump-Clinton/back-to-backs focusing on the grievances of these average Americans.
Instead, we can expect to watch two presidential wannabes competing to out-shout each other in a rhetorical race to sound more sympathetic to the needs of soldiers and vets and more bellicose and "tough" in confronting the "threats" of a "hostile" world.
So, if that's what we've been given, let's make the best of it.
Here are some critical questions we might like to see raised and would like to hear the candidates address.
• On the 15th anniversary of George W. Bush's War on Terror, American soldiers are engaged in six foreign wars – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Over this time, we have seen a 700% increase in terror incidents and a 500%-plus rise in deaths and injuries. Would it be fair to say that the War on Terror has failed?
• The Pentagon still reserves the right to unilaterally start a nuclear war. President Obama is pushing for a policy of "no first use" of our nuclear arsenal. Where do you stand?
• In Syria, US-backed armed rebel groups are exchanging fire with CIA-backed rebel groups. Will you publically condemn this kind of meddling? If not, which side do you support – the US-backed rebels or the CIA-backed rebels?
• Given the great expenditures on military spending over the decades, how do you explain the fact that the US has not won a war since 1945?
• During a speech before the American Legion, candidate Clinton threatened to respond to electronic hacking of US computers by launching a military strike against any country hosting the suspected foreign hackers. If you were president, would you order a military strike in response to spamming?
• What is your position regarding plans to "streamline" the Department of Veteran Affairs by privatizing its services under the control of for-profit private sector companies?
• Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently observed: "Every violent US intervention has resulted in a catastrophic blowback far more costly to our country than any of the problems our meddling was intended to solve. Our mischief has not made America safe. The only winners have been the military contractors and oil companies who pocketed historic profits. We have compromised our values, butchered our youth, and killed hundreds of thousands of innocents in fruitless and costly adventures abroad." Your response?
• The Pentagon has been avoiding a public audit of its spending since at least 2001. According to a recent Inspector General's report, in 2015, the Pentagon lost track of $6.5 trillion. Do you have any clue where that money went?
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was roundly criticized after its "Fast and Furious" gunrunning operation lost track of 1,290 weapons over the border in Mexico. The CIA and Pentagon have reportedly lost track of much larger numbers of weapons in Afghanistan and Syria – 80,000 pistols and 110,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles. How would you assure that US weapons don't wind up in the hands of our enemies?
• In 2013, the Department of Homeland Security ordered 1.6 billion rounds of high-powered ammunition for distribution to other federal departments, including the Post Office, the Department of Agriculture, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Social Security Administration. The EPA wound up with $1.4 million worth of guns. The Education Dept. has spent over $80,000 on Glock pistols and more than $17,000 on Remington shotguns. WTF?
• According to British researchers, between September 11, 2001 and September 10, 2015, the Pentagon issued more than $40 billion in contracts for guns and ammunition. But the Pentagon's accounting procedures omit any contracts below $7 million. Will you pledge to undertake a complete accounting?
• There has been much drum-beating about Russian aggression. But it was the West that broke its promise to disband NATO after Russian dismantled the Warsaw Pact. And it is NATO that has been ratcheting up pressure along the Russian border with new bases, new missile installations and military exercises.
• Are you aware of the US role in toppling the elected pro-Russian government in Ukraine that triggered the controversy over the "annexation" of Crimea? Are you comfortable with the far-right and neo-Nazi elements in the current regime?
• Do you believe that expanding America's bases and naval presence around the world increases global stability? The US maintains at least 662 bases in 38 foreign countries and US troops are stationed in 150 countries overseas. Can you tell the American public how much it is currently costing to maintain Washington's global empire?
• Why does the US maintain that Washington, not China, must exert control over the South China Sea? Why does the US maintain that Washington, not Iran, must maintain a naval presence in the Persian Gulf?
• Can you provide examples where provoking another sovereign nation – be it Russia, China, North Korea, or Libya -- has produced any response other than increased truculence and intensified militance?
• On September 10, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared it was time to declare war, but not on foreign terrorists: "The adversary's closer to home," Rumsfeld said, "It's the Pentagon." Question: Do you recall why Mr. Rumsfeld issued this threat? Answer: He had just discovered that $2.3 trillion in Pentagon spending was missing and unaccounted for.
• This month, Russia has invited NATO to engage in a "positive program" for mutual military relations and has offered a guarantee of safer flights over the Balkans but news reports claim such initiatives are opposed because a revival of the Cold War "would offer arms makers a new and hugely lucrative market." How do you respond to powerful US corporations who recognize that threats of war translate into a "great business opportunity"?
• In his famous speech in Prague, President Obama promised to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons. Now, he has committed the US to spend $1 trillion over 30 years on a new nuclear arsenal. Can you suggest some better alternatives for investing $1 trillion?
• In Geneva, last month, 107 nations called for United Nations negotiations on a global nuclear weapons ban to commence in 2017. The specter of nuclear war is clearly, and by definition, an "existential" threat to our country and our planet. Where do you stand on this issue?
• Mr. Trump, you have called the Pentagon "very depleted," but the Department of Defense is now spending more money (in constant dollars) than ever in its history. As Andrew Bacevich has noted: "Washington knows how to start wars and how to prolong them, but appears clueless when it comes to ending them. Meanwhile, 'endless war' means 'endless profits' for powerful US corporations." What is your program for ending wars? Do either of you have a detailed program for transforming the US from a War Economy to a sustainable "Survival Economy"?
• During the recent coup attempt in Turkey, the US lost access to the Incirlik airbase where 50 US nuclear bombs were stored. A US think tank reported these weapons were at risk of being seized by "terrorists or other hostile forces." The US reportedly moved the weapons to Romania but Romania has denied this. Question: Do you have any idea where these 50 US atomic bombs might be?
• The Pentagon just gave the Harris Corporation $1.7 billion to outfit the under-performing Afghan army with radios. How many meals could this money have provided to America's 15.8 millionundernourished children?
• When the US provides the weapons that Saudi Arabia and other nations use to bomb hospitals and schools in Yemen, would you agree that this makes the US complicit in the commission of war crimes?
• On July 28, a US-led coalition airstrike on a village in Syria killed 45 civilians, including women and children. The next day, ISIS posted a video of the slaughter online. Would you concede that Washington's killing of innocent civilians – with bombs and drone strikes – is a powerful recruiting tool for people who see America as a global aggressor?
• Do you believe that airstrikes on large, populated cities should be declared a war crime?
That's just for starters. Clearly there are many more questions that could be asked of Trump and Clinton at NBC's Commander-in-chief Forum. But my guess is, they won't be on the agenda.
Gar Smith is a Project Censored award-winning investigative report and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War.