Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., spoke during a conference this week and called out the White House, Congress, and military leaders who are politicizing the military. Reed said these attacks and division do not help the military move forward and ask for an apolitical perspective on matters of defense.
“There is a long tradition within the American military of being apolitical, which is essential for our democracy and civilian control of the military,” Reed said.
“Yet some have chosen to publicly disparage our military leaders for political purposes by generating a sense of outrage and indignation. While such attacks may serve a short-term political agenda, int he long run it damages our national interest by eroding trust within the ranks, sowing doubt within our civil society and benefiting our adversaries.”
Reed highlights these challenges in the wake of the great divisive era in America. The senator added that his concerns revolve around the military’s inclusion in these vicious public fights.
Reed, whose committee advocates for the entire US military, has been in this long battle with the White House. In March, Reed argued that a 5% increase in defense spending does not necessarily mean improved national security. He noted that the military has been having challenges around recruitment and retention, and military budgets should be carefully strategized.
“The budget should be driven by strategy, and not strategy driven by the budget. One of the problems is that too often we just pick a number, rather than say, ‘This is really what we have to do and these are the priorities.'”
“As a result, we sometimes don’t puit in the type of incentives so we will make decisions that are effective for national defense.”
On top of the complicated budget spending that will be finalized this coming Oct. 1, Reed said the divisiveness on political extremes is causing a disconnect within the military and the White House.
“I am concerned about the cohesion of our force. Twenty hears of high operations tempo has worn down connections between commanders and troops, and too often issues such as sexual harassment and assault and racism have created division.”
Moreover, as for the growing pains in the military’s recruitment efforts, he said there needs to be a way to recruit volunteers outside the “growing proportion of military personnel who are second, third and even fourth generation volunteers.”
“As fewer Americans are exposed to the military and service becomes narrowed to a family tradition, we could see the force become more isolated from the broader population,” he added.
Pentagon’s Long History With the White House
This is not the first time the military has clashed with the White House. In 2019, the Pentagon called out the White House for extreme politicization of the military during the Trump administration. This was the time when the late Sen. John McCain was supposed to receive a warship named for him but was reportedly asked by the White House to be kept hidden when former President Donald Trump visited Japan.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said nothing was carried out in any form of order to the Navy to hide USS John McCain. After this debacle, Shanahan considered releasing a clear directive to the military to avoid political situations.
Shanahan spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino spoke with the White House Chief of Staff to “reaffirm his mandate that the department of defense will not be politicized.”
So with this, Reed stands to reaffirm the military’s stance on the White House yet again, saying that any budget consideration should be explored very carefully. Slapping a number of the military will not immediately solve its problems.
“We have lots of legacy systems which we maintain, in many cases, because of political choices rather than policy or strategy aspects,” he said. “We have to look at them. Are they still functional? Do we still need them?
“Let’s look at the strategy. Let’s look at the threats which drive strategy and then let’s see if we have a budget that meets those threats.”