A Conversation with Representative Buck McKeon (R-CA): Leadership in National Defense: Challenges for the 112th Congress

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Representative Buck McKeon (R-CA) began his remarks by addressing that the 112th Congress will be faced by challenges that require global collaboration and in fact it is not the sole responsibility of the United States arsenal to combat these security challenges alone. First, he concedes that al-Qaeda sanctuaries were neglected for far too long, yet now that full attention is placed on Afghanistan, all the necessary steps must be taken to dismantle them accordingly. Rep. McKeon said he is fully supportive of General Petraeus’ efforts to be attentive to both sides of the Pakistan and Afghanistan borders. McKeon further clarified the challenges faced by NATO forces in theater, specifically mentioning that the July 2011 withdrawal date was “simply a mistake.” He emphasized that now following the mid-term elections, the President has the opportunity to avoid the politics and focus on the strategic objectives in Afghanistan. While the 2009 strategy emphasized withdrawal, the new upcoming review and new commander should focus on winning the war, not on timetables. Winning, according to Rep. McKeon, depends on the will of the American people and consequently, the President has the sole responsibility to address all political concerns around the nation.

Rep. McKeon turned his attention to focusing on Iraq and the “undeniable” success of the Iraq surge. He emphasized that through the vast efforts of the military, and the leadership of General Petraeus, forces will be adequate through 2011. Yet the US-Iraq relationship remains uncertain. Cutbacks in aid could end any strategic partnership with Iraq and lose the war “by default.”

Shifting to commentary on the defense budget, Rep. McKeon stated that the members of Congress must ensure taxpayer dollars are used properly and not allocated to redundant projects. He agreed with Secretary Gates that the US must concentrate limited resources on highest priority. Secretary Gates shares Rep. McKeon’s concern that with economic tough times, the people will, unfortunately view the defense budget as the place to solve deficit problems. He adds that growth is insufficient to address the capabilities of our military: 1% real growth over the next 5 years is a net cut for procurement accounts. In summary, “a budget in decline will weaken our alliances and our projection of power.” The independent bi-partisan defense review appointed by Congress recognizes this fact and rather, maintaining our esteemed alliances will increase demand on hard power and military structure. Rep. McKeon’s bottom line: Investment is key to maintaining a robust defense.

Rep. McKeon further added that Americans are more likely to say that in today’s political climate, our national defense is not strong enough while al-Qaeda remains a major threat to the homeland. He quoted the Hill 2010 poll, which stated that 6 in 10 Republicans and 53% of Independents said they won’t accept defense cuts. Rep. McKeon said the Americans are wise to advocate this position.

Rep. McKeon shifted his attention to statements regarding Guantanamo Bay and advocated for a change in current detainee policy, which currently puts the American at risk. McKeon affirmed that the United States “is the target of militant radicalism, not its source.” He went on to state that “mirandizing terrorists” must end by discontinuing trials in Manhattan and transfers, specifically to Yemen.

Rep. McKeon addressed that the perception of US global leadership in Afghanistan will wane and other entities, not our allies, will fill the vacuum if the US abandons its leadership role. President Obama’s weaknesses in national security could lead to an “unstable and unfriendly global climate.” The United States is under great scrutiny by its adversaries and allies alike, and they are well aware of how to “distinguish between rhetoric and action.” Rep. McKeon’s bottom line: if US leadership is in question, global stability is at risk.

Rep. McKeon then outlined his plans for the Armed Services Committee, should he be selected by his peers. While committed to bi-partisanship, McKeon asserted that he is an advocate for the men and women in uniform from a policy, not politics standpoint. He said that he will uphold this pledge by bolstering oversight on the defense budget in light of the past years of Democrats using it to divide, not unite Congress. According to Rep. McKeon, providing for our troops and personnel in uniform to accomplish their mission relies on true oversight of the Defense Department and defense contractors.

Rep. McKeon prefaced his concluding remarks by stating the US must win the war, and not solely end the conflict. Winning the war can be viewed optimistically due to the honorable men and women who provide for US security. The US veterans of Baghdad and young volunteers in Helman and Kandahar Provinces are “the next great generations.” His 112th Congress will advocate for the patriots who know what it is like to sacrifice for freedom.

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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