The Future of Defense, the Military, and America’s Role in the World

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A Conversation with Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) - Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee

Moderated by William Kristol - The Weekly Standard & Foreign Policy Initiative

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Summary

With the failure of the Super Committee to negotiate $1.2 trillion in long-term deficit reduction, Senator Ayotte said that there was strong reason to worry about the future of defense spending.  She added that current spending on defense as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) was actually historically low, and that she would be working with fellow lawmakers to mitigate and delay the impact of the automatically-triggered sequestration cuts.  While she agreed with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen (USN, ret.), that the country’s debt was a major national security issue, she added that it would be foolish to reduce spending on defense as a means to address our fiscal crisis.

In recent Congressional debate over War on Terror provisions attached to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, Ayotte said that the final debate boiled down to the question of whether or not the United States was at war.  Regarding detainee provisions, she said that there was a strong recidivism rate with former detainees, and that she could not imagine what soldiers felt when they encountered terrorists on the battlefield that were previously imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.  She observed that the bill’s final passage in the Senate was indicative of the strong bipartisan support for military detainment, and that such a margin was veto-proof.  Later, in response to a question from the audience, Ayotte remarked that while the detainee provisions do apply to American citizens, but intelligence-gathering provisions only refer to foreign members of al-Qaeda.  This approach, she said, is concurrent with and codifies existing policy.

Returning to defense spending, Ayotte remarked that the sequestration cuts were ultimately small, relative to the total federal debt, but allowing these cuts to continue would devastate America’s defense, and have a crippling impact on the defense industrial base.  She said that she believed the sequestration cuts could be overturned, and emphasized her faith in the capability of outside groups to inform the debate by demonstrating the catastrophic impact that those cuts would have on the American military.

Ayotte lambasted the Obama administration for failing to heed the advice of military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan by withdrawing troops ahead of the 2012 elections in the United States.  She noted that General Austin, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, had requested 14,000 troops to remain in Iraq, but that the administration had failed to push hard enough to secure agreement to give legal immunity to U.S. forces in Iraq after 2011.  Ayotte noted that Afghanistan was still “Ground Zero” for international terrorism, and believed that it would be far preferable for the United States to see the present mission through to success, rather than the country become a safe-haven again for al-Qaeda.

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Mission Statement

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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