Although Carly Fiorina may have appeared well prepared for the Republican presidential candidate debate Wednesday, most of what she said about defense matters was fact-free or misleading.
Having proposed major steps to make the U.S. military “the strongest military on the face of the planet” — which it already is — she never said how the government would pay for her proposals.
Ignore her childish response to the question of how she would deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin: “I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We’ve talked way too much to him.”
Focus instead on her next point: “What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the 6th Fleet.”
As Stars and Stripes, the Pentagon’s newspaper, diplomatically put it the day after Fiorina spoke: “Her meaning wasn’t immediately clear — the U.S. 6th Fleet is less a collection of ships than a command structure for operating American warships in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Moreover, the fleet is one of the few growing military commands in Europe.”
Fiorina could have noticed that, beginning in March, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and its strike group of five ships, consisting of about 6,000 sailors and Marines, began a planned tour of the 6th Fleet area and that four destroyers were being based at a U.S. Navy facility in Rota, Spain.
With their Aegis combat systems, the destroyers will be part of NATO’s missile defense system and will carry out bilateral and multilateral training exercises with allied countries, as the Navy announced last spring.
Two days before last week’s debate, the Navy announced that the guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook had just left the Black Sea after taking part in joint exercises with Ukrainian forces.
On May 9, Fiorina said roughly the same thing — that “we should rebuild the 6th Fleet,” as one way to show Putin we are strong — during her speech at the South Carolina Freedom Summit.
Also in that speech, Fiorina said that a second way to display U.S. strength to Putin would be to “rebuild the missile defense program.” At last week’s debate that became, “I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland.”
This is an old Republican claim: that President Obama, in September 2009, scrapped the George W. Bush administration’s plan to install an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles. Republicans have never acknowledged that Obama replaced it with a new and different system.
The fact is that the Obama administration is proceeding to place 24 anti-ballistic missile interceptors in Poland, to begin operating in 2018, while under the Bush plan there would have been 10 interceptors operational by 2017 or later.
Another Fiorina proposal was to “conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states.” Has she ever inquired about “Baltops,” an annual military exercise in the Baltic Sea and surrounding land areas run by the U.S. military since the 1970s? The 43rd one was held with much publicity in June, with 17 countries and 5,600 ground, naval and air force personnel taking part. Activities took place throughout the Baltic Sea and in Poland, Sweden and Germany.
It certainly caught Russia’s attention — if not Fiorina’s — with a Moscow-controlled news outlet describing it as taking place in part “just miles off the Russian coastal exclave of Kaliningrad.”
Another Fiorina proposal was, “I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany.”
Instead of permanently stationing new forces in Germany, the Obama administration has been rotating forces in and out, and in June disclosed plans to put about 250 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, artillery and other pieces of equipment in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter on June 26 told a group of soldiers in Grafenwöhr, Germany, that he did not foresee an increase in permanently stationed troops there but rather “an increase in rotational presence.”
Carter pointed out that American taxpayers, “to be quite blunt about it, they want you spending your money at home, not in another place” such as Germany.
In last week’s debate, Fiorina said that to bolster the military, “we need about 50 Army brigades, we need about 36 Marine battalions, we need somewhere between 300 and 350 naval ships, we need to upgrade every leg of the nuclear triad.”
The nuclear upgrade is already underway, and the Daily Beast’s Kate Brannen traced those Army and Marine unit increases and Navy ship figures to the Heritage Foundation’s first Index of U.S. Military Strength, released Feb. 24.
Fiorina made no mention of the added costs involved, nor how she would have the government pay for it.
Her proposal would create 20 more Army brigades and a dozen new Marine battalions. Overall, adding all those forces could amount to an additional $20 billion a year, according to experts I consulted.
And there would be billions more than that each year, since — what most political people forget — more than just personnel costs would be involved. Added troops mean more procurement costs, from uniforms to rifles to tanks, plus training and indirect expenses such as housing and transportation.
Fiorina needs to be asked how she’d pay for this, since controversial fiscal gimmicks are already being proposed to pay for today’s much lower Defense Department budget.
Would she go back to the pre-Bush days, when U.S. presidents increased taxes to pay the added costs of every war America fought?
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.