By LISA SINCLAIRUS and RYAN LEMONAPAUSAPAULO APAULOS, N.J. — The American government has been making a comeback after a decade of stagnation.
This time around, the administration is focusing on education, not war.
That was a theme among more than a dozen former and current military officers who spoke to The Wall St. Journal at the National Defense University, an elite U.S. military training facility, on Thursday to discuss the future of the military, the future direction of the Department of Defense, and the potential impact of President Donald Trump’s administration on military readiness.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has long been one of the top priorities of the Obama administration, as well as the focus of its new commander in chief, Lt.
Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who is scheduled to leave his post this month.
But since taking office in January, Trump has repeatedly questioned whether peacekeeping has been effective, calling it a waste of money and a waste to American taxpayers.
“It’s a failure on every level,” said retired Col. James D. Buehner, who led the peacekeeping force in South Sudan.
“This is a total waste of taxpayer money.
It’s an abject failure.
It does nothing to improve our country’s security or our ability to prevent conflict.”
Trump has also criticized the use of combat training by other countries, including by Britain and Sweden, which have been criticized for using the training as a recruitment tool.
“These guys were not trained for war,” he said in a March interview on Fox News.
“They were trained to fight in war.”
Buchanan said he believes the military is facing an opportunity to refocus on improving its readiness and the effectiveness of its forces, rather than warfighting.
“I do think that the military needs to focus more on the mission and the mission needs to be better equipped, trained and trained more,” he told The Journal.
“There are so many other areas where the military can do better.”
The focus of the Trump administration, said former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, is to rebuild the military’s “strength and resolve.”
But even as the military continues to seek to rebuild its combat capabilities, Trump’s presidency has also been a major setback to the department, and to a broader American military, he said.
The Pentagon has seen a steady decline in military readiness, Carter said, in part because of Trump’s policies.
“There’s been no military buildup since he took office,” he noted.
“And the president has tried to make it worse.”
Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter speaks at the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 21, 2021.
(Matt McClain/The Washington Post)While he was in office, Trump tried to end a decade-long freeze on troop levels at the Pentagon, and in February he said he would start the process of transferring thousands of troops to the front lines in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration also withdrew from a major military training program in South Korea, a major source of funding for the military in South America, and reduced the amount of money the Pentagon can send to the country, cutting off one of its biggest sources of revenue.
Trump has sought to rein in the military budget, a move that many in the Pentagon see as a sign that his administration is trying to keep the military more focused on warfighting rather than peacemaking.
A draft of a $1.9 trillion defense policy unveiled in June by the administration of then-President George W. Bush, the last time the defense budget was cut by more than half, laid out a new emphasis on the warfighting side of the equation.
The proposal also called for reducing the number of military personnel by 20,000 and closing a large swath of military bases in Europe.
The cuts would largely come from the military and would require a congressional waiver.
The policy proposal did not address the use and training of the peacekeepers, but it called for a $3.5 billion increase in funding for peacekeeping in 2018.
In the final months of the Bush administration, the Pentagon started a plan to send thousands of peacekeepers to Africa to train, advise and assist African governments in the fight against Islamic militants.
But the Trump Administration has proposed significantly increasing troop numbers to help stabilize Africa and bolster African troops in other parts of the world, as part of a plan that has been met with skepticism.
Trump is expected to unveil a new defense policy proposal in the coming months, and many of the proposals would have direct impact on the U.K., which has spent more than $2 billion on peacekeeping missions in South Africa, Somalia and Kenya.
Buchan, who was in charge of South Sudan from 2014 to 2018, said he hopes the administration’s peacekeeping plan will be viewed as a model for the U.
“This is what the U