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February 28, 2024

On Tuesday, February 27, President Biden needed to generate headlines demonstrating that he is really still functioning as the nation’s chief executive, appearances to the contrary. In due course, Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries left their White House meeting and ambled outside to descry: Republican inaction on Ukraine (most important); funding the government (which runs out of money on Thursday); and (oh yes) the ongoing shambles once known as our southern border. The headlines were urgently needed for two reasons: to put pressure on the Republican House to keep the government open; but mostly to counteract other headlines about Biden’s migrant hordes. The latter problem has leap-frogged from being an outrageous inconvenience in Democrat-controlled cities to a national problem of public safety.

The latter inconvenience creates a particular problem for the legacy media that, in deference to their Democratic masters, normally tries to downplay any adverse news about immigration, scary crime stories most of all. During my decade as a military analyst with NBC News and MSNBC, the only story more compelling than a fiery, multi-vehicle traffic accident on the near-by New Jersey Turnpike was when an attractive white lady either went missing or met with a tragic outcome. The murder of 22-year-old Laken Riley and the arrest of Jose Ibarra, an illegal immigrant from Venezuela, are stories that continue to resonate on raw American nerves. It is one thing to expose the American welfare state to 10 million impoverished new claimant; but quite another when a president willfully creates a national-security nightmare instead of vigorously defending the common good.

Congressman Tony Gonzales – a career Navy veteran who represents Texas 23rd District  - sums it up succinctly:  “If we fail to secure the border, we’re going to continue losing American lives – whether through fentanyl overdoses, car chases with smugglers or, God forbid, a terrorist action…We need to stop treating this issue like we have all the time in the world to fix it.”

As a fellow Cold War vet, I suspect that Congressman Gonzales joins me in worrying about the fate of Ukraine. Because deterrence is multi-faceted, Putin’s decision to invade fully reflected his judgment of the awkward US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Equally problematic: the war’s last two exquisitely painful years where American largesse focused not so much on victory but on just not losing. Despite the staggering losses endured by the Russians, former US defense secretary Robert Gates said in a recent Washington Post interview, “It’s no longer a stalemate. The Russians have regained momentum… Everything I’m reading is that the Russians are on the offensive along the 600-mile front.” Because of flagging US support, “the Russians are feeling that the tides have turned, and while there is much to be done, the initiative has passed to them.” 


As if these immediate crises were not enough to worry about, Americans should never assume that nothing else is wrong. That point was forcefully made earlier this month by Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow (and former Marine) Dakota L. Wood. For many years, the Heritage Foundation has compiled an authoritative analysis of American military forces, their equipment, training and readiness; the Heritage report for 2024 supported Mr. Wood’s chilling assessment. 

 At present, the U.S. military is roughly half the size it needs to be. Moreover, most of its primary equipment (planes, ships, tanks, etc.) is 30 to 40 years old, and soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and guardians are training only a fraction of what they should to be competent in battle. Yet senior leaders in the Pentagon…who have access to the facts (and who should know better) continue to say we have the best military in the world, as if saying so makes it so. It does not.

I found Mr. Wood’s final summation even more troubling since deterrence ultimately depends on our ability to defeat an enemy in battle. “So if our military is at great risk of not being able to win … well, it doesn’t have much deterrent value. Our potential enemies can see this; the American public, not so much.”

Bottom Line: The 2024 Presidential campaign should discuss the requirements for national survival, not just national security.

Colonel Ken Allard is a former West Point faculty member, Dean of the National War College and an on-air military analyst for NBC News.

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