WASHINGTON — Stars and Stripes asked President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for responses to a broad range of national security and veterans affairs questions in an effort to help military voters make their decisions this November. Below are responses from the Romney campaign. Find responses from the Obama campaign here.
President Obama has outlined plans for a 2014 end to U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, turning over responsibility to local security forces. How does Gov. Romney’s plan differ from that strategy?
Gov. Romney believes it was an enormous mistake to communicate a withdrawal to our enemies as it makes our transition mission more difficult. He also believes it was a major mistake for President Obama to disregard the recommendation of his military commanders to keep surge troops in Afghanistan through the fighting season to best secure our gains and degrade the Taliban. Instead, President Obama pulled the surge troops out in the middle of the fighting season, a schedule that seemed more timed to a political calendar than a strategic one. Gov. Romney will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. He will evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of the military commanders. And he will affirm that his duty is not to his political prospects, but to the security of the nation.
Is there any concern that the recent attacks by Afghan trainees on coalition personnel will upset those plans? How does Gov. Romney plan to address that issue?
Attacks by Afghan trainees on our troops are highly disturbing and ruinous to the close trust relationship we need with our Afghan partners to complete our training and transition mission. Gov. Romney will take all measures necessary to best protect our troops and will work to ensure that all proper vetting is being done to ensure that those Afghans on base and in training are not threats.
What steps would Gov. Romney take to ensure that Pakistan remains committed to rooting out regional terrorists and supporting the democratic government in Afghanistan?
Our relationship with Pakistan implicates vital U.S. interests. We have an interest in ensuring Pakistani cooperation to combat the common threat of terrorists within Pakistan’s borders and in Afghanistan. We have an interest in ensuring that Pakistan’s government remains stable and its nuclear weapons secure. But Gov. Romney recognizes that our relationship with Pakistan is a complicated challenge, as Pakistan is not a unitary actor. Instead, it has three power centers: the intelligence services, the military, and the civilian government. There are also Islamic extremists within its borders such as the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani Network who seek and have influence. He believes we must build a relationship with Pakistan based on honesty — using both carrots and sticks. That means leveraging our $2.2 billion in assistance to encourage greater cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in supporting the Afghan government. Gov. Romney would also expand the northern shipping route to Afghanistan to reduce reliance on supply lines through Pakistan. Gov. Romney would press Pakistani authorities to be honest with their own people about the necessity of U.S. counterterror operations. Pakistan should not publicly condemn us while privately supporting us in operations that benefit them as well. In the end, America must make a clear commitment to the region. That would encourage the Pakistanis to cooperate with the United States rather than hedge their bets by strengthening ties with extremist groups.
What should the U.S. role be in trouble spots like Libya, Syria, and Egypt? Interventionist? Silent partner? Isolationist?
Gov. Romney believes that in areas that implicate our interests we should play a leadership role so that America can shape events — not be at the mercy of them—in order to preserve our interests and further our values. This does not mean direct military intervention in all instances, but rather the marshaling of the full spectrum of our influence — from diplomacy to assistance to support for groups that share our values — in order to prevent crisis and conflict. Military force is a last resort. Mitt Romney believes that if America does not lead, others will — others who don’t share our interests and our values, which would lead to a darker world for our friends and for us.
Does Gov. Romney support the drawdown of U.S. forces in Europe, including shuttering some long-time military bases there, in an effort to rebalance the fighting force? If not, what alternatives would he propose?
The best way to keep the peace is to maintain a well-balanced military ready to respond to any contingency. Gov. Romney believes our European bases allow for valuable training opportunities with our NATO allies and provide transit routes to places like the Middle East. He therefore wants to maintain a strong U.S. military presence in Europe. With regard to our NATO allies, Gov. Romney believes that NATO is the greatest military alliance in history and has kept the peace over the last half century. It must continue to do that. To keep NATO strong, Gov. Romney will reverse devastating spending cuts to our own military and also call on our NATO allies to honor their commitment to each devote 2 percent of their GDP to security spending. Today only three of the 28 NATO nations meet this benchmark.
Does Gov. Romney support the “Pacific pivot” proposed by President Obama to strengthen the U.S. footprint there?
The Pacific is strategically and economically vital to the United States and we have numerous allies in the region. Gov. Romney believes that we must play a robust role in the Pacific militarily, diplomatically, and economically. However, Gov. Romney believes there are two key problems with President Obama’s so-called “pivot” to the Pacific. First, it is vastly under-resourced. President Obama is not providing the resources necessary to our Navy to fulfill its vital missions around the world, particularly in the Pacific. And his devastating defense cuts will further shrink our Navy to the lowest level since 1916, undercutting the Navy’s ability to keep the peace and keep trade lanes open. Second, President Obama’s “pivot” sends the wrong signal to our friends and allies in other regions — including Latin America and the Middle East—who now fear we are turning away from them. Gov. Romney believes the United States is a global power with global interests — we do not “pivot” anywhere. Gov. Romney will reverse Obama-era defense cuts, restore our military, and increase naval shipbuilding from 9 per year to 15 per year so we have a Navy that can fulfill our missions in the Pacific and elsewhere in the world.
On defense spending, what is Gov. Romney target for the size/growth of the Defense Department budget? Where would he make cuts? If the military budget grows, where would he make spending trims to offset those costs?
Gov. Romney will reverse Obama-era defense cuts back to the FY 2011 baseline established by Secretary Bob Gates in 2010, with the goal of setting core defense spending — meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development — at a floor of 4 percent of GDP. Both President Obama’s former Defense Secretary Bob Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen both supported a 4 percent of GDP benchmark for defense spending. We spend a little over that number now between war and military costs. As war costs come down, Gov. Romney will reverse defense cuts and bring the “base” defense budget up. With it, he will build a larger navy and add more troops to the force. He believes that a strong military is our best insurance against conflict, and will build a military that is second to none so that no adversary will ever think of challenging it.
If he were in office today. what would Gov. Romney do to avoid the problem of sequestration and its effects on the defense budget?
Unfortunately, sequestration takes effect on Jan. 2, a few weeks before the inauguration. If it goes into effect, Gov. Romney will stop and reverse the devastating impact of those cuts. If sequester is avoided, Gov. Romney will move to reverse other Obama-era cuts that total $487 billion over ten years.
What is Gov. Romney’s opinion on the role of women in combat? Would he slow or accelerate steps already in place to open more battlefield posts to qualified female troops?
Gov. Romney recognizes that women serve in many vital roles in theater, and that over 100 women have made the ultimate sacrifice in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He believes women have the capacity to serve in our military in positions of significance and responsibility, as they do throughout our society. Gov. Romney would look to the military commanders to give their best assessment of where women can serve and wants to ensure that women have the same opportunity to excel as their male counterparts.
What does Gov. Romney see as the ideal end strength for each of the military services?
Mitt Romney opposes President Obama’s massive defense cuts, that could see up to 200,000 troops forced out of service. He will reverse those cuts, restore our military, increase the size of our Navy and add 100,000 troops to military end strength.
Does Gov. Romney support another base closure round? If not, how does he plan to insure that military funds aren’t being wasted in a tight fiscal environment?
Gov. Romney absolutely opposes another round of base closures, and opposed President Obama’s request for two more rounds of base closures in his last budget. In a volatile world and with troops in harm’s way, Gov. Romney believes in a military well prepared for any eventuality and strong enough to deter crisis and conflict. With that in mind, the Pentagon must do a better job taking care that taxpayer dollars are well-spent. Gov. Romney will find efficiencies throughout the Department of Defense budget that can be reinvested into the force. The Department’s bureaucracy is bloated to the point of dysfunction and is ripe for being pared. In the years since 2000, the Pentagon’s civilian staff grew by 20 percent while our active duty fighting force grew by only 3.4 percent. That imbalance needs to be rectified. The Pentagon’s procurement process must also be streamlined and made more efficient. The measures Gov. Romney will take include establishing clear lines of authority and accountability for each weapons system so they remain on time and on budget. He will institute shorter design and delivery cycles for weapons systems to eliminate the current practice of over-relying on yet-to-be-developed technologies, which creates delays and cost overruns. This will foster more realistic planning, get equipment into the field at a faster pace, and save the cost of having to keep older weapons systems in circulation. He will institute greater competition at all levels of the procurement process. And he will work with Congress to pass budgets on time — something the Obama administration has habitually failed to do — to allow the Department of Defense and defense contractors to properly plan multi-year projects without delay and disruption. These and other reforms will ensure a functioning procurement system that redirects savings into the defense of our nation.
Pentagon planners have repeatedly endorsed plans to increase Tricare fees for military retirees. Does Gov. Romney support this idea? If not, how does he intend to rein in military personnel costs?
President Obama proposed raising Tricare fees on a military that has spent 10 years at war, while increasing federal spending nearly everywhere else. Gov. Romney will put the troops first — not last — in his budget priorities.
Does Gov. Romney support the ban on abortions at overseas military facilities?
Gov. Romney supports the right to life of the unborn, as do many Americans. Military medical facilities are funded by the Defense Department, and ultimately the taxpayers. Gov. Romney supports barring the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion services.
Does Gov. Romney support continuing the hefty funding increases that the Department of Veterans Affairs has enjoyed during the Obama presidency?
President Obama has focused on inputs to the VA, rather than outputs. The VA is plagued by bureaucratic inefficiencies that hurt our ability to provide veterans top quality care. Gov. Romney wants to focus on outputs. That doesn’t mean cutting funding to the VA, but it does mean holding administrators accountable for poor performance, directing resources to caregivers rather than bureaucrats, and cleaning up the system so that it provides veterans the best care possible in a timely and expeditious fashion.
How would Gov. Romney solve the benefits backlog? Is the problem a lack of resources or a lack of focus on addressing the problem?
The people who adjudicate claims have mountains of regulations that slow down the process. Gov. Romney believes we should make their lives easier, not harder, and reduce the red tape that is preventing the timely processing of disability claims. He would also institute a single electronic medical record—from boot camp to retirement—that replaces current heavy, thick medical files. That would greatly speed processing and reduce the backlog.
Gov. Romney has talked about expanding the post 9/11 GI Bill to open all state schools to any veteran. How would that work? How would he pay for that expansion?
When military members take their oath to defend their country, they do not limit their sacrifice to a particular state. All Americans benefit from their courage and their service. Gov. Romney would work with states to ensure that veterans are offered in-state tuition rates. Veterans have earned the right to be treated as in-state students, regardless of residency, and they will pay in-state tuition, just like any other student from that particular state.
How would Gov. Romney address the issue of veterans unemployment, especially among younger veterans and those returning from war?
Gov. Romney thinks that veterans unemployment is at unacceptable levels. Helping to provide jobs to veterans and every other American struggling for work will be Gov. Romney’s highest priority upon entering office. Military members have skills that employers want. The best way to honor our veterans’ service and commitment is to provide them the opportunity of a viable, healthy economy and the dignity of work. Gov. Romney would also work to create common, nationwide professional credentialing standards for veterans whose military experience has granted them the skills to work as engineers, mechanics, medical technicians, and as other skilled professionals. This effort will save veterans time and resources upon their return home and faster access to well-paying jobs. We owe our returning warriors no less.
How would Gov. Romney address the issue of veterans suicides? What is to blame for the continued rise in the number of troops/veterans who are taking their own lives?
With 18 veterans and service members a day taking their own lives, Gov. Romney recognizes that mental health is a crisis that must be dealt with immediately. He would double the number of mental health care providers overnight by opening the military’s Tricare network to veterans. If a distressed veteran cannot be seen by a qualified mental health provider in a timely fashion, they will be allowed to go to a Tricare facility at the VA’s expense.
What qualities/qualifications will Gov. Romney require of his pick to be the next VA secretary?
There are serious problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Gov. Romney has ambitious goals to get the VA working again. He has a keen eye for talent, and believes strongly in honoring the promises made to the American people. Gov. Romney will select a leader who is worthy and capable of achieving the promises made during the campaign. And Gov. Romney will expect results from that leader and hold him or her accountable.