The Oklahoman: U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, says the world is full of problem spots as the size of the U.S. military is reduced

Aug 10, 2014 Issues: Foreign Affairs

The Oklahoman - By Rick Green 

Dangers have increased around the globe at a time when U.S. military forces are smaller and less capable of dealing with trouble overseas, Rep. Tom Cole told The Oklahoman’s editorial board.

“In my time in Congress, and I’ve sat on the Armed Services Committee or Defense Appropriations almost every year I’ve been there, I have never seen a more complex and dangerous international environment than we have today,” he said Thursday.

He mentioned several potential flashpoints, starting with North Korea, where Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of its leader, Kim Jong Un, was executed late last year for treason.

“We’ve got a guy with five or six nuclear weapons and one of the largest conventional forces in the world, and we don’t know what he’s going to do any morning when he gets up,” said Cole, R-Moore. “His own uncle clearly didn’t know what he was going to do any morning when he got up.”

Cole, who is serving in his sixth term, said Chinese military activities in the East and South China Seas, together with territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan, have been a cause for concern for its neighbors, who look to the U.S. for support.

“They watch what happens with the size of the Navy, which came down during the last sequester,” he said.

He called Pakistan, which has 120 nuclear weapons, “a very dangerous place, where we’re not popular.” He noted that Osama bin Laden was able to hide there for six years.

Iran, the No. 1 sponsor of terrorism in the world, is trying to get a nuclear capability. Israel has been locked in a long-term conflict with the Palestinians, while extremists and terrorists have set up an Islamic state in portions of Iraq and Syria. Meantime, Russia has apparently decided the Cold War is back on or peace after the Cold War is off, Cole said.

National security

Despite all this turmoil overseas, America’s focus has turned inward.

“So while we’re dealing with all this other stuff at home and doing all the politics and worried about immigration issues, we have real national security issues that transcend this,” he said.

“The next president will not have the military capability that this president and any previous American president for a generation or more has been able to take for granted. It’s still the best military in the world, it’s still more robust than anybody else in the world and can still do more things, but its capabilities have been declining.”

He said that if the U.S. military force retracts around the world, forces not friendly to freedom will assert themselves into the vacuum. He noted that the U.S. Army has gone from a force of 570,000 people to as low as 420,000.

Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor, said the U.S. military has been transitioning to a force with a lighter footprint, depending more on high technology and special forces than boots on the ground.

“It’s an expensive and elite military rather than a large conscription force,” he said.

Domestic issues

Turning to domestic topics, Cole said Republicans seem to have a good chance of picking up the six seats in the November election that will give them a majority in the U.S. Senate. Until that election, he doesn’t see much hope of getting things accomplished in Congress. After the election, there could be a chance for significant progress in entitlement reform and immigration, if compromises can be reached.

Gaddie said that if the Republicans gain control of the Senate, more legislation could find its way to President Barack Obama’s desk, but it’s an open question as to whether agreement could be reached for him to sign some of those bills.

“If everybody wants to run it their way and keep the ideological wing of their caucuses involved, nothing is going to get done,” the professor said.

Cole said the president will be left with a choice of working to burnish his legacy by trying to make breakthroughs on major issues, or instead making political choices intended to improve the chances of the next Democrat to run for president.

Online: The Oklahoman