Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s National Defense Platform is Filled with Misinformation

Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has nearly clinched the title of youngest woman elected to Congress, and that is not the only reason that hers has become a household name. Across a host of media outlets, she can be found peddling a $40 trillion progressive agenda the country cannot afford, and rattling off questionable facts and figures about issues domestic and global. But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s misstatements are not confined to her public appearances. The national defense platform detailed on her election website shows a deep misunderstanding of the U.S. military’s involvements, and of those who fight our wars.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a July 2018 event. Photo by Mark Dillman

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s national defense diatribe starts off with a call for, “a peace economy.” The candidate evokes a similar term, “peacetime economy,” which was used late in the Second World War to characterize the conversion of factories and restructuring of the workforce for a peace which was imminent. However, the wartime economic realities of the forties are far from analogous to our current state of affairs. The defense budget made up for 42 percent of America’s GDP at the height of U.S. involvement in World War II. In 2018, that number was 3.5 percent. In the 1940s, the strict rationing of basic necessities impacted every American, and factories that previously churned out automobiles and an array of consumer goods were converted to produce aircraft, vehicles, weaponry, and other materiel. Today, factories around the globe continue to produce the surfeit of creature comforts that Americans demand to go along with our waning patriotism. We do not exist in anything resembling a war economy. As such, any call to return to a peace economy is preposterous.

There is another problem with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed peace economy: before peace can be reached, all parties of the war must give up the fight. Far from quitting, our terrorist enemies continue to indiscriminately kill our troops, our local nation partners, civilians, and children. The most insidious of their weapons, the improvised explosive device, has left survivors with traumatic brain injuries, severe shrapnel wounds, and “blast lung.” Some survivors of IED blasts are missing one, two, three, or even four limbs. Before Ms. Ocasio-Cortez begins preaching about her utopian future, I suggest she visit Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to ask recovering service members whether they believe our enemy remains dedicated to his fight.

The remainder of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s national defense platform is scant on facts. The candidate would have her supporters believe that “U.S. interventions” have created the “instability” that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, and contributed to the global refugee crisis. Fortunately, the facts are against her. A September report from a bipartisan task force of the United States Institute of Peace finds that, rather than U.S. intervention, violent extremism “fuels chaos that destabilizes neighboring countries, weakens U.S. allies, and triggers further crises, such as the unprecedented wave of refugees.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez goes on to claim that we can end our “forever war” by bringing home our troops and ceasing our air strike campaign. Again, for peace to take, all parties must throw in the towel. According to the aforementioned task force’s findings, violent extremism remains a threat to the homeland, and to the world at large. This is why the United States has pursued its war against terrorism not only into the six countries Ms. Ocasio-Cortez names in her platform, but into seventy-six countries, most of which are “fragile states,” or countries which, based on a variety of economic, social, and political variables, are at risk of collapse, and vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist groups.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez would have us believe that our war on terrorism has caused the world to consider us “occupiers and aggressors.” The candidate minimizes the danger our partner nations are facing because she neither understands it, nor has to live with it. Our partner nations request our assistance, and we provide it. Suggesting we recall our troops from these countries, which are experiencing violence, unrest, and poverty the likes of which we privileged Americans could never imagine, reeks of the worst kind of isolationism.

Our military conducts a variety of activities in the seventy-six countries where we currently operate. Combat troops are only present in fifteen of those countries. We conduct air strikes in just seven, though air strikes are the only military activity of which Ms. Ocasio-Cortez makes mention, pointing out that their use “damages America’s legitimacy as a force for good.” Though she again provides no evidence to support her claims, here, I do not necessarily disagree with the candidate. Our great country is held to a high standard for good reason, and we should always strive to avoid civilian casualties while conducting operations. This is, however, difficult when your enemy, in defiance of the Geneva Conventions, uses the civilian population within which he hides himself as a human shield.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez may like to know that our primary operational focus in counterterrorism is on the training and advising of foreign militaries which are ill-equipped to perform against well-armed terrorist groups. Additionally, on account of the violence in many of the countries where we operate, it often falls to the military to conduct nation building operations, which would, in more secure environments, fall to assets within the State Department.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s next audacious claim is that our “new arms race” is “refighting the Cold War.” Whatever the candidate says, there is no Cold War here, and a worldwide “arms race” is nothing new. So long as our near-peer adversaries continue to build ever-more-sophisticated weapons systems and make technological improvements, the United States will continue to do the same. Until the world is ready for a mass demobilization, to cease to advance our military capabilities, or to disarm ourselves, as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez seems to advocate we do, would be tantamount to walking naked into a jungle filled with mosquitoes and carnivorous beasts and hoping they will heed our screams of, “I’m not biting you! Don’t you dare bite me!”

Finally, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez states that her goal in bringing troops home is to “heal the wounds we’re opening by continuing military engagement.” The candidate would do well to listen to those for whom she intends to speak. As now retired Gen. John Kelly stated in a 2014 speech delivered days after his son’s death in Afghanistan, “all those who doubt America’s intentions and resolve endeavor to make [service members] and their families out to be victims, but they are wrong. We who have served and are serving refuse their sympathy. Those of us who have lived in the dirt, sweat and struggle of the arena are not victims and will have none of that… [Your warriors] live to fight for you, and they never rest because there is always another battle to be won in the defense of America.”

If Ms. Ocasio-Cortez sought to find new ways of targeting violent extremists that do not result in unnecessary civilian casualties, or examine how we can tailor our expenditures to better serve our veterans, I would be happy to support her endeavors. But if, in her ignorance of its actions, she continues to threaten to scrap the military budget while portraying the U.S. military as a bad actor on the international stage, I will continue to stand firmly against her.

Freelance writer working on a novel about love and the war in Afghanistan. You can find my work in the Washington Examiner, the Federalist, and the Detroit News

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