Foreign Policy Priorities:

The role of the U.S. military is a perennial topic of debate, with some politicians questioning its steadily increasing costs and its extensive overseas commitments. Today, U.S. forces are fighting enemies in many countries: notably Afghanistan and Syria, but also in places such as Niger and Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Pentagon maintains bases around the globe, from Djibouti to Japan.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden, along with many in Congress, criticizes what he sees as wasteful spending, overstretched personnel, and counterproductive foreign occupations. Many Democrats also say recent presidents have also accumulated too much control over the use of military force, and Congress must reassert its constitutional war powers.

Advocates of a large military footprint, however, claim it keeps adversaries at bay, protects allies and the free flow of trade, and ensures the United States has unrivaled influence on the world stage. President Donald J. Trump has been a proponent of increased Pentagon funding, pushing for new missile defense technologies, a Space Force, and the development of the country’s first new nuclear weapons since the Cold War. At the same time, he has promised to bring troops home from foreign wars and has been skeptical of traditional alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), pressuring allies to step up their defense contributions.

The military is also at the center of broader social debates. The Barack Obama administration ended the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which kept gay and lesbian service members from serving openly, and removed all remaining restrictions on the roles women can perform in the military. Trump, for his part, has reimposed a ban on transgender personnel. The next president will face these controversies as well as growing concerns over how to take care of veterans returning from foreign wars.

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Please join General Mattis as he discusses his lessons learned in leadership over the course of his military and government career.The Distinguished Voices Series focuses particular attention on the contributions made by a prominent individual at a critical juncture in the history of the country or the world.Please note that this meeting will be streamed live on For those who are unable to participate, the audio and video will be posted on the CFR website.

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This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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