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 candidates, along with many in Congress, criticize what they see as wasteful spending, overstretched personnel, and counterproductive foreign occupations. Recent presidents have also accumulated too much control over the use of military force, they say, 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.