At Conventions, Both Parties Endorse Military Pay Raises and Decry 'Endless Wars'

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Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg speaks during the Republican National Convention
In this image from video, retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, speaks from Washington, during the Republican National Convention on Aug. 26, 2020. (Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via AP)

The third night of the Republican National Convention highlighted stark contrasts with Democrats on national defense. But even in an election year, the parties did find common ground on military pay, support for veterans and military families, and the withdrawal of troops from "endless wars."

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., one of the speakers Wednesday night, said that President Donald Trump "signed the largest pay increase for our troops in a decade:" 3.1% for 2020; Democrats in their platform last week voiced support for military pay increases tied to growth in the economy.

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Vice President Mike Pence hailed the Mission Act as greatly expanding and overhauling the existing "Choice" program on private care options for veterans; Democrats supported the program to improve overall VA health care but "not privatize it."

In an address to the convention, retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, an adviser to Pence and a Silver Star recipient in Vietnam, said the question often arose whether Trump would "keep us out of endless conflicts. You and I know the answer is 'Yes.'"

"Democrats will deliver on this overdue commitment to end the forever wars, and we will do it responsibly" in the Mideast and Afghanistan, the Democrats' platform states.

Party platforms are mostly symbolic and do not bind presidential nominees. But they can serve as general outlines of a policy agenda.

Democrats released their 90-page platform last week; in an unusual step, Republicans chose not to have a platform this year.

Instead, the Republican National Committee last week approved a resolution stating that the party "will continue to enthusiastically support the President's America-first agenda," leaving it to Trump himself and the speakers at the convention to define the way forward.

Possibly the most significant difference between the parties on national security surrounded the push for continued increases in the defense budget, which now stands at a record of about $740 billion.

In his remarks, Kellogg said that Trump "reversed the decline of our military and restructured our national security strategy with historic investment and vision."

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and others have warned that increases of 3-5% in coming years were necessary to maintain dominance and readiness, while also recognizing downward pressure from the immense costs of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuilding the economy.

"We can maintain a strong defense and protect our safety and security for less," Democrats said in their platform.

The theme of the Republican convention Wednesday night was "Land of Heroes," and speaker after speaker charged that former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democrats had disdain for the sacrifices of the military and law enforcement.

"Leftists are trying to turn them into villains," said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. "I'm here to tell you these heroes can't be canceled."

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, a decorated former SEAL officer who lost his right eye in Afghanistan to an improvised explosive, said enemies fear the U.S. heroes in the ranks "because Americans fight for good."

He called for "heroism in rebuilding our communities, not by destroying them. We must become the heroes we so admire."

Pence, the father of a Marine captain, spoke at historic Fort McHenry near Baltimore before an audience that included four Medal of Honor recipients.

As commander-in-chief, Trump inherited from the Obama administration a military "hollowed out by budget cuts," but "he stepped in and from day one and kept his word to rebuild our military," Pence said.

He charged that the agenda of Biden and the Democrats was "based on government control; ours is based on freedom."

Taking up a consistent theme of other speakers, Pence charged that the Democrats have either ignored or condoned the violence that has marred many of the protests for racial justice nationwide.

"The hard truth is, you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America," Pence said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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