THE CHOICE: A Look At Pres. Obama And Mitt Romney's Plans For National Defense (VIDEO) | Roland Martin Reports

THE CHOICE: A Look At Pres. Obama And Mitt Romney’s Plans For National Defense (VIDEO)

It’s time now for our special election report, “The Choice,” where we look at the plans of President Obama and Mitt Romney on issues important to all Americans, but with focus on their effect on African-Americans. This week, national defense.

There’s a lot of money spent on defense — $670 billion this year, which amounts to about 18 percent of all federal spending. African-Americans are overrepresented in the active-duty military. According to a Pew Study from 2011, 31 percent of women in the military are Black, and 16 percent of men in the military are African-American. In addition, Defense Department minority contracting programs account for billions of dollars in minority contracts. So, the size of the military and the amount of defense spending are not only national security issues for African-Americans. They’re also economic security issues.

To see what electing Pres. Obama or Mitt Romney would mean for national defense, Roland sat down with retired U. S. Army Major General John Hawkins, III, and Chief Policy Officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Tom Tarantino.

MR. MARTIN:  Welcome back.

It’s time now for our special election report, “The Choice,” where we look at the plans of President Obama and Mitt Romney on issues important to all Americans, but with focus on their effect on African-Americans.  This week, national defense.

There’s a lot of money spent on defense — $670 billion this year, which amounts to about 18 percent of all federal spending.  African-Americans are overrepresented in the active-duty military.  According to a Pew Study from 2011, 31 percent of women in the military are Black, and 16 percent of men in the military are African-American.  In addition, Defense Department minority contracting programs account for billions of dollars in minority contracts.  So, the size of the military and the amount of defense spending are not only national security issues for African-Americans.  They’re also economic security issues.

The difference[s] between the two candidates are clear and simple.  Mitt Romney wants more.  The President wants [less].  First Mitt Romney’s plans:

•  Build ships at a higher rate.

•  Modernize aging planes and tanks.

•  Set core defense spending at a floor of 4 percent of the Gross Domestic

Product, or GDP, in the future.

If he applied that formula for next year, defense spending would be about $622 billion.  He wants to:

•  Add 100,000 more troops and

•  Maintain fighting capacity for two wars at once.

President Obama’s plan:

•  Cut defense spending to 3 percent of GDP.

And if that formula were in use next year, defense spending would be $466 billion.

•  Cut outdated Cold War-era systems,

•  Step up investments in intelligence gathering and cyber security,

•  Cut 100,000 troops, and

•  Maintain fighting capacity for one war at a time.

To see what these men would mean for national defense, we’re joined by retired U. S. Army Major General John Hawkins, III, and Chief Policy Officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Tom Tarantino.

Well, gentlemen, welcome to “Washington Watch.”

GEN. JOHN HAWKINS, III:  Thank you.

MR. TOM TARANTINO:  Thanks for having us.

MR. MARTIN:  So, is there – when you look at these two – we – we saw in the debate on Monday where both candidates talked about security, and pretty much, Mitt Romney was saying, “I agree with everything” – “with the President.”  But when it comes to defense, there’re some stark contrasts that affect the bottom line of Americans, and so how do you measure both candidates?

GEN. HAWKINS:  Well, I – I think the thing that we need to look at is who’s really looking into the military of the future.  It is very important to understand that the number one part of our defense posture for years – and now even more so than ever – is the world of intelligence.  It’s very important that we have the proper intelligence and so on to go forth with the asymmetric warfare which we’re now in.  We’re no longer on a force-on-force with a definable line between one side and the other.

The other thing is – is that the new ideas in the Defense Department also translate into usable job skills, and when veterans come out of the – of the military, they need to have accumulated those skills so that you can then, with the right kind of policies – such as those that have been proposed – you can not only defense the – defend this nation properly, but you can also prepare people for the rest of their life.

MR. MARTIN:  Tom, what jumps out at you?  Because, obviously, the Republicans always want to focus on defense, say we should spend more; we shouldn’t cut.  But then you have cuts in domestic programs.  We have a defi- — huge deficit, and so we’re trying to balance the two.  So, what do you make of Mitt Romney saying, “Let’s spend more on national defense,” and the President saying, “Let’s spend less, but spend it smarter”?

MR. TARANTINO:  Well, first of all, what jumps out at me is what we’re not hearing.  You know, if I’m a young veteran today, if I’d just gotten out of the military, or I am still serving in the National Guard Reserves, I’m looking at a massive unemployment rate.  We’re looking at almost 200,000 veterans in any month are unemployed, or more.  That’s about two points higher than the national average.  I’m looking at huge backlogs in everything from the V.A. – from mental health to G.I. Bill, to disability process[ing].  I’m looking at a huge in – a – a huge rate of suicide in the military any – and a – potentially even higher in the veterans community.  And – and we’re not hearing about that.

When we – when we hear the President and the guy who wants to be President talk, we hear acerbic comments about how many ships we want to build.  And so when we want to talk about our effect on national defense – you know, Mitt Romney wants to increase troop levels.  Well how’re you going to get people to sign up for the military if we’re see- — we’re not seeing that this country is taking care of the veterans we already have?

MR. MARTIN:  So, the problem that you have – and, Hawk, speak to this because you dealt with – with human resources in the U.S. Army as well –

GEN. HAWKINS:  Sure.

MR. MARTIN:  — is that we have a defense discussion, and it is about hardware, but it’s not about humans.

GEN. HAWKINS:  That’s –

MR. TARANTINO:  Um-hum.

GEN. HAWKINS:  — that’s exactly right.  If you look at the proposals that are on the plate from the current administration and to go into the future, there’s more concentration on the well-being of the people in the military and in the skills that they must employ, as opposed to the hardware.

Most of the cuts that would take place, or reductions that would take place, under the current administration’s ideology have to do with hardware.  And quite frankly, for minority communities particularly, there’re not a lot of people that are going to suffer if some of the hardware makers don’t get all of the things that they’ve gotten before.  But the emphasis on not touching personnel programs, like ROTC programs that build great – great citizenship and well-being for – for African-Americans through the HBCUs – for instance, Howard University gets $500,000 every year in scholarships, and that sort of thing will not disappear.  That will not disappear under this administration.

MR. MARTIN:  Tom, are you seeing from Mitt Romney’s perspective – are you seeing that focus on human capital?  On the soldiers themselves?  Or, it all – or, is it all about the shipbuilders in New Hampshire and Virginia?

MR. TARANTINO:  Well, in terms of the campaign, that’s pretty much all we’re hearing about – which is interesting, because ships don’t vote.  You know, Humvees don’t vote.  Who votes are veterans, and I think this is a huge missed opportunity for both the Romney campaign and the – the Obama campaign to actually speak to these voters.  We’re talking 100,000 voter- — 150,000 voters in Virginia, 150,000 voters in Florida, 60,000 voters in Ohio.  These are all veterans who are looking for how this government or a proposed next administration is going to take care of their brothers –

MR. MARTIN:  I – I –

MR. TARANTINO:  — and sisters.

MR. MARTIN:  — I’m – I’m still s- — I’m – I’m very surprised that President Obama has not hit back at Mitt Romney when the Republicans in the U.S. Senate chose not to back the veterans job bill, which took place several weeks ago.  You know, I th- — I – I would think that would resonate with veterans out there and military families.

GEN. HAWKINS:  It does.

MR. TARANTINO:  Um-hum.

GEN. HAWKINS:  It does.  And – and it’s very important to understand that, under the President’s ideology, there would be no cuts to veterans’ medical programs and certainly no cuts to the personnel issues that affect veterans most.

MR. MARTIN:  Tom, ten seconds.  Final comment.

MR. TARANTINO:  Yeah, I – I think we have a moral responsibility to carry these people, and we have to look at that for this election.  IAVA created a voter guide at IAVA.org, where it outlines all the issues that are facing young veterans today.

MR. MARTIN:  General Hawkins, Tom, we appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch.

MR. TARANTINO:  Thank you, sir.

GEN. HAWKINS:  Thank you.