Last night President Biden gave a political speech in Philadelphia. The political aspect is an important distinction because he was not addressing the United States as the sitting President but as the most senior member of his political party. There are many words to describe the tone, tenor, and execution of said speech and many have attempted to capture those feelings.

The optics last night were also a choice. Part of that decision was to frame and flank the President with two Marines standing at attention. 

Brianna Keilar of CNN was quick to tweet, “Whatever you think of this speech the military is supposed to be apolitical. Positioning Marines in uniform behind President Biden for a political speech flies in the face of that. It’s wrong when Democrats do it. It’s wrong when Republicans do it.”

The pile on was instantaneous with many left-leaning, blue-check marks condemning her for the critique and even accusing her of receiving “talking points” from her network. She was condescended to, she was made fun of, she was ratioed. 

The microcosm of this moment captures so much of our current political and social landscape. Her detractors exhibit the type of thin-skinned reactivity that continues to erode nuance and squash debate. It also smacks of purity tests and the type of forced suppression of criticism that should concern everyone. 

It also highlights the ever-expanding civilian-military divide

Brianna and I likely politically disagree on many things. During the Trump administration she was an ardent and frequent critic of both the administration and the perceived politicization of the military under the former President. In fact, last year I joined her to discuss the removal of Trump appointees, to include myself, from the Board of Visitors at West Point by President Biden. I would not call it an overtly friendly few minutes.  

However, I think she and I would agree the civilian-military divide has become a chasm and this widening fissure threatens the safety and security of our nation.

We are in the midst of a military recruiting crisis. Many Americans do not want to serve our nation or can’t serve our nation in uniform. The former is due to factors like concern about the risks of service, to include sexual assault which is on the rise, and the latter because 75% of young Americans are ineligible for military service due to obesity, other physical problems, or criminal history. 

POLITICO obtained and reported on briefing slides from the Pentagon that demonstrate the fear of senior Pentagon officials and their belief this is the “most challenging recruiting market since the advent of the All-Volunteer Force, with multiple Services and Components at risk for missing mission in FY 2022.” This same briefing cited declining trust in the military as an institution.

The draft ended in 1973 – 50 years ago. In short, our senior military officials believe we are in the most difficult position for fielding a competent and capable fighting force in half a century. 

Brianna is right to be concerned. More of us across America should be too, regardless of political affiliation. We need only look at Russia’s aggression, the war in Ukraine, and China’s increasing belligerence to recognize that big stick ideology is not a thing of the past and peace is only possible through strength. Strength that comes from possessing military might and capability.

Earlier this year General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the senior military advisor to the President, stated before the House Armed Services Committee the US military must sustain “competitive overmatch in all the domains of war, cyber space, land, sea, and air” in order to contend with the risk of China. 

In order to maintain or overtake our competitors in any of those areas, we need volunteers. We need Americans able to serve, willing to raise their right hand, and say “yes” to protecting and defending the Constitution and the United States of America. Right now, that isn’t happening.

Granted lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are pushing for answers. I hope they ask the right questions.