The Daily Northwestern

Former congressman Allen West discusses U.S. military action

Jonathan Li, Reporter

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Former congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) spoke Thursday about whether the United States should use military action to spread freedom.

West’s talk, which took place Thursday afternoon, was sponsored by the Northwestern University College Republicans. About 80 people attended.

“We thought he would bring in a fresh perspective to go along with any political topics we would discuss with him,” said Seamus Naughton, acting president of NUCR, of selecting West.

The Weinberg junior said a major reason for bringing West on as fall speaker was to give the NU community a fresh look at conservatism.

West, who served in the Army for 22 years and is also a frequent Fox News Contributor, focused his talk on how the United States cannot use military action to spread freedom because its mission is to keep America safe.

West opened the talk by explaining the fine line between spreading freedom and fighting obstacles. Using this idea, he defended the Iraq and Afghanistan wars by highlighting how the successes of past wars were based on fighting “the intrusions against freedom.”

“Nation building is not right because the military loses sight of what they will be doing there in the first place,” West said.

West said the viewpoint of prominent government officials like Susan Rice, U.S. national security adviser, that the military can be used to do good is misguided. Drawing on his background as a former colonel, he reinforced his opinion that the military should only be used to defend the United States and other countries, not to spread democracy.

“You are trained and taught to fight, you’re not trained to go out and be a diplomat,” he said.

He faulted political leaders for forgetting the true purpose of the military, saying they need to employ troops for mandates of the constitution, not politics.

Military cuts have affected the America’s defensive abilities, with only 7,000 trained soldiers defending the country, he said.

“Now when you think about that level of low military, how can we ask that force to be able to go out to spread freedom?” he said.

He said because Americans think they have to be “nation-builders,” they’re not focused on their primary mission of keeping the country safe. He referred to the Benghazi attack and how dozens of Americans are kidnapped from vessels off the coast of Africa.

“We have a military that cannot respond,” he said.

West argued for strategic rethinking and posturing of the military.

“The United States has to move away from nation building warfare and move toward strike operations,” he said. “We need to have a military that will be able to react anywhere in the world.”

West finished his speech by pointing out that 2012 was the first time in 77 years that neither the sitting president nor the vice president has ever served in the U.S. military, emphasizing that the president holds the title of commander in chief.

At the end of the event, economics Prof. Mark Witte asked West questions students had posted on Facebook throughout the week.

Weinberg junior Iszy Licht,  who identifies as a Democrat, said the speech brought new perspectives, though he did not personally agree with many of West’s points.

“I had some issues with his opinions on domestic policy and international relations, but I thought it was interesting to hear it from a firsthand experience,”  he said.