- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Sen. Tom Cotton said Wednesday that he has advised Donald Trump to campaign on beefing up military spending, believing the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has an advantage over the foreign policy record of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“I suggested to Donald Trump the last time we spoke that that’s a very important policy we need to pursue,” the Arkansas Republican said at a forum hosted by The Heritage Foundation. “It’s also a winning political issue.”

Mr. Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he has told Mr. Trump in private conversations that the Obama administration’s military policies will result in a shortfall of $80 billion to $100 billion for what the Pentagon will need next year. He said Mr. Trump has solicited his advice “a couple of times over the last year,” most recently in late March.

“The American people understand our interests around the world are not being advanced under Barack Obama, and they probably wouldn’t be under Hillary Clinton, either,” Mr. Cotton said. “And the core part of that is our military. Our military is woefully underfunded.”

President Obama said during a summit in Japan last week that Mr. Trump has “rattled” foreign leaders who don’t know what to expect from his pronouncements.

But Mr. Cotton, who visited Singapore several days ago, said leaders in East Asia aren’t impressed with Mrs. Clinton either.

“This is one thing we heard frequently in East Asia this week — how disappointed the leaders there are in all the candidates, all three candidates who are left in the race,” Mr. Cotton said, referring to Mrs. Clinton, Sen. Bernard Sanders and Mr. Trump.

He said Asian officials are disappointed with “Hillary Clinton in particular for flip-flopping on the [Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal], something she held up as a gold standard, something that she now opposes.”

“Hillary Clinton was also a key architect of the so-called pivot to Asia,” he said of Mr. Obama’s primary foreign policy goal. “I can tell you that most leaders in East Asia don’t feel as if the United States has pivoted there.”

Looking ahead to the general election, Mr. Cotton said he believes Mr. Trump can make a credible argument to voters that he will be tougher on Iran and the Islamic State extremist group than either Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton, who supports the administration’s nuclear deal with Tehran. He said Mr. Obama is guilty of micromanaging military campaigns.

“The president, like [Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War], is making operational and tactical decisions from the White House,” Mr. Cotton said. “He’s done it not just against [the Islamic State]; he’s done it consistently. He’s told commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, ‘This is the number of troops you get,’ even though these numbers are plucked from thin air, as he did in 2009 with the surge into Afghanistan. He’s putting artificial caps on the number of troops that we need there and not leveling with the American people … that we’re either not going to be able to accomplish the mission or it’s going to take much longer.”

The White House repeatedly has rejected criticism that Mr. Obama meddles with decisions about troop levels, saying he listens to the advice of his commanders on the ground.

Asked about speculation that he might serve in a Trump administration, Mr. Cotton replied, “Predictions are hard, especially about the future, as Yogi Berra would say.

“Right now, I’m fortunate to be able to serve in the Senate,” he said. “It’s a good place for me personally.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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