Vice President Mike Pence spoke Thursday at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia (AP Photo/John Minchillo) Mike Pence
Vice President Mike Pence spoke Thursday at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The vice president framed the administration’s fight with Iran as a pro-military action and said President Trump takes care of soldiers.

LEXINGTON-Responding to recent allegations, Vice President Mike Pence defended the Trump administration’s military record Thursday. Pence spoke to a group of cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, framing Trump’s actions against Iran as a pro-military stance. He argued Trump did what was necessary to keep America safe. 

“While the last administration sent Iran pallets of cash, President Trump took us out of the Iran nuclear deal,” Pence said. “[He] imposed the strongest sanctions on the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world and when the most dangerous terrorist on the planet threatened American forces, President Donald Trump gave the order to take out Iran’s top general, and Qasem Soleimani is gone.”

It’s not as simple however as saying the US imposed sanctions. In many cases over the last four years, attempted sanctions didn’t actually end up as planned. On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal. Three months later, the European Union signed a competing plan, one that nullified US sanctions on any country trading with Iran. In September 2019, the US again imposed sanctions, this time targeting the Iranian national bank and anyone buying Iranian oil. However, countries like China, Syria and Turkey ignored the announcement, continuing to buy from Iran. The US tried again on Aug. 14 of this year, asking the UN Security Council to extend the global arms embargo against Iran, which ends Oct. 18. The Security Council refused. 

Pence Lays Out The Case

Pence told cadets their president cares deeply about the military and veterans’ families, arguing that Trump would always support them.

“As a father of a Marine Corps captain and the father-in-law of a Navy lieutenant who is currently deployed serving overseas, I couldn’t be more proud to be vice president to a president who cares so deeply about the men and women of our Armed Forces and their families,” Pence stated.

He spoke about private encounters with the president, including a case where Trump comforted the mother of a deceased soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and families of fallen soldiers at Dover Air Force Base.  

“I’ve seen this president’s heart in countless private moments where I’ve been able to be by his side,” said Pence. “I’ve been there in the Oval Office when the president’s on the phone with families of our fallen, making the calls, expressing not only his sympathy but the deepest sympathies of the American people. I can tell you President Donald Trump reveres and honors the members of our armed forces and their families,” he added.

This is in contrast to a report in the Atlantic. The magazine interviewed four people who gave a firsthand account of the president’s decision not to participate in a scheduled visit to France’s Aisne-Marne American cemetery. The World War I landmark serves as the final resting place for more than 2,000 American soldiers. According to the report, President Trump said “why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” 

An Increase in The Military Budget

Pence also credited President Trump with rebuilding the military, adding more active-duty soldiers and providing needed equipment after budget cuts. That stems from the 2011 Budget Control Act. In an attempt to get US debt under control, the 2011 Congress approved a simple proposal. The House and Senate received a chance to produce $1.2 trillion in cuts. When that failed, all departments saw cuts. In 2014, for example, the order required a $54.6 billion cut to defense accounts.

Arguing that the plan left a “hollowed out” military, Pence pointed to data released by the Marine Corps. By April 2016, out of 276 F-18 Hornet aircraft in the Marine Corps inventory, only 30 percent were ready to fly. Also, the Corps said only 42 of 147 CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters could fly. This came due to a split Congress, with Republicans and Democrats in charge of the Senate and House, respectively. Due to arguments between the two parties, less than 60 bills became law on average. From 2014 to 2016, the group became known as the “do nothing Congress.”

He pointed to the biggest national defense budget since Ronald Reagan. By that he’s referring to the $738 billion defense bill, which Trump signed in Dec. 2019. Funding increased $21 billion over the previous year, with $71.5 billion set aside for “contingency operations funding” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pence said he and the president both know “if you want peace, you have to prepare for war.” He argued that the American people “know that weakness arouses evil and a strong American deters it.” 

Reflecting on 9/11, Pence Calls For Servant Leaders

Speaking on the eve of 9/11, Pence called for leaders to serve. He referred to comments from former First Lady Abigail Adams, who in 1785 told her son one day his country would need him.

“Your country will one day call for your services, either in the Cabinet or field,” Pence said, referring to Abigail’s words. “Qualify yourself to do honor to her.”

Pence said cadets at VMI are doing just that, qualifying themselves to do honor to their country. He pointed to the 290 flag officers who came out of VMI over more than 180 years. At VMI, Pence said, honor is at the core of what cadets do. And because of what the cadets learn here, honor will be the central characteristic of who they become. He pointed out an example in Jim Spellman, VMI graduate from the Class of 1985. Spellman was in New York City on the day of 9/11, working in his office across the street from the World Trade Center. For more than a week, he helped first responders search for survivors.

“In the words of the Nazarene, ‘Wherever you go, wherever you lead, go not to be served, but to serve,’” Pence said. “Be a servant leader. It all begins with humility.” 

Erica Turman is a freelance writer with Dogwood. During her time in journalism, Turman’s bylines have been in the Waynesboro News Virginian, Franklin News Post and Martinsville Bulletin. Raised in the moonshine capital of the world, Franklin County, she and her husband make their home in Lexington.