Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, pledging a major new military buildup, and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton get a chance on Wednesday to show how they would lead the U.S. armed forces as commander-in-chief.
The two Nov. 8 election opponents are to make back-to-back appearances at the NBC Commander-in-Chief Forum in New York, airing on MSNBC at 8 p.m. Clinton will appear first, followed by Trump. It will offer a prelude of what to expect from them when national security issues come up in their three presidential debates.
Trump portrayed himself in an address in Philadelphia as a defender of traditional Republican values on national security but with a distinct unwillingness to launch new wars in the Middle East.
He said he would ask Pentagon leaders to present a plan within 30 days to destroy Islamic State if he wins the Nov 8 election. But he said any action would be "tempered with realism" and would avoid "toppling regimes with no plan for what to do the day after."
"I am proposing a new foreign policy focused on advancing America's core national interests, promoting regional stability, and producing an easing of tensions in the world. This will require rethinking the failed policies of the past," he said.
He called for hundreds more new U.S. ships, planes and submarines, and vowed to train thousands more combat troops as well as develop a "state of the art" missile defense system, starting with modernizing 22 Navy cruisers at a cost of about $220 million apiece.
Trump also accused President Barack Obama of wanting to reduce the size of the Army to 450,000 troops. Trump said he would raise U.S. troop levels to 540,000. He echoed late President Ronald Reagan in calling for "peace through strength."
The forum in New York will allow both campaigns to shift their messages to national security, a major topic for voters given the threat of Islamist militants, China's military activities in the South China Sea, and nuclear-armed North Korea's ballistic missile tests.
Clinton is trying to raise questions about Trump's temperament and fitness for office given his history of incendiary rhetoric, such as declaring Obama "the founder of ISIS," an acronym for the Islamic State militant group.
On Tuesday in Tampa, Florida, Clinton seized on Trump's statement the previous day that if he had been treated like Obama had been on arrival in China last week, he would have ordered the plane to return him home.
Obama was made to disembark from Air Force One on a secondary set of stairs and reporters who traveled with him were hectored by Chinese officials for trying to watch him get off the aircraft.
"Apparently Trump said if there had been the kerfuffle about the stairs and the press, he would have just stayed on the plane and gone home. I think that's yet another very strong piece of evidence as to why he should never be anywhere near the White House," Clinton said.
Neither candidate had an advantage when it came to national security, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling in August.
Respondents were evenly split between Clinton and Trump when asked "which presidential candidate do you believe will be better at keeping us safe?" Some 38 percent of likely voters picked Clinton, while 39 percent picked Trump.
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said Clinton and Trump both face tests in convincing voters that they are up to the task.
"As the first woman to be a major party nominee, Clinton is forging new ground. A lot of voters will be asking themselves: Is she tough enough? And Trump's excited a lot of people and he scares a lot of others who'll be asking 'is this the guy I want protecting me and my family? Can he handle having his finger on the big red button?'" Yepsen said.
Trump has some convincing to do on foreign policy. Many national security experts from past Republican administrations have declared him unfit for the Oval Office.
Presidential scholar Thomas Alan Schwartz of Vanderbilt University said Trump was likely to cite then-U.S. senator Clinton's vote in favor of the much-criticized 2003 Iraq war as evidence of why he is more suited for commander-in-chief.
"I think one thing you'll see at the debates is him suggesting that he'll be a careful commander-in-chief and that it's Hillary more likely to get us into war," he said.