For decades – since at least the 1970s, if not the 1950s – defense and foreign policy have been “Republican-owned” issues. For decades, Republicans have held a significant advantage on defense and foreign policy, including much higher trust poll results from the American people on these issues than the Democrats. And for a good reason.
It used to be the case that Republicans were indeed THE party of national security and THE pro-strong-defense party, while the Democrats desperately needed to prove their chops on that score. Republicans held that advantage in 1952, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. Even during the 1970s, when Richard Nixon and then Gerald Ford stood for election/reelection, they had the FP advantage, because, even though they implemented some defense cuts and detente with the Soviet Union, Americans knew that Humphrey, McGovern, and Carter favored the same policies – but on a larger scale. Indeed, one of Nixon’s 1972 reelection commercials featured toy soldiers as a reference to McGovern’s promise of deep defense cuts. Even Ford’s comment about Poland supposedly being “free” from Soviet domination didn’t really undermine the GOP’s FP credentials.
Ronald Reagan, of course, ran on, and enacted, a platform of rebuilding America’s defense and a tough stance towards the Soviet Union. George H. W. Bush promised to continue these policies. George W. Bush promised to rebuild the military after a decade of disastrous defense cuts. John McCain’s foreign policy and military credentials were doubted by very few.
But now, Republicans no longer have that advantage and polls indicate that most Americans trust Barack Obama and the Democrats (!), not Republicans, on these issues. Why? What has happened?
This is only partly due to the media’s biased message misleading American voters on the Democrats’ real defense/FP record. It’s mostly due to other factors.
Firstly, most Americans are ignorant about, and not interested in, defense and FP issues. They don’t know how small America’s defense budget really is today, or that it has already been cut many times since 2009, or that Obama’s reset policy towards Russia has failed abysmally, or that the New START treaty obligates only the US – and not Russia – to cut its nuclear arsenal. And they don’t care enough to educate themselves on these issues.
Secondly, even Republicans, including Republican politicians, don’t seem to think that defense and foreign policy are important and they rarely mention it, fight for it, or tell you their specific stances on it. Furthermore, the vast majority of folks currently considered for the GOP’s Vice Presidential nomination completely lack any foreign policy credentials.
But most importantly of all, Republicans have knowingly and deliberately thrown their advantage away. Thus, as the old Roman proverb goes, “The fault, Brutus, is not with our stars, but with ourselves.”
Republicans have agreed to stupid, inexcusable, disastrous national security and foreign policies over the last decade. This included ever-deeper cuts in the US nuclear arsenal under Presidents Bush and Obama and under the SORT and New START treaties (which 13 Republican Senators voted for); deep cuts in “conventional” weapon programs that were deemed not useful for the Iraqi/Afghan Wars (one of which has already ended and the other of which will end in 2014, after which the DOD’s precious MRAP vehicles and drones will be useless); shielding Bush from criticism over his appeasement of Russia and China on the grounds that he was tough on terrorism; Pres. Bush and Mitt Romney going to the 2008 Genocide Games; backing the unnecessary and unaffordable continuation of the Afghan war of nationbuilding even now, after OBL’s death, and the Iraqi war; accepting the “arms control makes the world safer” premise blindly; and failure to formulate a coherent party policy on Libya and Syria.
But Republicans’ dumbest mistake by far, which has done the most damage to their defense credentials, has been to agree to deep defense cuts demanded by Obama, including those mandated by the Budget Control Act (the debt ceiling deal) of 2011.
Under its terms, defense will be immediately cut by $487 bn over the decade starting this October (FY2013-FY2022), and because the Super Committee created by the BCA has failed to agree on any savings, an automatic sequester will cut another $600 bn from the defense budget (on top of the $487 bn sum), cutting every defense program across the board (the necessities along with the nonpriority programs), and thus gutting the military and imperiling the country. This comes on top of, not as a replacement for, the defense cuts (including massive modernization program closures) that Republicans agreed to in 2009 and 2010 and Gates’ Efficiencies Initiative (worth $178 bn) of January 2011. And as a result, defense, although constituting just 19% of the total federal budget, will bear 50% of the total spending cuts under the BCA, despite already contributing far more in savings than any other government agency or program.
Republicans agreed to these cuts – including the sequester in the case that the Super Committee failed – while also agreeing to raise the debt ceiling unnecessarily (when there was sufficient revenue to prioritize federal spending). The Democrats gave away nothing. As a result of this dumb Republican capitulation, the Dems now hold almost all cards.
Republicans’ only trump card is not to vote for another debt ceiling hike (which will likely be deemed necessary after the election). The Dems hold all other cards. They can stand by and let sequestration happen. They can let the Bush tax cuts automatically expire (as they’re scheduled to do next January). They can demand foreswearing the prolongation of the Bush tax cuts, or even higher tax hikes, in return for sparing defense from sequestration – or deeper defense cuts in return for prolonging the Bush tax cuts. Controlling the Senate and the White House, at least until next January, and wielding the sequester and tax hike weapons, they can demand anything they want.
Republicans gave away everything in July 2011. They gave away the entire lunch, the crown jewels, everything – for no gain at all. The debt ceiling was still increased, defense is to be cut deeply, entitlements are exempt from cuts (as always), domestic discretionary spending is still ballooning (vide the bloated farm and highway bills now making their way through Congress), the Keystone Pipeline hasn’t been approved (or forced on Obama), regulations are still mounting, tax reform still hasn’t happened, and massive tax hikes are STILL scheduled to happen automatically, on January 1st.
And what have Republicans received in return? Absolutely nothing. In fact, their policy towards Obama has been just like Obama’s “reset” policy towards Russia: a one-way street of unilateral, significant concessions that the other side pockets and never reciprocates.
In short, Republicans, by agreeing to the debt ceiling deal, made the dumbest mistake they have ever made as a party or as individual politicians in the GOP’s entire history.
Even worse, Republicans still tolerate, and in many cases, worship or adhere to, people who support deep defense cuts and demand that they proceed. People who support a weak defense and isolationist foreign policy posture. People who care only about fiscal issues (and only for the short term) and Grover Norquist’s wrath. People like Raul Castro Labrador, Tim Huelskamp, John Campbell, Grover Norquist, and Justin Amash (who calls Ron Paul a “friend” and also supports lavish aid for Palestinians).
These despicable individuals falsely claim that defense has so far been “off the table”, that it needs to be on the table, that sparing it from sequestration would amount to taking it off the table and sparing it from any cuts whatsoever, that it’s a Big Government Policy, that it would amount to just “protecting defense contractors”, and deny that it would make deep cuts in the defense budget or jeopardize national security, even though it would do both.
They have been leading the calls on the GOP to sacrifice defense (for deep cuts) in exchange for entitlement cuts from the Democrats, even though the Dems will never agree to such a deal, even though defense has ALREADY been cut significantly. And more and more Republicans are buying this garbage everyday.
That being the case, can anyone be surprised that the GOP is no longer the party of national security and no longer holds any advantage on defense/FP issues?
This can be corrected, of course. But it requires bold policies from GOP leaders and GOP voters at large. Specifically:
- Anyone who supports deep defense cuts, such as sequestration or those called for by the Simpson-Bowles plan or the Gang of Six, must be thrown out of the party and shunned by all decent Republicans.
- Anyone who supports deep cuts in the already-inadequate US nuclear deterrent, or appeasement towards Russia and China (e.g. Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice), or LOST, or all of these policies, likewise must be thrown out of the party and shunned by all decent Republicans.
- Anyone who is willing to use defense as a sacrificial lamb, to be traded away in exchange for anything else, needs to be banned from any leadership role and consigned to the back benches.
- The GOP needs to adopt an unabashedly pro-strong-defense platform, in which it will advocate repealing sequestration, rolling back the BCA’s first-tier defense cuts, and making no apologies for that – to the Dems or to RINOs like Labrador and Amash.