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Friday, February 10, 2012

George Will Vs. The GOP On Defense

Feb 10th, 2012

A few days ago, conservative columnist George Will penned a withering critique of current Republican messaging on defense. He begins with nothing less than a rebuke of the entire Iraq misadventure:

"Hours — not months, not weeks, hours — after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, vicious political factionalism and sectarian violence intensified. Many Republicans say Barack Obama's withdrawal — accompanied by his administration's foolish praise of Iraq's "stability" — has jeopardized what has been achieved there. But if it cannot survive a sunrise without fraying, how much of an achievement was it?

Few things so embitter a nation as squandered valor; hence Americans, with much valor spent there, want Iraq to master its fissures. But with America in the second decade of its longest war, the probable Republican nominee is promising to extend it indefinitely."

In fact, all of the GOP contenders (with the exception of Ron Paul) are now in a mad dash to outdo one another in promising more wars, longer wars and bigger wars. The situation is out of hand and these positions are dramatically at odds with the will of the people.

George Will is justifiably incensed:

"The U.S. defense budget is about 43 percent of the world’s total military spending — more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations, many of which are U.S. allies. Are Republicans really going to warn voters that America will be imperiled if the defense budget is cut 8 percent from projections over the next decade? In 2017, defense spending would still be more than that of the next 10 countries combined.

Do Republicans think it is premature to withdraw as many as 7,000 troops from Europe two decades after the Soviet Union’s death? About 73,000 will remain, most of them in prosperous, pacific, largely unarmed and utterly unthreatened Germany. Why do so many remain?

Since 2001, the United States has waged war in three nations, and some Republicans appear ready to bring the total to five, adding Iran and Syria. (The Weekly Standard, of neoconservative bent, regrets that Obama “is reluctant to intervene to oust Iran’s closest ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”) GOP critics say that Obama’s proposed defense cuts will limit America’s ability to engage in troop-intensive nation-building. Most Americans probably say: Good."

The greatest problem here, and the one which Will defines succinctly, is that the GOP is working from a script not rooted in reality:

"Osama bin Laden and many other “high-value targets” are dead, the drone war is being waged more vigorously than ever, and Guantanamo is still open, so Republicans can hardly say that Obama has implemented dramatic and dangerous discontinuities regarding counterterrorism. Obama says that, even with his proposed cuts, the defense budget would increase at about the rate of inflation through the next decade. Republicans who think America is being endangered by “appeasement” and military parsimony have worked that pedal on their organ quite enough."

The rational concept of war is that it is a thing which is eventually meant to be ended. Many warned us a decade ago that the long sad, history of declaring "war" on phenomena, in this instance "terror," was a recipe for the institutionalization of conflict. Just as we have not defeated, nor will we ever, the enemies of "poverty" or "drugs," our current bogeyman, "terror," will long outlast the American experiment. The Republicans simply don't get it. 

While praising Will's column, Jacob Heilbrunn adds:

"The real problem with the GOP approach is that it maintains the illusion of omnipotence. It leaves behind great-power status for the "I am the greatest" approach. The GOP worships unilateralism. This has less in common with Reagan than George W. Bush. Now war with Iran—and Syria?—is preoccupying the minds of the neocons. But knocking out Iranian nuclear facilities, as the estimable Walter Pincus reminds us today, is no simple task. In pushing for a strike, or even regime change, the GOP, to borrow from Talleyrand, has "learned nothing and forgotten nothing."

The point, to put it another way, is that the policy of bombast but not bluff—which is to say that America really has invaded several countries in the past decade at great cost—has largely failed. If the GOP could point to great successes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would be one thing. Instead, it is a party stuck in default mode. Even though Obama is clearly not a wimpy Democrat on foreign affairs, leading Republicans persist in trying to depict him as dangerously complacent about American national security. Meanwhile, Obama is trimming the size of the military and reorienting it towards Asia, both sensible and overdue moves that will do more to enhance America's prosperity and security than any of the rodomontade about appeasement."

Increasingly, the GOP's messaging on foreign policy is simply at odds with the world as it actually exists. 

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