President Obama was caught off guard in the first debate by Mitt Romney’s pivot to the center and his embrace of the Compassionate Conservative position. That Obama allowed Romney to blur their differences on healthcare, social security and even taxes was distressing for Democrats and clearly has shaken up the race. Tonight the President has an opportunity to draw a bright line between his foreign policy and that advocated by Romney. Failing to do that would probably lead to Obama’s defeat in November.
Two weeks ago Mitt Romney’s Foreign Policy Director Alex Wong told reporters that a President Romney would ensure “the restoration of a strategy that served us well for 70 years.” Here is what that 70-year strategy looks like in terms of money spent. That much of the world has been free riding on our blood and treasure is the issue of the moment.
Romney assumes that the aggressive military strategy of the George Bush administration still enjoys the support of the American public. He surrounds himself with Bush Neocons like Dan Senor and John Bolton who recently stated that America should “not grant any validity to international law” because it will be “used by those who want to constrict the United States.” But the country has turned away from the preemptive war strategies of the Bush era. The Libertarian wing of the Republican party (estimated to represent almost 24% of the voting public by a recent Reason-Rupe Poll) is staunchly anti-war, calling for a pullback of American forces stationed abroad. Even the Republican Realists like former National Security Director Brent Scowcroft have acknowledged that, “the decision (by Bush 43) to …..try to deal with those problems (terrorism and the empowerment of non-state actors) as a unilateral nation-state using traditional military power, is what brought America to the point of crisis.”
President Eisenhower warned the country in his Farewell Address that, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” But he would have been shocked to see how far that power has been extended. A view of our current budget priorities tells the tale.
What is really remarkable is that Congress has already passed laws (the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the Sequester) that reverse the 70-year policy of continuous increases in the Military budget. For the Pentagon, the Sequester would mean about $50 billion a year in less defense spending from fiscal year 2013 to FY2021, on top of the roughly $450 billion in reduced defense outlays from the Budget Control Act according to the Congressional Budget Office. And while the Corporate Welfare crowd like Senator Lindsay Graham vow “that I will fight this with every ounce of my being”, he is on the losing side of the political argument. As an April 2012 ABC News Washington Post Poll found “two-thirds of Americans now say the War in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting.”
As Gary Wills pointed out in an important essay, President Obama came in to office trapped by the facts on the ground of the National Security State–what Wills calls “the Entangled Giant.”
The permanent emergency that has melded World War II with the cold war and the cold war with the “war on terror”—all these make a vast and intricate structure that may not yield to effort at dismantling it. Sixty-eight straight years of war emergency powers (1941–2009) have made the abnormal normal, and constitutional diminishment the settled order…
Here is the irony. Reagan and the neoconservatives managed to convince their followers that the only thing the government knew how to do well was fight wars. All the rest–building the Interstate Highway System or the Internet, running Social Security and Medicare—the government must be incompetent. But it is the financing of the National Security State that prevents us from providing a world-class universal health care and K-College education system. Nothing else. And what is Mitt Romney offering us? A return to Reaganomics, with higher military budgets and lower taxes on the wealthy, leading to endless deficits. The tragedy of Ike’s warning is that both Democrats and Republicans alike have embraced the Military Keynesian model, which Romney used in his convention speech: “we can’t cut the military budget and sacrifice all those good defense industry jobs”. Even Bill Clinton, presiding after the fall of the Soviet Union, never delivered a peace dividend because his own draft record left him too vulnerable to take on the Pentagon. Now Obama has a once in a lifetime chance to do some nation building at home instead of in the Middle East. He must seize the opportunity or become a one term President.