Republican Convention 2012

The President As Planetary Policeman

The GOP's military hawks squawk louder than its budget hawks.


If you don't count Clint Eastwood, whose rambling, Bob Newhartesque conversation with an empty chair included implicit criticism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rand Paul may have been the only speaker at the Republican National Convention last week who questioned his party's mindless militarism. The Kentucky senator said "Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well-spent."

That mild rebuke—which came, fittingly enough, from the son of the Texas congressman whose resistance to promiscuous interventionism distinguished him from the other contenders for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination—was no match for the foreign policy vision endorsed by the rest of the speakers, which amounted to a full-throated declaration of war on tyrants throughout the world. This view of America as the righter of all wrongs is hard to reconcile with Republican promises of fiscal responsibility.

John McCain, the GOP standard-bearer in 2008, posited in his convention speech that "it is our willingness to shape world events for the better that has kept us safe, increased our prosperity, preserved our liberty, and transformed human history." The Arizona senator called not only for a continuing occupation of Afghanistan but also for U.S. intervention in Iran, Syria, and every other place where "people are seizing control of their own destinies" by "liberating themselves from oppressive rulers."

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice likewise argued that the United States, through military force and foreign aid in support of "free peoples" and "fledgling democracies," must "sustain a balance of power that favors freedom." Conceding that "there is weariness, a sense that we have carried these burdens long enough," she warned that the alternative is "chaos."

At the same time, Rice worried that "when the world looks at us today, they see an American government that cannot live within its means." Might that perception have something to do with the American government's unbounded understanding of its role in the world?

So-called defense spending by the U.S. government accounts for one-fifth of the federal budget and more than two-fifths of all military spending, nearly 10 times our country's share of the planet's population. With a national debt the size of the national economy and a federal government that borrows 35 cents of every dollar it spends, we cannot afford to police the world in the way that McCain and Rice demand.

The GOP's presidential candidate seems to share this dangerously broad conception of national defense. Like McCain, Mitt Romney criticizes President Obama for supposedly endangering the country with spending "cuts" that let the Defense Department's budget, which has almost doubled in the last decade, continue to rise, albeit at a slower pace. McCain arbitrarily insists that "core defense spending" should never fall below 4 percent of GDP, no matter what threats the country faces or how much it costs to protect against them.

At last week's convention, Romney promised to maintain "a military that is so strong no nation would ever dare to test it." The U.S. currently spends five times as much on defense as China, its closest competitor. Surely there is room for cuts, even by Romney's standard.

Paul Ryan, whom Romney picked as his running mate largely on the strength of his reputation for fiscal conservatism, told the convention "we need to stop spending money we don't have." But the Wisconsin congressman also suggested that a Romney administration would defend every democrat and defeat every dictator. "Wherever men and women rise up for their own freedom," he promised, "they will know that the American president is on their side."

Contrary to Romney and Ryan's implication, Democrats are perfectly capable of reckless military interventions that have nothing to do with national defense, as Obama proved with his illegal air war in Libya. The real puzzle is why Republicans think that being quick to risk other people's lives and squander their money is a mark of courageous leadership. 

NEXT: Brickbat: One Day Early

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  1. Well well well. In the middle of the Democrat’s convention, reason does a hit piece on the Republicans. WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED IT.

    Having said that, there are two reasons that a party includes something in their platform: it will either get them votes or money. Which do you suppose this is?

  2. “””””Wherever men and women rise up for their own freedom,” he promised, “they will know that the American president is on their side.”””‘

    To bad American presidents aren’t on the side of US taxpayer nor future generations of Americans who will get stuck with the debt.

  3. “If you don’t count Clint Eastwood, whose rambling, Bob Newhartesque conversation with an empty chair included implicit criticism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”

    Oh, but I DO count Clint Eastwood! It reminded me more of the film Harvey than Bob Newhart. I thought it was brilliant! I think far too many people misunderstood what he was doing. He was playing the nervous Everyman who was speaking truth to power.

  4. “So-called defense spending by the U.S. government accounts for one-fifth of the federal budget and more than two-fifths of all military spending, nearly 10 times our country’s share of the planet’s population.”

    That is because we need military bases in Europe to defend Europeans from the NAZIs and the Soviets, both of whom present a real and present danger to our national security.

    1. It could happen. Did you see Iron Sky?

      1. Never saw it, was it good?

      2. Did you see “Red Dawn”???!!!111!!


        The horror….the horror…

  5. I sometimes get the uncomfortable feeling that there are many people in this country who pine for a replay of World War 2.

    1. I think there are – generally, they fall into one of the following groups:

      1. Military contractors who think they can make money via a new war.

      2. Politicians who think they can either win votes or campaign cash from military contractors via another war.

      3. VFW members who need something new to talk about while downing alcoholic beverages at the bar (or who hope for an influx of new members).

      4. Manufacturers of prosthetic limbs who think they will have many new customers for their products.

      5. Casket manufacturers.

      1. 6. Krugman

      2. All that is true but I was thinking of those who pine for it emotionally. They think it was a glorious time and they wish to live through such a time themselves because they think it will be like a Hollywood movie (ironic since many of them affect to despise Hollywood).

        1. I heard several members of the Greatest Generation pine for the wonderful days when the U.S. was under the grip of war fascism, and everyone was pulling together for the greatest good.

          Absolutely turned my stomach, since they were invariably REMF’s or 4-F’ers or women staying at home when the guns were going bang.

          Depressingly, in my experience, women are far more likely to be fans of fascism than men, as long as you call the system by some other name.

          1. My late father was a Marine in World War 2. The only thing he ever said about it was that he hoped that his children would never have to endure such a thing.

  6. Why do Republicans think that this is a sign of courageous leadership? Do you ever read the newspapers and look at polls after these little shin-digs?

    The MSM and the voters tell them it is heroic.

    That’s the problem. We need to change how people view this kind of crap.

    1. “That’s the problem. We need to change how people view this kind of crap.”

      I think, in a basic way, that’s the answer to just about all of the political problems we have. We can only blame dumbass politicians and their phony arithmetic and logic so much when they know they’re saying the thing that gets the votes. Frankly, they’re taking advantage of the masses of voters’ phony arithmetic and logic.

  7. Also

    Here to save
    the motherfuckin’ day yeah!”


  8. The GOP is being criticized! Quick! Light the Cenotaph signal!

  9. “…as Obama proved with his illegal air war in Libya.”

    Here is the difference, Jacob, and it is one you should know since your whole article is about the dollars spent on the military. Obama took no action in Libya until other nations “bellied up to the bar,” specifically France and the UK. The result? One dictator removed at a cost of about $1B to the US, and no American lives lost. Big contrast, is it not, to what the Republicans believe as evidenced in Iraq, where it cost at least $1T and 4000+ American lives lost. If you don’t think there is a big difference between TRULY using a coalition and the Republican mindset of being the only policeman in the world, you have not paid attention.

    So forget history then, and just consider all the sabre rattling coming from the right on not only Iran, but even Syria. This current group of Republicans is EXACTLY the same as Bush and Cheney. Over half of Romney’s foreign policy advisers come from the Bush administration, including the prominently featured Dan Senor. They think the Iraq intervention was a huge success, so you better get ready to see the same if Romney is elected.

    1. Shorter Jackass Ace: Obama good Republicans bad.

      1. Nah, not long enough.
        By the way, Jacob, you are being overly generous on your stats on military spending. Your one fifth of federal spending may included the actual defense budget and wars, but it does not include benefits to vets, the nuclear arsenal, and even Homeland Security. Its closer to 1/4 of the budget.

        And as far as international spending on the military, only the top 15 countries spend any significant amount on the military, so US military spending equals just about the entire world combined.

    2. tl;dr: billion-dollar wars are OK, policing the world is just fine as long as you’ve got a posse.

      1. Not at all. It was Jacob whose entire argument was on dollars spent, til the end when all of a sudden there was a moral argument. As if the Iraq War was legal and moral.
        I would not have spent the money or lives on ANY of them.

        1. In point of fact, the Iraq War was legal, having been authorized by congress. Including the vehemently pro-peace Democratic Party who is cool with overseas assassinations of American citizens, indefinite detention, secret kill lists, rendition, Gitmo, nation building and undeclared war now that their guy is in charge. Call Bush (deservedly) what you will, but he at least made the pretense of following the constitutional procedure (although congress does not actually declare “wars” anymore – the authorization to use military force and annual budgeting for continued overseas military operations certainly makes them complicit. Obama did not bother).

          1. There you said it…”made the pretense of following the constitution.”
            Sorry- pretense is a poor excuse for legality.
            And of course completely ignores “morality.”

    3. Actually, I take the opposite view, because I’m (generally) in favor of US intervention when no one else is capable of handling the problem. Libya (and before that, the Balkans) should have been taken care of by the Europeans. Hell, even the UK should have been able to stay out if it — France, Greece, and Italy are right across the Med from Libya. Any one of them should have been up to the task.

      1. Right- and kudos to Obama for MAKING them handle Libya. He waited them out. That flies in the face of the “Bush doctrine.”
        Just go back and listen to all the whining by the likes of McCain and Graham about our willingness to cede this to the Europeans.

        1. I don’t see how that contradicts the Bush Doctrine at all. That was “meet threats before they materialize and before they reach the US, make no distinctions between terrorists and those who harbor them, advance liberty to undercut terrorism.” Whether you think it’s a good doctrine or not, there’s nothing about it that says “American has to handle everything.”

          Dunno what Graham you’re referring to (Phil Gramm, maybe? But I don’t know of anything he’s said on Libya) but I’ve never been much of a McCain fan.

          Also, what do you mean by “Obama making them handle Libya”? The French and British attacks started on the same day as the US ones (March 19, 2011).

          1. Point in fact, unilateralism was a key component of the Bush Doctrine. It could not have been more clear as stated in the National Security Strategy in 2002.
            It said:
            “It is an enduring American principle that this duty obligates the government to anticipate and counter threats, using all elements of NATIONAL power, before the threats can do grave damage.”
            “To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the UNITED STATES WILL, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense.”

            Note that it said national, not international, and United States, not coalition.

            Dunno what Graham? Lindsey, as in Senator Graham. You can google all his comments that called for increased US involvement in Libya.

            And if you remember, there were calls for international involvement in Libya, particularly when the rebels started losing. But Obama held his ground until the British and French played THE key role. If it was done like the Bush Doctrine, we would not have waited, and we would have played the key role.

            It was well done.

  10. I’m at least glad to see that, lately, the Reason editors have been going with the “non-intervention costs less money” argument, instead of the bogus “‘non-interventionism’=’libertarian foreign policy'” stance. There’s certainly a lot of fat to be cut — there’s absolutely reason to keep stationing troops in Germany or South Korea, for instance.

    One thing that would help would be getting rid of the restrictions we’ve placed on Taiwanese purchases of US military equipment. There’s no need for a US carrier group in the area when the president of Taiwan can credibly quote Churchill to the PRC and say, “We are waiting for the long-promised invasion. So are the fishes.”

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