GOP Candidates and National Security

Probably because it has been a generally slow week in the area of national security (other than the spike in Afghanistan deaths largely the result of the Chinook helicopter crash), my mind drifted to the 2012 election (a depressing topic, admittedly), and given the general focus of this blog, the national security implications of electing one of the GOP candidates in the race. The prospects are pretty dismal.

My method was, in the case of the major candidates, to go to their campaign web sites and see what they have to say. It is not a very fruitful exercise. The most organized site is Mitt Romney’s, which it should be, since he has been running for president continuously since at least early 2008. Aside from the discouraging reality that all the time and money he has spent cannot get him past the one-quarter proportion of support among members of the GOP, his site is curiously short on the subject. In fact, in the section on issues on the web site, the choices one has to hear Romney on individual issues (including national defense) is cleverly covered by a shirt-sleeved picture of the candidate, and all one can glean is a general statement that he loves a strong America (now there’s a surprise). On the real and hard issues, apparently Nada!

The same is true for most of the pretenders. It is difficult to figure out what any of them is for, other than the opposite of whatever President Obama is for on any given issue. It is hardly a distinguished or distinguishable array. With Tim Pawlenty (the classic “who dat?”) out of the race, most of the rest has about the same likelihood of becoming president as I do (although that does not mean they cannot compete for the nomination), and the fact that they have no discernible credentials in this area is probably innocuous. Within that field of feckless wannabes (Santorum, Paul, Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Bachman), the only one who has any track record in the foreign policy/national security area is former Utah Governor John Huntsman, but he is too bland and not crazy enough on social issues to get run the nomination gauntlet successfully, and he is way too Mormon at that. If he were to move to Massachusetts and declare himself a Democrat, he might have a future. Being a Democrat in Utah is like being one in South Carolina (where I live); Utah, Mormon and Democrat do not fit together into any sentences that do not contain a negative somewhere. The only other candidate with any real chops on policy in any area is Newt Gingrich, but the former speaker has so much extraneous baggage from his personal life that the day he is inaugurated, a spontaneous snowball fight will break out in hell. Some may take umbrage over my consignment of Michelle Bachman to the dust heap, but I just don’t think she will hold up long, especially with Sarah Palin peering coylyover her shoulder; I could, of course, be wrong here.

That leaves Cowboy Rick Perry, the newest entry into the pack. Perry does not trumpet his foreign or defense policy expertise; his campaign web site limits itself to saying he is for a “secure border” (a pretty bold statement for the Governor of Texas) and that he “has not taken a firm stand on on foreign policy/national defense as of yet.” I personally can hardly wait. Instead, he is concentrating on demonstrating his social conservative chops (go to church, oppose gay rights, execute lots of criminals) and on job creation, for which he holds up Texas (low unemployment, high job attraction) as an example of his prowess. Presumably, his major advice to the rest of us is to find oil under our soil or, if applicable, under our continental shelf, and then to hop in bed with the oil industry.

 If none of the candidates has any real background and/or interest in national security beyond a desire to wrap themselves tightly in the flag and form the basis to call themselves patriots (the basic position of the Tea Party), then what can one expect? The current field contains sufficient cats and dogs that a Dwight Eisenhower-like figure (David Petraeus would seem the likely candidate) who has both the popular potential and foreign/national security credentials to make a distinctive contribution might yet emerge. If, however, the nomination goes to one of the current crop of national security neophytes, what could one expect?

Since presidential campaigns do not offer the peace and serenity for candidates to become experts themselves, they are going to have to accept the advice of outsiders. For Republicans, that means former members of the Bush administration and experts in the very conservative, heavily neo-conservative Washington think tanks. That is essentially what George W. Bush did, and I cannot see any candidate from the current crop doing much else. They simply lack the expertise and, based on what they have done so far, the interest to do something different. Among the also-rans, Ron Paul, the libertarian who wants to get the government out of almost everything, is the partial exception: he does favor ending the military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. What he is for beyond that is a bit murkier.

As Governor Perry’s name has been bandied about, one of the rejoinders has been whether the United States is ready to accept another Texas GOP governor as commander-in-chief: can Perry get out from under George W. Bush’s shadow? His people will certainly try to prove he is “not Bush,” which will create some interesting moments of its own. But there is another GWB shadow that may hang over the nominee, Perry, Romney or otherwise. That shadow is a likelihood of a return to the Bush national security strategy. Many Americans do not remember that experience so happily as to make it a plus. We will see.

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