February 9, 2012

It's hard to be a security hawk these days.

OMG, I've gone hippie! Or not.
Back in 2003, conservatives rallied around president Bush when the decision to go into Iraq was made.  Even many Democrats who later disavowed denied their initial position rallied behind the decision.  Back then, so close after the events of 9/11, it was easy to believe that Iraq and Afghanistan were necessary endeavors.  In fact it was hard to argue that they were not. But after a decade of war, war-weariness has set in for much of the country.  In addition, there has been a diminishing rationale for the continued effort, especially in light of the killing of Osama Bin Laden.   What's a national security hawk to do? Give up on a robust national defense force? No.  Give up on the the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters?  Yes.  

There's a way to consolidate the GOP base and force an Obama stumble in one move - guess what it is.

Strategically, it may be time to move on from the hawkish positions of 2001-2007. Consider the cost of continuing on in those theaters.  In a time that has demanded national fiscal constraints, the costs are just too high.  Certainly it would go a long way to getting Ron Paul supporters on board with a conservative agenda.  But there is an opportunity to consolidate more than just Ron Paul supporters.  The Tea Party faction of the GOP are primarily concerned with fiscal restraint. Conservatives in general, want the annual budget deficits of the Obama administration to stop. Social conservatives are a harder nut to crack.  However removal of a large foreign component of the national attention, socially conservative issues might play a more prominent role in conversation.  By focusing on a domestic agenda of fixing the Obama spending and the Obama damage after 10 years of war and 3 years of trillion dollar deficits there exists the opportunity to augment the effort with specific social reforms as well. The rub there is that Paul supporters and the liberal faction of independents could be scared off by that stuff.  Nevertheless, in the bigger picture the upside potential of consolidating voter support is probably a big net gain.  It would simply demand that the reasoning be positioned as a cost savings endeavor and not tied to some of the other, more dangerous Obama notions about deep military cost cutting.

There was a time that the U.S. could afford nation building and it needed the Marshall Plan as a result of WWII, and needing a buffer against the Soviet Union. That rationale doesn't exist - at least not in the same way - today. Iraq and Libya and Syria are not strategically important the way Europe was during the Cold War.  Indeed they are not very important at all if the U.S. concentrates on domestic, Canadian and Mexican energy resources and opportunities instead of being anti-energy-independence.

Furthermore, it's important to note that the idea of nation-building is simply not possible given the parameters of the current involvement in the region.  George Bush got Saddam Hussein and it did not solve Iraq. Obama got Bin Laden and it did not solve Pakistan, Afghanistan or for that matter Saudi Arabia. To say the effort to Westernify these countries is not winnable is a mistake. They are winnable but the process requires changing or winning hearts and minds and that is a decades-long endeavor and requires significantly more treasure than just military effort. It is not winnable in it's current form. States cannot afford its current level of involvement let alone an expanded effort. Not now. To return to true national greatness, the U.S. must retrench and concentrate on rebuilding its economy and its own energy supplies.  I've mentioned in the past that the United States faces some hard choices.  Now is the time for hawks to face those choices - at least one of them.

Again - it doesn't mean the same thing as deep military cuts.  The president who wants to cut budget items with a scalpel, wants to chop the military with a big ax. But you can't do that based on a few successful and critical hits on a terror network.  There's still Iran.  There's a muscle-flexing China.  There's still a danger of a Putin-led  reversion to Soviet communism.  The world is not a safer place thanks to the presidential bowing to the Saudi King.

That leads to the other reason to revisit the hawkish view on foreign  affairs. There are some political benefits to facing these choices too.  President Obama has been playing the foreign policy hawk card since he happened to be the guy in charge when Osama Bin Laden was found.  That's a card he hasn't really earned. Nevertheless he's planning on reminding everyone that HE got Bin Laden.  And he's tried to follow up on that theme with his adventurism in Libya.  Remember - he wants you to think he's tough.  He's pandering to the hawks but he's all over the map (no pun intended).  He's certainly open to criticism - why was Iran killing it's own civilians okay?  Why is it okay in Syria?  Why was it okay to lambaste Mubarak in provisionally an ally in Egypt and it's okay to go after Qaddafi which displayed little difference from Syria or Iran?

Meanwhile he wants to release Gitmo detainees if he's not able to try them in a civilian trial in New York.  He's creating a headache for the next president.  Again, he's nothing if not inconsistent and he's vulnerable on how he treats both enemies and allies.  Do you think Israel is happy with how they have treated by the president? Canada (Keystone pipeline)? Mexico (Fast and Furious deaths)?

In order to point out these bad decisions the Republicans will need to be consistent in their own positions - fiscal responsibility and repudiation of adventurism.  It would be logical for the president to fire back that the GOP is being hypocritical because they backed Bush but not him in aggressive foreign policy.  But he isn't being aggressive, he's being inconsistent.  And the GOP isn't being hypocritical it's putting fiscal considerations ahead of random military interventions.  There was a rationale for Afghanistan and flawed or not, for Iraq as well. Now it's simply a matter of the most important issue facing America being debt and the economy.  Even if the president doesn't understand that, Americans do.

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