Conservative politicization is revealing itself once again on the most important national security issues of the day. From nuclear proliferation to Afghanistan to the Middle East, two troubling and parallel trends regarding conservatives and their positions on national security and foreign policy have taken root: they are willing to politicize national security at any cost and they lack credibility to speak substantively on national security. Just today, Mitt Romney, in defiance of every bipartisan expert brought to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote that the New START Treaty is a mistake and should not be ratified. Similarly, Sarah Palin expressed baseless opinions on the Middle East on her Facebook page that are not rooted in reality. And during the Fourth of July weekend, the leader of the Republican Party, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, demonstrated clear ignorance on Afghanistan as he incompetently veered from GOP consensus on Afghanistan for political gain. His comments threw the conservative movement into confusion, drawing the ire of neoconservatives who have supported endless war in Afghanistan, and who succeeded in forcing a retraction from Steele. Time and again, conservatives, as exemplified by these leaders of the conservative movement, have demonstrated that they care more about the politics behind national security issues than the substantive issue of keeping Americans safe and prosperous.
A new term has been added to the lexicon of debate over constitutional law: "anti-military loon." Amid serious national debates about free speech, war powers, commercial law, and other topics, conservatives have chosen to attack the Supreme Court nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan on grounds that she that she has "hostility to the U.S. military" because she "tried to bar military recruiters from Harvard Law School." This could not be further from the truth.
Arguments for an Iraq-style surge in Afghanistan that were launched this weekend by conservative politicians, notably Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are missing one crucial element – a correct understanding of what actually happened in Iraq. On the airwaves they advocated a one-size fits-all approach to resolving the conflict, predictably arguing for an Iraq-style surge in Afghanistan. However, they fail to comprehend what actually happened in Iraq. Experts attest that the crucial factor in dampening the violence in Iraq were the deals – and not the temporary troop increase - that U.S. forces cut with Sunni insurgents, creating the so-called Anbar Awakening.
On Friday, one of the GOP’s top national security voices in the House of Representatives, Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), contradicted the leadership of his own party by acknowledging the reality that U.S. prisons are capable of holding Guantanamo detainees. Leading conservatives have launched numerous political attacks over the last few months arguing that closing Guantanamo would bring terrorists into our backyards. These arguments, as President Obama said in May, are not “rational.”
A clear and striking split has emerged amongst conservatives in response to the situation in Iran. Moderates, realists and GOP foreign policy leaders have all come out in support of the Administration’s approach and attacked neoconservative calls for meddling more in Iran. On the other hand, neoconservatives and the party’s political leadership have taken to the op-ed pages and the airwaves to denounce Obama’s approach and have called for more direct intervention in Iran.
This crisis is critical to the security of the United States. Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, has served as safe haven for al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups, has frequently gone to war with India, and holds some of the keys to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Yet despite Pakistan’s critical importance, we are only now emerging from eight years without a comprehensive Pakistan strategy.
The successful operation to free Captain Richard Phillips off the coast of Somalia is a small but significant victory for the Obama national security team. However, this small incident represents a much larger and continuing problem. The challenge going forward will be addressing piracy in the context of Somalia’s greater problems and the US’s many competing priorities -- and finding approaches that will be effective in the context of the difficult US history there.
The Obama administration is dealing with the crisis by seeking a global solution for a global problem. Yesterday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner unveiled a proposal to shore up the IMF and ensure that global institutions have the resources they need to help failing economies. There is still no international consensus on this plan and much difficult work must be done before the upcoming G-20 summit in April. Unfortunately, rather than addressing these serious issues and helping find a constructive solution, conservatives in Washington are playing politics by railing against earmarks, which make up only 2% of the federal budget.