National Security Network

Out of the Mainstream

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Report 27 October 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security national security Tea Party Veterans War Party


This election season, Americans have been looking for pragmatic answers to their anxieties about security, the wars and the global economy.  But with most national security issues flying below the campaign radar, too many candidates are offering extreme ideology and flat-out ignorance.  After years of failed policy, America continues to face real challenges on the national security front that cannot be fixed overnight.  Yet Tea Party and extreme conservatives have labeled the war in Afghanistan a "non-issue," called for privatizing the Department of Veterans Affairs and suggested a sci-fi fantasy of lasers in space to address our security woes.  At the same time, Tea Partiers and neocons are ready to be at each other's throats the day after the election.  There are solutions to our national security challenges - but we need pragmatic leaders, not extreme ideologues, to implement them. 

Conservatives lack knowledge, have no ideas on national security. Conservatives running for national office have shown a dangerous lack of knowledge and offered no realistic ideas on national security.

Rand Paul, "a complete non-issue": In an interview with the National Review, Rand Paul said that, as he campaigns, he's "not thinking about Afghanistan; foreign policy is really a complete non-issue." [Rand Paul, National Review, 7/14/10]

Sharron Angle, wants to privatize the VA: In an interview with a Nevada NPR affiliate on May 19, Angle said "it's proper that the VA isn't covering her father's prescription drugs ‘if' we ‘are working towards a privatized system.'"  [Sharron Angle, via Nevada Public Radio, 5/19/10. Washington Post, 6/14/10]

Ken Buck, "Buckpedaling": On Meet the Press, Colorado senatorial candidate Ken Buck had only a non-answer to a question on Afghanistan.  The Denver Post editorialized on Buck's positions on the war: "Buck's critics now call his tap dance ‘Buckpedaling.'... His position on Afghanistan has morphed so much it's almost incoherent."  [Denver Post, 10/15/10]

Christine O'Donnell, confusing Afghanistan and Iraq: O'Donnell confused her talking points while trying to offer an Afghanistan critique:  "Well, I would ask him, if he's serious about making sure that Afghanistan doesn't become a safe haven for terrorists, why, on the campaign trail, he has said that he supports this random time withdrawal?...When we withdraw from Iraq, we need to make sure that there are benchmarks in place..." Her opponent, Chris Coons, responded by saying, "She said withdraw from Iraq. I suspect you meant withdraw from Afghanistan." Flustered, O'Donnell answered, "No. From Afghanistan. Did I say Iraq? I'm sorry. Thank you, Chris. You're correct. I meant Afghanistan." [Delaware Senate Debate, 10/13/10]

John Raese, "1,000 lasers... in the sky": Raese wants to put 1,000 lasers "in the sky" (a plan administrations of both parties have rejected as infeasible) to defend against Iran and "Ahmed-dina-dingo." "If there is a rogue missile aimed at our country, we have 33 minutes to figure out what we're going to do," Raese said at an event sponsored by the League of American Voters. "We are sitting with the only technology in the world that works and it's laser technology. We need 1000 laser systems put in the sky and we need it right now. That is [of] paramount importance." Raese said the system would cost $20 billion. [MSNBC, 10/13/10]

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), confusing Sunni and Shia: "It was like my fifth visit to Iraq that I found out something that was really horrifying. And that is that the Sunnis and Shias consider each other infidels worthy of killing. Um, I did not realize that. I thought that they were just different parts of the same religion. ... I did think it was just different denominations." [Joe Wilson, 10/15/10]

After November 2, "Tea Party vs. War Party." Richard Viguerie, longtime conservative strategist who has allied with the Tea Party explained that, "We're all on the same page until the polls close November 2," after that, "a massive, almost historic battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party begins." As Pat Buchanan described it, it's the "Tea Party vs. War Party." Conservatives find themselves torn between two polar extremes: neoconservative interventionism and extreme isolationism.  "If Obama makes good on his pledge of full withdrawal of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of 2011, will the Tea Party and Republican right oppose that withdrawal and join the War Party in demanding that we retain an army in Iraq indefinitely?  If Obama refuses to go to war against Iran, a war that would send oil prices soaring, close the Persian Gulf and be a disaster for the global economy, will the Tea Party join the War Party in denouncing Obama for not launching a third war in the Near East?  If Obama begins his promised withdrawal from Afghanistan next July, will Tea Party Republicans join the War Party and the generals in accusing Obama of inviting an American defeat?" Buchanan asks.

New York Times correspondent Peter Baker writes in Foreign Policy Magazine, "When it comes to foreign policy, the unity of the Tea Party stops at the water's edge.  Its leaders are hopelessly divided over everything from the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism policies to free trade and the promotion of democracy abroad. And with the Tea Party increasingly serving as the Republican Party's driving force, the schism underscores the emerging foreign-policy debate on the American right. So recently united behind President George W. Bush's war on terror, Republicans now find themselves splintering into familiar interventionist and isolationist factions, the Dick Cheney side of the party eager to reshape the world versus the economic populists more concerned about cutting taxes at home than spending them on adventures abroad."

Neoconservatives are already fighting back, with the "Defending Defense" project, launched by of a number of neoconservative leaders including Bill Kristol.  Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute described the project as "very much a discussion to remind conservatives what their core beliefs are." [Peter Baker, Foreign Policy, 10/10. Richard Viguerie, via Human Events, 10/1/10. Pat Buchanan, 10/1/10. Thomas Donnelly, via Josh Rogin, 10/4/10]

Back in the real world, progressive and pragmatic policies are showing results.

Terrorism:  As former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke stated: "It is an objective and undeniable fact that U.S. counterterrorism efforts have reduced the overall threat from what it was a few years ago." [Third Way, 7/1/10. Richard Clarke, 5/9/10]

America's wars: The United States has worked to correct the course of America's multiple wars, and bring them to a responsible end. U.S. combat forces were redeployed from Iraq by August 31, keeping an Obama campaign promise. As Gen. Odierno has explained, "We're not abandoning Iraq. We're changing our commitment from military-dominated to one that is civilian-led."  The United States has also brought renewed attention, resources, and scrutiny to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the surrounding region - while pushing back on extreme conservatives' desire for an endless military commitment [NSN, 1/25/10. Washington Post, 7/13/10]

Iran: Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Kenneth Pollack writes in the National Interest, "The United States has achieved some truly remarkable feats in pursuit of the White House's Iran policy over the course of the past twelve months, achievements many critics from left, right and center all thought impossible." [Kenneth Pollack, National Interest, 10/20/10]

Nuclear Security: The United States has implemented a nuclear security agenda that makes our country more secure.  In April, Washington hosted an unprecedented Nuclear Security Summit, which focused on the dangers of nuclear terrorism and the need to lock down all vulnerable nuclear materials. The summit resulted in concrete commitments from states such as Chile, Kazakhstan, Mexico, and Ukraine to give up their highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium. In addition, the United States negotiated a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia that George Shultz, Madeleine Albright, Gary Hart and Chuck Hagel said, " increases U.S. national security" and which has the strong support of the United States military. [NSN, 4/9/10. NSN, 4/14/10. George Shultz, Madeleine Albright, Gary Hart and Chuck Hagel, 9/10/10. NSN 7/28/10]

In addition, progressives in Congress and the administration focused attention on the most likely threats we will face in the future: climate change and energy security, cyber security, the global economy and relations with rising powers. 

What We're Reading

Rescuers battled rough seas to reach remote Indonesian islands pounded by a 10-foot tsunami that swept away homes, killing at least 113 people.

An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace.

Russia has agreed to return to the war in Afghanistan at the request of the Western states which helped the mujahedin drive to Russian forces out of the country 21 years ago.

Japan may increase the size of its submarine fleet as concerns rise that the expansion of the Chinese navy is tipping the regional balance of power.

The Obama administration is pushing to revive a failed deal for Iran to send some of its nuclear stockpile overseas in exchange for assistance with peaceful nuclear technology.

As Iraq's political blocs remain unable to form a national government, lawmakers and residents here in Anbar Province are challenging central control of the natural resources within their territory.

A team from the newly formed U.S. Civilian Response Corps is building a significant presence across the southern half of Sudan in preparation for expected violence when the area votes on becoming a sovereign state.

Each day hundreds of illegal immigrants cross the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, providing opportunity for al Qaeda.

North Korea demanded that South Korea resume large-scale food aid and joint economic projects in return for regular reunions of family members separated by the Korean War more than a half century ago.

Sub-Saharan Africa's economic growth rate is on pace to boost the region past its pre-global crisis levels.

Commentary of the Day

Elizabeth Dickinson and Joshua Keating explain how the foreign press sees the Tea Party: as a reactionary, American declinist, Islam-bashing movement.

John Lee thinks that Chinese diplomatic efforts in Asia have reached a point of diminishing return, drawing more nations back to Washington as a hedge against the budding Super Power.

Mark Landler writes that the White House is rightly concerned about Lebanese stability.