Which 2012 GOP contender will lead on national security?
In the past, I've noted the possibility of a split in the conservative movement between Reagan-esque internationalists and neo-isolationists. That battle, I suspect, may manifest itself in the 2012 Republican contest.
Mitch Daniels has signaled his attitude toward national security: less is more. He has talked about re-examining our international commitments. Meanwhile, others like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc) have stressed that while the Pentagon could use some reform, the primary function of government is to keep us safe. There is no "peace dividend" when we are in the middle of a war.
It is interesting, therefore, that Mitt Romney's PAC sent out a press release over the weekend informing us:
"Governor Romney left Friday, January 7 for a one-week trip to Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. He has a series of high-level meetings scheduled, including with President Karzai of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and King Abdullah II of Jordan."
Of all the presidential contenders, Romney perhaps has spoken out the most and with the most fluidity on the international challenges we face and the fallacy of the notion that America will inevitably "decline."
This isn't an easy time to defend defense spending and robust war operations. But the evidence is there that we penny-pinch on defense and underestimate our opponents at our own peril. Ironically, after trying to sell Obama's defense cuts on Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates the next day warned that we "underestimated elements of [China's] military modernization." So should we have cancelled the production of F-22s? After photographs appeared last week of what appeared to be China's first stealth bomber, The Washington Post reported:
"We've been watching these developments all along," Gates said, briefing reporters. "I've been concerned about the development of the anti-ship ballistic missile ever since I took this job" in 2007.
Gates intimated, however, that the U.S. government was surprised about the stealth fighter, called a J-20.
"We knew they were working on the stealth aircraft," he said. "What we've seen is that they maybe are somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted."
So shouldn't GOP presidential candidates -- who want the job of commander in chief -- be pointing out that it is precisely because of the unexpected threats and the unplanned war that we should think twice before cutting defense spending too deeply? We will find out in the months ahead who is up for the job of leading on national defense issues and who plays to the "Fortress America" crowd.
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