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Posted at 11:22 AM ET, 02/13/2011

And what about the rest of the world?

By Jennifer Rubin

CPAC speakers, with the exception of John Bolton, had plenty to say about the economy but virtually nothing about Egypt, The Post reported yesterday:

On a day of history in the Middle East, there was one topic virtually absent from the speeches of prospective 2012 Republican presidential candidates at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee's convention: Egypt.

The would-be contenders - and others who addressed the gathering - struck a series of common conservative themes, such as reducing the size of government as well as projecting strength and muscle abroad. All attacked President Obama for his domestic and foreign policies.

In a situation that was changing minute by minute, it's not surprising that no one risked sounding off-key. But this raises a key point: How will the GOP contenders fare against Obama on foreign policy and national defense?

It might cheer the fiscal hawks to hear Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels tout his willingness to ax defense spending, but, if he runs, he's going to have to explain how he is going to fight the war on terror, deal with Iran and stand up to Hugo Chavez. Like Mitt Romney on health care, he is kidding himself if he thinks he can just not talk about it. (A former Bush official recently confided, "He's smart. He's funny. But he never showed the slightest interest in foreign policy.")

Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty spent the most time of the top candidates in their speeches on national security, but they will be be pushed to articulate a more specific position on everything from Iran to China to Cuba. Conservatives may not like Obama's approach to the world, but he's going to be fluid on the issues and have the advantage of two years as commander in chief. Will either of these be ready to confront him on the serial errors of his foreign policy team?

Likewise, one wonders who, if anyone, is going to take on Obama's gambit to slash defense, not to lower the budget deficit, but to shift spending to domestic programs. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly explain:

Republicans will not just resize the government but reshape it, ensuring that Washington does well those jobs it alone must do, and otherwise giving private enterprise and civil society the greatest opportunity to flourish. And the one indispensable task of the federal government -- indeed a principal reason why the Founders felt the need to replace the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution -- is national defense. The saliency of this need is no less apparent now, when we are fighting a war in Central Asia and globally against Islamist terrorists, facing an increasingly ambitious China, dealing daily with securing the great commons of the sea, space, and cyberspace, witnessing continuing instability in the Middle East, and may soon face not one but two rogue regimes armed with nuclear weapons.

The good news is that, in the reconsidered 2011 continuing resolution, the House Republican leadership is prepared to treat defense differently than domestic discretionary spending, adding about $8 billion to the defense levels now in force. . . . It is, however, undeniably the case that the defense budget levels in the resolution the House leadership brings to the floor will be lower than those requested by Barack Obama in his FY2011 budget submission

The authors are right to be nervous about Congress and the presidential contenders. We are beset by multiple challenges in the world. And yet, as Schmitt and Donnelly point out, we have been telling our military to do "too much with too little for too long." The Ron and Rand Paul-Mitch Daniels school of thought would be to do less. But to the extent the party has not drunk the neo-isolationist Kool-Aid, those who do favor a robust foreign policy are going to have to make the case for maintaining a defense that is adequate to the tasks at hand. As for Congress, Schmitt and Donnelly observe: "When the 2012 budget is released, we will truly know whether the new Republicans have the wit and the steadfastness to resist the temptation to slash defense mindlessly, and to insist that a strong defense is entirely compatible with a fiscally responsible and appropriately limited federal government."

As for the 2012 contenders, we'll know when one of them gives a mature foreign policy speech who is equipped to take on the notion that defense spending should be treated like defense spending and to explain precisely what is wrong with Obama's foreign policy. After all, these guys are running for commander in chief, not OMB director.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 13, 2011; 11:22 AM ET
Categories:  2012 campaign  
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Next: What did we learn from CPAC?

Comments

As odd as it sounds, in order to save money, it's almost certainly necessary to INCREASE defense spending. A Republican candidate who can make this case will have a good shot at claiming the mantle for the "top foreign policy candidate" in the field - for whatever that's comes to be worth.

The thinking is that if we cut our defense budget too much and shrink from the world accordingly, someone else is going to fill that vacuum (China, Russia, Iran, etc...). At some point, something is going to happen that would not have happened had we retained a bold force projection. This "something" may well be something we won't be able to tolerate and we end up in a hot war. The $1 we decided to save because of a need for fiscal restraint today ends up costing $10 tomorrow because now we're in a war.

Unless we decide to go the isolationist route (I can't see that happening), then the above scenario must be considered if it's decided that we need to cut defense spending to save some money. My guess is that the Republican primary voters will understand the perils of a shrunken defense budget, and whoever makes this case will have a step up on whoever doesn't.

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | February 13, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I thought from your eyes(Jennifer Rubin), who cares about the rest of the world, ONLY ISRAEL MATTERS. Isn't it true?

Posted by: abraham3 | February 13, 2011 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Gary Johnson has the only realistic foreign policy platform which is the center piece of national security. All the rest show every sign of following in Obama's footsteps with a mixture of crony capitalism for national security contractors and interventionism based on public opinion survey.

Posted by: Wonderingaloud999 | February 13, 2011 2:13 PM | Report abuse

"...But if our nation goes over a financial Niagara, we won't have much strength and, eventually, we won't have peace. We are currently borrowing the entire defense budget from foreign investors. Within a few years, we will be spending more on interest payments than on national security. ..."

Might want to read Paul Kennedy's classic "Rise and Fall of Great Powers". Mitch Daniels sure has.

Ifthe U.S. must continue to be the world's policeman and guarantor of free shipping lanes, then the U.S. should follow the 13th century Swiss model: charge for the service. Worked quite well for Bush41's First Iraq War - the last time the U.S. had a positive trade balance.

This is not 1945, or 1955, or 1965. The Bush43's Second Iraq war on borrowed money was the end of Pax Americana. Get used to it.

Posted by: K2K2 | February 13, 2011 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2 | February 13, 2011 6:36 PM

Ifthe U.S. must continue to be the world's policeman and guarantor of free shipping lanes, then the U.S. should follow the 13th century Swiss model: charge for the service. Worked quite well for Bush41's First Iraq War - the last time the U.S. had a positive trade balance.

____________________________________

The US stopped being the world's policeman long ago, and started running a protection racket.

That's what happens when one has to much power. No one is going to pay the US to push it's obsolete navy ships around in the world. They were serving the interests of those drunk on Empire, not other states.

"This is not 1945, or 1955, or 1965. The Bush43's Second Iraq war on borrowed money was the end of Pax Americana. Get used to it."

Right on the money!

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 13, 2011 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Wonderingaloud999 | February 13, 2011 2:13 PM

Gary Johnson has the only realistic foreign policy platform which is the center piece of national security. All the rest show every sign of following in Obama's footsteps with a mixture of crony capitalism for national security contractors and interventionism based on public opinion survey.

_______________________________________

Obama's footsteps are in lock step with Bush's footsteps.

The only speaker that presented anything unique was Ron Paul. Gary Johnson means well, but humanitarian intervention is the role of the UN. After all, the Iraq war was partly sold to us under the guise of liberating the Iraqi people was it not?

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 13, 2011 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | February 13, 2011 12:24 PM

As odd as it sounds, in order to save money, it's almost certainly necessary to INCREASE defense spending. A Republican candidate who can make this case will have a good shot at claiming the mantle for the "top foreign policy candidate" in the field - for whatever that's comes to be worth.

None will be able to make this case because it is absurd on it's face. Our defense budget is already ten times greater that China. Even if we were to half our budget, China would be nowhere near being able to fill any vacuum. Russia has already learned the hard way, that Empire is guaranteed to result in bankruptcy. China are more interested in making money than starting wars.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 13, 2011 7:14 PM | Report abuse

"CPAC speakers, ... had plenty to say about the economy but virtually nothing about Egypt,..."

And why should they, it is none of our business. Let the Egyptians determine their own future.

"But to the extent the party has not drunk the neo-isolationist Kool-Aid,..."

There is nothing isolationist about a non-interventionist foreign policy (which is what Ron and Rand Paul support). Trying to claim that there is only highlights your lack of understanding with foreign policy.

Posted by: MDLaxer | February 14, 2011 11:53 PM | Report abuse

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