No Longer Ronald Reagan's Party
The Republican Party used to be the party standing for a strong defense. This was true from at least the Goldwater times. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ronald Reagan strengthened the GOP's commitment to a strong military and simultaneously devoted much time to explaining this issue to the American people. He frequently reminded Republicans of various stripes that the GOP was a three-legged stool, consisting of social, fiscal, and defense conservatives. Each of these stools belonged in the GOP, and none of them was more important than the others.
Thus, the GOP was kept united, and the country was kept safe.
In 2000, another Republican president re-committed the GOP to the goal of a strong defense, after twelve years of continous defense cuts.
Since the late 2000s, however, Republicans have been abandoning this commitment and principle, with the result that nowadays, most Republican politicians, and the party as a whole, are no longer committed to a strong military. In the best case, they're indifferent, and in the worst cases (e.g., Sen. Coburn, Rep. Paul), they're hostile and supportive of massive defense cuts.
In 2008, the GOP nominated a candidate who openly endorsed nuclear disarmament, cessation of development of nuclear weapons, and massive defense cuts entailing, inter alia, closing scores of crucial equipment programs.
In 2009, when President Obama proposed his first round of defense cuts, few Republicans bothered to even protest. Some, like Sen. McCain, openly endorsed these cuts. The result was the closure of over thirty weapon programs, including the F-22, the Next Generation Bomber, and the Multiple Kill Vehicle designed for existing ground- and naval-based interceptors.
In 2010, Obama announced the second round, which contradicted his own Quadrennial Defense Review, and signed the New START, which mandates dramatic reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal and imposes significant limits on missile defense. Russia (which threatened a new arms race if the U.S. wouldn't ratify the treaty) even threatens to withdraw from the treaty if the U.S. makes any improvements to its BMD system. Very few Republicans protested. In fact, thirteen GOP senators voted for it -- i.e., for weakening America's defense -- to invoke cloture on it, and to reject conservative senators' amendments to it.
In January 2011, Obama ordered Robert Gates to cut another $78 billion from the defense budget over the next five years (2012-2016) while allowing him to reinvest another $100 billion's worth of savings in modernization...until Obama decided to impose even more cuts on the DOD. On April 13, Obama demanded yet another reduction of defense spending by $400 billion over twelve years, on top of all the military cuts already administered. Again, few Republicans protested. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin Brady even declared that defense spending should be subjected to large-scale cuts, claiming that "everything has to be on the table" -- as if defense had not been on it previously. It has been, and history teaches that when it is, it quickly becomes the only thing on the table. So far, only the DOD has been subjected to large budget cuts, while all other agencies and programs have escaped with tiny, if any, reductions.
The truth is that when politicians say "everything must be on the table," they usually mean that only defense should be on the table. No one has proposed, and the GOP has not committed, to close unconstitutional departments, reduce entitlement costs, end foreign aid, or close the DHS.
Republicans, like Democrats, now treat defense as just another line item in the federal budget.
Then, Republicans brokered the "debt ceiling deal" with President Obama. Under its terms, defense spending will be cut by $450 billion over a decade, and additional cuts of $500-600 billion (the "sequester mechanism") will kick in if the Super Committee can't come up with a $1.2-trillion deficit reduction plan by November 23, or if Congress rejects such a plan. This will be a total cut of $1050 billion over a decade -- i.e., $105 billion per year on average. The FY2012 core defense budget is $513 billion.
The vast majority of Republicans, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, voted for this diabolical deal. Few Republicans protested against the defense cuts contained therein.
Even if the sequester is not triggered, the first round of budget reductions (which will result in shrinkage of the force structure and closure of modernization programs) will significantly weaken the military.
Furthermore, recent reports by DefenseNews and an admission by Secretary Panetta reveal that Obama has now unilaterally imposed a $465-billion budget cut on the DOD -- $65 billion above what the debt ceiling deal requires. This is Obama's own choice, driven by his own determination to gut America's defense and use it as a billpayer for entitlement programs.
This will result in a dramatic weakening of the military. For example, the Navy will probably decommission the George Washington 25 years ahead of its planned decommissioning and delay the construction of future carriers, including the Ford and the Kennedy. Severe cuts in force structure are also being considered.
So far, few Congressional Republicans have protested against this. Some Republican stalwarts, such as Rep. Allen West and Rep. Randy Forbes, have been sounding the alarm bells about defense cuts in general, particularly about the sequester. But only a handful of them have protested against the first round of debt-ceiling-mandated defense gutting or Obama's diktat to cut defense budget by $465 billion over a decade.
By June 27, 2011, Rep. Allen West was so alarmed that he expressed concern about the direction the GOP is going in and judged that none of the candidates who attended the May/June 2011 GOP primary debates understood defense issues or was committed to protecting the U.S. Yet even he voted for the debt ceiling deal.
Frank Gaffney is now rewarding Buck McKeon with the "Keeper of the Flame Award" for...exactly what? Voting for the deal?
Furthermore, few Republicans have been willing to stand up to their party's leadership and party colleagues like Coburn and Paul and tell them "no more defense cuts!"
That's because Republicans are no longer committed to, and no longer care about, the military.
Today, the GOP -- contrary to popular belief -- is no longer the party of a strong defense. It's now America's second pro-weak-defense party, desiring to use the military as a billpayer for runaway domestic spending and to treat defense as just another line item in the federal budget. It's indistinguishable from the Democratic Party in that respect.
If the Republican Party wants to redeem itself, it should publicly tell the Obama administration the following:
- The Congress, not the president, sets spending levels, authorizes and closes programs, determines end strength and the force structure, and regulates the military.
- The GOP will not accept any further defense cuts -- whether in the budget topline, modernization programs, force structure, strategic arsenals, or readiness.
- The Congress will scrutinize every dollar the DOD requests and spends, and savings will be made, but any savings will be reinvested in defense priorities, not used to pay for runaway domestic spending.
And let the Republican Party follow up these words with actions. The honorable U.S. military deserves no less.