The Triumph Of The Neocons, And The Death Of Fiscal Conservatism
With minor exceptions, all of the potential candidates for the GOP nomination in 2012 seem to have accepted the idea that defense spending, and the Bush-era interventionist foreign policy, are off the table when it comes time to talk spending cuts.
Contrasting himself with Haley Barbour, who said in Iowa this week that the GOP needed to accept the fact that defense cutbacks will have to be on the table in future budget negotiations, Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty is taking the opposite tack:
AIKEN, S.C. — A day after Haley Barbour called for cuts in defense spending, Tim Pawlenty went the other way.
“I don’t think we should be talking about cutting the Pentagon’s budget,” the former Minnesota governor told POLITICO after a speech at the Aiken Republican Club here. “I think we should be talking about looking for those areas where we might some efficiencies or redeploying money spent on defense to higher-priority areas within defense. In other words keep the defense budget intact, but if we find some savings, some efficiencies, some ways to redeploy money we should do that.”
The contrast between the two presidential hopefuls emerged as fissure over defense spending has begun to open within the conservative movement, with some viewing the outlays as sacrosanct and others arguing that no deficit reduction efforts can be credible.
Pawlenty, siding with the defense hawks in his first trip to the Palmetto State this cycle, reiterated his past support for a defense budget that “continues to grow,” but added that it should grow “perhaps a little more slowly.”
Pawlenty has also cast his lot with other potential Republican candidates for President who have once again taken up the flag of interventionism in the face of this year’s foreign policy crises:
When former President George W. Bush left office in 2009, liberal Democrats and a fair number of moderate, traditional Republicans proclaimed the good news: The GOP neo-cons were dead, chased from Washington in disgrace.
But as Republican presidential hopefuls begin developing foreign policy platforms, a clear and surprising pattern has emerged: They’re back and, so far, winning the fight for the direction of the party.
In spite of the tarnished reputation of the neo-cons and the movement by many in the tea party wing toward a more isolationist foreign policy that is open to real cuts in defense spending, all but one of the leading 2012 candidates — in early speeches and campaign books — appear to be toeing a hawkish, interventionist line and promising increased spending on the Pentagon.
When Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour abruptly broke with that consensus Tuesday in Iowa, he set himself apart from the field and positioned himself to fill a potentially significant opening in the 2012 GOP debate. Former Govs. Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, have differed largely only in their attempts to outdo one another in committing to what Bush called the “freedom agenda.”
“They’re all basically mainstream in their agreement about the [Obama] administration being too friendly toward enemies and too harsh toward allies,” said Randy Scheunemann, who was John McCain’s top foreign policy hand in 2008, has worked for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and has informally advised other contenders.
No where is this neo-con unity more apparent than the line that most GOP politicians are taking with regard to the ongoing crisis in Libya:
Pawlenty recently blasted Obama for an “incoherent” response and said he supports a no-fly zone.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum echoed that sentiment, calling for airstrikes and telling a Des Moines, Iowa, radio host that Reagan bombed Libya. “If you want to be Reaganesque, it seems the path is pretty clear,” said Santorum.
Romney was more cautious but echoed the theme that Obama has failed to show leadership.
“The president and his team look like deer in the headlights. Instead of leading the world, the president has been tiptoeing behind the Europeans,” Romney said in New Hampshire earlier this month.
Gingrich, Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also joined the chorus for imposing a no-fly zone on the troubled North African country and took aim at the Obama administration’s handling of the situation.
There’s been no discussion by these prospective candidates about the costs of such a mission, or the fact that that a establishing a no-fly zone has the potential to drag American forces into a wider conflict. Instead, it seems to be little more than a simplistic repetition of the same rhetoric we heard from the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11,when we were told that “democratizing” the Middle East would some how make the world safer. We’ve seen how that has turned out.
There’s simply no way you can claim to be serious about reducing Federal spending if you’re going to exempt the defense budget, which accounts for approximately 25% of the total budget, from any consideration when it comes times to make cuts. Sarah Palin made much the same argument as Pawlenty last year when she was telling Tea Party activists that their zeal for spending cuts should not be applied to the defense budget. At that time, I noted:
If we are going rein in Federal spending and make a serious move toward cutting the budget deficit, then there is no area that can be completely off the table, including a $ 700 billion defense budget. To say otherwise while claiming the mantle of fiscal conservatism is to be a completely hypocrite and, if Palin is serious about her comment that defense spending is untouchable, and similarly serious about her previous comments that tax increases are out of the question, then she is demonstrate an astounding amount of economic illiteracy.
You can’t pay for something with nothing, Mrs. Palin, and you can’t call yourself a fiscal conservative if you’re not really serious about spending cuts. And your comments demonstrate a distinct lack of seriousness.
The same goes for Tim Pawlenty, or any other Republican who thinks they can claim to be serious about fiscal responsibility while at the same time favoring a bloated defense budget, and a foreign policy that requires vast deployments all around the world, is kidding themselves.