Will The GOP’s Love For Endless War Trump Fiscal Conservatism?

The GOP is facing a battle between its fiscal conservatism and i's military adventurism.

As the 112th Congress begins work on whatever budget cuts they plan on coming up with, Republicans are already starting to fight over whether the Pentagon should be on the table:

WASHINGTON — To hear the Republican leadership tell it, the once-sacred Pentagon budget, protected by the party for generations, is suddenly on the table. But a closer look shows that even as Speaker John A. Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, insist on the need for military cuts, divisions have opened among Republicans about whether, and how much, to chop Pentagon spending that comes to more than a half trillion dollars a year.

Those differences were on display Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where the traditional Republican who now leads the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Howard P. McKeon, fought back against proposed cuts in the Pentagon budget even as fledgling committee members supported by the Tea Party said that the nation’s debts amounted to a national security risk.

“I cannot say it strongly enough: I will not support any measures that stress our forces and jeopardize the lives of our men and women in uniform,” Mr. McKeon said in an opening statement that followed up on a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urging him not to stop work on the Marines’ $14.4. billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a combined landing craft and tank for amphibious assaults that Mr. Gates canceled this month.

But Representative Chris Gibson, a Tea Party-endorsed freshman Republican and a retired Army colonel from New York’s Hudson River Valley, made it clear that no part of the Pentagon’s $550 billion budget — some $700 billion including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — was immune.

“This deficit that we have threatens our very way of life, and everything needs to be on the table,” Mr. Gibson told William J. Lynn III, the deputy defense secretary, who testified at the hearing along with Gen. Peter J. Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army, and other service vice chiefs.


In an interview, Representative Vicky Hartzler, a freshman Republican from Missouri who was backed by former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, said that her priorities were jobs and “reining in runaway spending.” But when asked about the Pentagon budget, Ms. Hartzler, who defeated former Representative Ike Skelton, the longtime Democratic chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said that “now is not the time to talk about defense cuts while we are engaged in two theaters with men and women in harm’s way.”

Ms. Hartzler said she questioned the $78 billion in cuts to the military budget over the next five years, and added, “I will be a staunch defender of military installations in my district and across the country.” Ms. Hartzler’s district has two large military bases, Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base, home to the B-2 stealth bomber and a new ground-control station for unmanned Predator drones.

How this argument turns out depends in no small part on where freshman like Congresswoman Hartzler come on down on this issue. As I noted during the election, there did not seem at the time to be a clear “Tea Party” position on foreign policy issues, and the likelihood was that most of the freshman Representatives would simply fall in line with traditional GOP foreign policy views:

With very few exceptions, I would except that you’ll find most of the incoming “Tea Party” Congressmen and Senators adopt whatever the Republican line happens to be on foreign policy at the time, specifically something resembling the neo-conservativism that marked foreign policy during the Bush years. Notwithstanding the libertarian tendencies in the movement, these people are, at heart, populist Republicans, and they’ll adopt the same flag-waving-as-foreign-policy attitude that we’ve seen from the GOP in recent years. Already we’ve seen signs of this as Sarah Palin has taken it upon herself to make it clear within the Tea Party movement that fiscal conservatism shouldn’t apply when it comes to defense spending, and I expect that the same argument will be made when it comes to the foreign policy adventures that the Palin/Hannity/Limbaugh wing of the party seems to love so much.

This doesn’t bode well for the future.

Applying the simplistic populism of the Tea Party to an area as complex as foreign policy usually means endorsement of gun-ho militarism, especially when you consider that Liz Cheney and John Bolton seem to be as popular among certain segments of the Tea Party crowd as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. This is the crowd that thinks that the answer to the Afghanistan problem is more troops, and that bombing Iran will accomplish something other than setting off a general war and economic crisis.

The problem that the GOP faces, though, is that it is going to have to talk about serious defense cuts int he future, including scaling back international commitments, if they are going to live up to the fiscal promises that they’ve made. You cannot seriously address the budget deficits, then there is no area that can be completely off the table, including a the defense budget. To say otherwise while claiming the mantle of fiscal conservatism is to be a complete hypocrite. Additionally, it simply isn’t politically possible to put everything except defense spending on the table. If you’re going to restructure entitlements, cut farm subsidies, and otherwise cut back in other areas, then you’ll have to do in defense spending too. Otherwise, you’ll never get a bill passed and you will have wasted everyone’s time. Our current fiscal problems are presenting the GOP with an excellent opportunity to step away from the military adventurism of the Bush Administration (anyone remember when Republicans criticized President Clinton’s interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo?), let’s hope they don’t blow this opportunity.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. george says:

    If fiscal conservatism doesn’t apply to overseas interventions, then it isn’t fiscal conservatism, its just a different flavor of big spending.

    Spending to defend the homeland is one thing. Spending to police the world is another.

  2. anjin-san says:

    When has the GOP ever practiced fiscal conservatism? Did I miss something?

  3. Barry says:

    Seconding here – the GOP made the decision to abandon that no later than the early 1980’s, about 30 years ago. They’ve never wavered an inch on that since.

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Defense is one of the legitimate jobs of the federal government, and it is one of the things it is better to have spent too much on and never need it than to have spent too little on and find out too late. If you want to cut spending, the GOP has for a long time targeted the dept of Education. What a waste of money. Too many lawyers and not enough jobs huh, Doug? Else where do you get the time to post such stupid blogs? Not much of a case load Dougie? But if I read your blog, I would never hire you as a lawyer.

  5. mpw280 says:

    Endless war, nice start to a biased idea. Makes me want to read, maybe, the first line. You might want to go work for CNN with headlines like that, it proves your credentials as a party line toting drone. mpw

  6. tom p says:

    Long story short: You want to cut the deficit???? For real??? End the Bush tax cuts (and I mean ALL of them). Not willing to do that? You are a lying gutless weasel….

  7. Terrye says:

    Endless war? Please. The Constitution actually states that the federal government is supposed to defend the country. It was one of the few things that they are required to do. And I realize that to some people there is an expiration date on that…if we can not rap it all up nice and neat in 2 to 3 years then screw it..but in the world it is not that simple. That is why even a liberal like Obama ends up sending the drones into Pakistan.

  8. george says:

    No one is complaining about defending the country. Sending troops overseas on the other hand is a luxury we can do without.

    I’m pretty sure the founders didn’t have sending soldiers overseas in mind when they wrote the constitution. In fact, most of them seemed to have strong feelings against getting involved in overseas wars.

  9. Highlander says:

    It is about the $$$$$$. Most GOP’s are whores just like their Democrat counterparts. They just work on the opposite side of the street. They just use the political rouge of faux fiscal conservatism to sucker in conservatives into voting for them.

    Big corporate “defense” buys the GOP congress for a very few pennies on the dollar. And you have the kind of decade long military debacle, where it costs us 5 to 7 million dollars for every supposed enemy we kill. Rome could’nt afford it at the end, and neither can we.

    There is a difference between huburistic military adventurism and the actual defense of the nation.

  10. TG Chicago says:

    “The Constitution actually states that the federal government is supposed to defend the country.”

    True, but Iraq and Afghanistan have not been admitted as states to the union. Yet.

  11. anjin-san says:

    > the federal government is supposed to defend the country.

    When did Iraq attack America?

  12. anjin-san says:

    Where does the constitution authorize almost 200 bases on foreign soil?

  13. anjin-san says:

    > And I realize that to some people there is an expiration date on that…

    I guess General of the Army/Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces/President Eisenhower was one of those. Have you ever read his farewell address? Beck & Limbaugh probably skipped over that one.

    Here is some of the wisdom this remarkable man left us. Sadly, it is forgotten by the people who call themselves “conservatives” today:

    Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative.

    Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

    Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.

    How far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without?

    “I find war detestable but those who praise it without participating in it even more so”

    We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security.

    When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war.

  14. Herb says:

    I think Terrye and Zelsdorf show why there’s little appetite for the GOP to go after defense spending. Of course, I don’t believe the GOP is more concerned with hitting Democrats on spending than they are in actually reigning it in.

    Actions speak louder than words. See: The Bush Years.

  15. mannning says:

    I suppose that defending ourselves on our own soil a la Fortress America of the 30’s makes sense to some people. Does this mean we give up insuring freedom of the seas for our merchant ships on the high seas and oil tankers over in the Gulf and the Malaka Straits? Does this mean we won’t lift a finger if Russia decides to invade the Europe that we pulled our forces out of, leaving the continent open to aggression? Does this mean we abandon the Taiwanese that we have a defense treaty with to the Chinese? Does this mean that we stay out of the Middle East conflicts that may arise, say, between Iran and Saudi Arabia and their huge oil reserves that we want to import to run our industries and our transport? Smaller nations have vital resources in copper, lithium, manganese, and more, but their governments need support to maintain stability and to fend off aggressors such as happened in Kuwait. Shall we pull out of South Korea and allow the NK madmen to invade with little penalty? We have vital commercial interests and facilities around the world that could be threatened with takeover should our armed forces be withdrawn or seriously curtailed. Their loss would be a devastating blow to our economy. Do we want every threat to have simply one response—a nuclear one?.

    We would be rather safe for a while, of course, perhaps for a few years, until it becomes clear that we are seriously isolated and being starved for resources..Is THAT what is being advocated here? Get real!

  16. sam says:

    “Will The GOP’s Love For Endless War Trump Fiscal Conservatism?”

    Shorter Manning: Yes.

  17. Ben Wolf says:

    Slightly longer Manning: I’m way smarter than Washington or Eisenhower.

    Just out of curiosity, which branch are you currently serving in?

  18. anjin-san says:

    Does this mean Manning is unable to craft a reasonable argument? Yes. No one is proposing what you are prattling on about. Not wasting time on it.

  19. IP727 says:

    anjin-san says:
    Friday, January 28, 2011 at 10:19
    Does this mean Manning is unable to craft a reasonable argument? Yes. No one is proposing what you are prattling on about. Not wasting time on it.

    That is exactly what your crowd of leftist Quislings are proposing.

  20. Steven Donegal says:

    I’m really curious what actual evidence you can point to that Republicans are fiscal conservatives. They talk the talk, but that’s not how they act.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    “That is exactly what your crowd of leftist Quislings are proposing.”

    Ha! This from the same person who has leveled the McCarthyism charge against others…that’s awfully rich…

  22. mannning says:

    Since my questions received no answers from the Fortress America crowd, one must assume that the answer to them all is YES. Between these yes answers and their consequences and the vapid accusations that the GOP loves continued war, lies the ethereal “reduce our military commitments” demand without stating which commitments should be abandoned and why. Which peoples should we stop supporting and why? Which peoples should we continue to support and why? And, obviously, what the financial consequences would be for each decision.

    This is abject refusal to think through the real and practical consequences of an airy “reduce our commitments” on literally millions of people, and it has precious little to do with any so-called love of war by the GOP, which is political hogwash. Anyone that has served in combat knows the horrors of war, and the GOP has its share of veterans that have fought for our ideals of freedom, so we have here a failure to think coupled with a gratuitous insult to the GOP. Par for the course here, I guess.

  23. anjin-san says:

    > Since my questions received no answers from the Fortress America crowd,

    Probably because there is no such thing. Don’t let that stop you from choking that particular chicken…

  24. anjin-san says:

    > I’m really curious what actual evidence you can point to that Republicans are fiscal conservatives

    GOP fiscal conservatism is just a brand of snake oil that they have successfully sold to people who have apparently never been exposed to a new source besides Fox News. Sort of like “Snow Cherries from France”. Sounds good, the only problem is that they don’t exist.

  25. george says:

    > Since my questions received no answers from the Fortress America crowd, one must assume that the answer to them all is YES.

    This has been hashed out in several threads, and there’s little new to say on any side. You think its important that America go into deep deficit rather than negotiate treaties, and don’t believe our allies have the ability to re-arm themselves, nor the military experience to do anything with those arms if they do re-arm themselves. I and some others disagree, there is evidence that Japan and Europe, for instance, have had at least a little military capability and knowledge in the past, and might well be able to rediscover it if forced to do so.

    The same argument that says its important that people learn to take the initiative to take care of themselves (ie not have a nanny state) applies internationally as well … the details are no different than the last time this topic came up, on either side, and it just isn’t worth rehashing it. If people are interested, they can just go through the archives.

  26. george says:

    Err, should be re-negotiate treaties.

  27. Since many of these so-called client states are very poorly armed at this time, your suggestion is for them to stand naked in the wind till they can somehow muster something in the way of a defense. How very kind of you. Perhaps you could find it in your heart to phase out our support over a few years, so long as the clients begin building their own defenses, even with our help. Or, perhaps not. Shock treatment loses as many patients as it wins back, but such a heartless position is to be expected while we spend billions and even trillions on ourselves under this regime of ours. 31 million new health insured; I am certain they all need the help. I do hope the world you see in the future is to your liking.

  28. Sure, some states are well positioned to rearm themselves very well if they have the impetus.
    But the little guys are not so lucky. You would deny them help, even if it is far less than we might otherwise give? This is simply cruel. You would probably call it tough love. I call it asinine.

  29. george says:

    > Sure, some states are well positioned to rearm themselves very well if they have the impetus.
    But the little guys are not so lucky. You would deny them help, even if it is far less than we might otherwise give? This is simply cruel. You would probably call it tough love. I call it asinine.

    I’d say the trick is to decide which nations need our support, and which don’t, rather than just giving blanket protection. And phasing it in goes without saying – that’s typically part of renegotiation.

    Seriously, why aren’t Japan and Europe completely responsible for their own defense? How many years would it reasonably take them to become so? In the case of South Korea, they’re not going to be able to fight off China, but then what’s keeping China out (assuming they have any interest) is political (the threat of a wider war) rather than the small number of troops we actually have stationed there – if they seriously decided to invade, our troops there are inadequate to the task. And against North Korea, South Korea would be able to stand alone in five years if they put their minds to it.

    I don’t know your opinion of say health care, but its interesting how many people who are against gov’t health care (the ‘nanny state’) for our own citizens are for a nanny state for the defense of other nations … if a nanny state is bad internally, how can it be good internationally?

  30. mannning says:

    I consider that the EU nations collectively can damn well defend themselves if they put their minds to it and that we should phase down our commitments there in both money and troops. I also believe that we should phase out if Iraq as we are doing, and make no commitments for returning.
    I believe we are overextended in Afghanistan and should pull back to a nucleus of provinces for now. Our troops in S. Korea are a bloody guarantee that the US would come to the aid of SK–a tripwire if you will, just as our troops in Europe were a tripwire, rather than an adequate force for war, barring tactical nuke use. These tripwire sorts of troop deployments should end in the EU and SK.in a phased manner. To add to this, I believe that we should not and can no longer commit to rebuilding the infrastructure of a nation such as was done in Iraq, and to some degree in Afghanistan. We no longer have the wealth to do these things.

  31. mannning says:

    That said, we should maintain our military attache offices in may countries, and should follow through on training and equippiing militaries where it is in our interest to stabilize the nation and where we pick the right political side to support. We should not be supporting totalitarian governments if we can avoid it. There will be cases where we need to intervene with significant numbers of troops on the ground, but hopefully a great rarity and a very brief demonstration of our power to a good end.

    All of our military expenditures should be budgeted and not off the books as has been the case too often. I do not believe in giving blank checks to empire builders as was the situation early on in Iraq.

  32. george says:


    I agree with your last two postings; there’s a real middle ground between our current ways and isolationism. I hope we find it.

  33. mannning says:

    @ George

    I hope we can also. The days of acting like the policeman of the world are over. Let other nations of some wealth take up the slack. That said, we do have a role to play here and there with nations in trouble, but I believe we should avoid troop deployments if other means can be made to work. We might do well not to let this policy become generally known, however, since it is one of our final threats.

    One role I am championing still is that of keeping the international seas open with our blue water navy and its carrier task forces. This includes the waters between Taiwan and China.

  34. wr says:

    Does the GOP love war? Manning asks. At first one is pressed by facts to think so: for the GOP was wedded to war from its very inception, the war that killed over 600,000 Americans. But do the Republicans really love war? Naw, not really, unless you pitch it this way: they love the BUSINESS of war. It makes a lot of money. Lots of money.