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Post Partisan
Posted at 01:03 PM ET, 05/24/2012

Unserious: The GOP and the Pentagon

Today’s must-read is by Heather Hurlburt, who writes about a potential growing rift between the current radicalized Republican Party and the Pentagon. She identifies five issues — Law of the Sea, energy (see here for more), military trials/detention, Iran, and budget issues — on which Republican positions cause headaches for the military. I wonder whether she would consider missile defense a sixth; there’s also the issue of torture, on which GOP orthodoxy is at odds with national security professionals from the military and other portions of the government.

Hurlburt:

[T]his isn't only about money; it's about ideology. The military-industrial complex is small-c conservative — and I'm using both those terms in a completely value-neutral, descriptive way. It looks for fights it can win, not fights — like a land war in Iran, or endless, bank-breaking fuel bills — that might fatally weaken it. It looks to consolidate.  It is a status quo power seeking to preserve the status quo. And these days, preserving the status quo involves fuel made from seaweed, talks with Iranians, and getting out of the prison business.

Whatever the conservative movement in America is at the moment — conflicted, in a battle for its soul, looking to get its groove back — it isn't a status quo power. That is producing the fascinating dissonance of conservatives who ritually stand up in front of the public and say they want to "listen to the commanders" ignore the commanders on issue after issue. That just may also have something to do with the percentage of military campaign contributions reported to be going to either President Obama . . . or Ron Paul.

I’m not sure if what she’s talking about is “ideology” exactly. It’s certainly about a form of partisan orthodoxy, but there’s nothing “ideological” about favoring one sort of fuel over another, is there? It’s more like the old John Cleese/Michael Palin bit: “Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.” Republicans love fossil fuels because liberals don’t like them; that’s not an ideology, at least by my understanding.

But the real question here is whether there will be any consequences for this sort of thing (which I’d argue can be seen in other issue areas, not just the Pentagon). James Fallows sees it in Colin Powell’s political journey, for example; Hurlburt mentions campaign money.

What I wonder about is whether the Republican Party risks getting a reputation for lacking “seriousness” on national security. I don’t think that’s happened so far. But once it does, it’s awfully hard to shake (as Democrats in the 1990s and 2000s) learned. Given the contradiction model of how Republicans appear to choose issue positions, it’s easy to image this becoming a long-term GOP problem if Obama does win a second term and continues to have solid foreign policy accomplishments.

By  |  01:03 PM ET, 05/24/2012

 
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