Not surprisingly, we’ve not had a full-throated debate over national security in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries. The economy, jobs, the debt-ceiling debate, taxes and entitlement reform have gotten far more attention than national security. There has been almost no discussion among the Republican candidates on defense spending. With the debt-ceiling deal and a second round of cutting in which defense could be heavily affected, the issue of national security — what type of defense do we need and what does it cost — certainly should be front and center as the Republican contenders prepare for the Iowa caucus and the first primaries.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has served on Congress and on the Select Committee on Intelligence. It’s a sore point, but Jon Huntsman was ambassador to China. And Texas Gov. Rick Perry has served in the Air Force. But even if you added it all up, it’s not much. And certainly, they haven’t had the responsibility for setting defense policy, overseeing wars and handling major international crises.
That’s not to say some of them wouldn’t be superior commanders in chief to Obama. But they are going to be obligated to spell out their vision with some particularity. Huntsman has said that we can’t afford all these wars. So has he embraced the Gang of Six proposal for $880 billion in cuts?
Would any of them have gone along with a proposed (but now amended) deal for a “trigger” to treat defense and domestic cuts exactly the same? The candidates said very little about the debt ceiling in general and nothing I am aware of on the extent of defense cuts.
Both Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have put out books sketching out a foreign policy that is robust and requires ample spending for national defense. Now, however, they are going to have to take general sentiments and apply them to current challenges, including funding of the military.
That is a healthy and essential part of a presidential campaign. And if there is a silver lining to the agony of the debt-ceiling fight, perhaps it is that we will start to have an informed discussion about the size of our military and what missions we want it to perform.