GOP plan for foreign policy and defense platform is predictable

Walter Pincus
Reporter August 22, 2012

Many following the presidential campaign will not be surprised by the Republican Party’s draft platform plank on foreign policy and defense, which was approved by its platform committee Tuesday.

It reflects almost all the criticisms of President Obama and his national security policies raised by Mitt Romney, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, and Republicans in Congress. Former senator James M. Talent (R-Mo.), who co-chaired the subcommittee that produced the draft, outlined the main points to the panel Monday.

They included criticism of Obama for “engaging Iran rather than deterring” its nuclear program; allowing leaks of classified information, which it called “contemptible”; supporting the sequestration of defense funding that could lead to what Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta called “destructive” results; and cutting missile-defense programs while North Korea is improving its missile capabilities.

Talent said the plank also called for a “firm response to Chinese power and Russian provocations,” “unequivocal support for Israel,” restoring the special relationship with Britain and establishing better ties with other countries of the Americas.

It contains sections tentatively titled “A Failed National Security Strategy,” “Conventional Forces in Decline” and “Nuclear Forces and Missile Defense Imperiled.” In short, it seems pretty predictable, though GOP officials have said the draft will not be publicly released until it goes to the delegates Monday.

Watching the videos of the two days of hearings, it appears the GOP platform panel’s most controversial discussion came over whether to include a reference that inferred support of the “two-state solution” to the Palestinian question in the section about Israel.

The sentence reads, “We envision two democratic states — Israel with Jerusalem as its capital living in peace and security.” Several amendments were offered to remove reference to the two-state solution. Different committee members said they did not want to join the Democrats in pressuring or dictating to Israel on Palestine. One member said the GOP should remain neutral.

Talent spoke at least three times in defense of including a two-state solution by reading the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu when he adopted that approach.

One of the shortest discussions came when Kevin Erickson, a delegate from Minnesota, proposed removing a section that criticized Obama for White House leaks of classified information to enhance his image. Erickson is a pastor who calls himself a Ron Paul Republican.

Romney and others have focused quite a bit on the leak issue. At his July 24 speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Romney said, “This conduct is contemptible,” the very word apparently in the platform. He went on to say, “It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel, with explanation and consequence.”

Erickson took a different tack. Saying he came from a “blue-collar area of a blue state,” he noted that “in Republican circles, this may be really great to talk over coffee . . . but it doesn’t play well with middle-class America.”

The idea that the leaks were used to promote Obama for political purposes sounded like “sour grapes,” he said, adding that he thought “antagonism for the sitting administration can cloud our [party’s] judgment” on this issue. He also said calling for a special counsel to investigate the leaks could just result in spending money.

“I just don't think it is significant enough to include it in the platform,” he concluded.

There was silence when Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), co-chairman of the platform committee, called for someone to second Erickson’s amendment. “It dies for lack of a second,” Hoeven said and moved on.

Some other attempts were made to inject what could have been embarrassing elements in the platform. One would have directed foreign aid funds to be spent “when possible” only on U.S. goods or services. Another wanted to remove language that could appear to be “nation building,” which was described as an Obama policy. Both those found seconds though they lost on voice or raised-hand votes.

The sessions were democracy in action, though it was apparent the Romney people had matters well in hand. The platform apparently contains a series of social wedge issues.

And one interjection by a member showed why the draft needed proofing.

In a section that apparently attacks Obama for his change in the Bush administration plan for missile defense in Europe, the draft referred to withdrawing a radar meant for Czechoslovakia. But a platform member pointed out that the country no longer existed and was split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia years ago.

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com.

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