It is true that domestic issues, including the national debt and health-care reform, have been front and center for the last year or so. The Arab Spring, the war in Libya and the merger of Fatah and Hamas have played out on the world stage, but the media, Congress and most especially the White House have focused on the economy, the debt, budget talks, Obamacare and the 2012 presidential race. It’s not surprising, given the public’s concern about these issues and the daunting domestic challenges we face, but the death of Osama bin Laden reminds us that we forget national security at our own peril.
The decision to go to war in Afghanistan, to treat terrorists as military combatants, to redouble our efforts in Afghanistan and to place a priority on spending for national security are some of the critical issues over which the president has had a key role to play. Meanwhile, we have potential 2012 Republican candidates who never speak seriously about national defense or for whom budget cutting is the end-all and be-all of their agenda. The White House wants to cut more from national defense, but who is discussing whether national defense is actually underfunded, considering our expanding commitments? Tim Pawlenty has spoken up about Syrian human rights atrocities, but where are the others? If we cut defense, as the president suggests we do, will we have intelligence and military capabilities in the future such as those deployed to kill bin Laden?
In short, this is an important reminder for Republican primary voters to demand that the candidates spell out their views on national security, explain how they evaluate defense spending (is it deserving of special consideration or is it no different than spending on ag subsidies or housing projects?), and articulate their views on America’s place in the world. President Obama will have some national security credentials to run on (the assassination of bin Laden, the troop surge in Afghanistan), so the Republican contenders had better be prepared not only to critique his performance but put forth their national security views.
And as for the president: Might he think twice about savaging the defense budget so he can continue his domestic spending spree?