Republican Myth #2: Republicans are the Party of National Security

The myth is that our national security is strong when Republicans are in control. They’ve talked very loudly about keeping us safe and about having a strong military and not backing down to terrorists. But national security is not simply bombing our enemies into oblivion. In fact, military is only one component of national security, and there are signs right now that our military is not equipped to deal with the dispersed enemies of the 21st century. But beyond the military, national security is a product of our international standing, our relationships with our allies and our enemies, our energy independence, and our economy. While I will concede that there was a point in time when the Republicans did a good job with national security, that time has passed. In all of these aspects, the Republican administration of the last eight years has eroded our national security.

The US has long been recognized as the strongest country in the global sphere. We’ve been the most respected country in international affairs. The world looked to our example. And we showed our respect for the world by signing the Geneva Conventions and adhering to the UN Charter. (These are just two examples.) But all of that is changing. During George W. Bush’s administration, the US has broken the 4th Geneva Convention by its handling of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. He also breached the UN Charter when he decided to lead us into Iraq. The Iraq war was not sanctioned by the UN, whose purpose is to facilitate cooperation in international law, security, economic development, and social equity among governments. By breaking the 4th Geneva Convention and acting unilaterally in Iraq, the Republican administration tarnished the US’ international standing. It showed no respect for the accords and institutions set up to ensure that international affairs are handled fairly and respectfully.

Having strong relationships with our allies and maintaining open lines of communication with our enemies are vital to our national security. Maintaining strong relationships with our allies ensures that when we must use our military, we have the support of our allies and aren’t left to go it alone and bear all of the expense. Further, strong relationships with our allies strengthens the effect of our diplomatic efforts such as trade embargos and other economic measures. Regarding our enemies, it is extremely important to keep the lines of communication open. A quick look back at the Cold War shows us the benefits of doing so. When Reagan (a Republican) worked with Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War, he did so by widening the lines of communication and by calling for “cooperation and understanding.” This strategy led Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, and an all-out war was prevented. However, this good will with Russia has been wasted through the unilateralism of the current Republican platform.

Our relationships with our allies and with our enemies are weaker now than they were eight years ago. The disregard for international conventions, treaties, and institutions that the Bush administration has promulgated has strained our relationship with our allies. The number of allies we have in Iraq has never been high and has shrunk significantly in recent years. In mid-2004, when we had the most allies helping us in Iraq, ally forces accounted for just 14% of the troops on the ground. By December 2007, that number had been cut in half to only 7% of the troops on the ground. Our allies are distancing themselves from us, not wanting to be associated with a country that sees unilateral military force as the first option to any perceived threat. It is clear that international support of, and confidence in, our war in Iraq is waning.

The Republican administration’s refusal to communicate with our enemies has stoked the flames of anti-American sentiment abroad and put us at greater risk of terrorist attack. (And let’s not forget that the only terrorist attack ever to occur on US soil happened under the Republican administration’s watch.) Apparently the Republicans of today don’t heed the lessons of Reagan. Beginning in 2003, George W. Bush refused to talk to Iran because of reports that it was harnessing nuclear energy, even though it was doing so in a way that was in line with UN accords. In 2006, the administration was largely considering a military solution to the problem of Iran, much to the chagrin of most military strategists. While the administration has yet to go after Iran in a military capacity, it has also been slow open up the lines of communication. In May 2006, the administration announced that it would open a dialogue with Iran as soon as Iran stopped working on its nuclear energy program. It isn’t surprising that Iran refused, considering that their nuclear energy program wasn’t breaking any laws. (I’m not saying Iran is the good guy. I do believe their nuclear energy program has ulterior motives. I’m simply pointing out that the strategy the Bush Administration used was the wrong strategy and hasn’t worked.) As late as December 2007, talks with Iran had still not begun. Because the Bush administration has not properly invested in diplomacy and has unilaterally supported military action, it has made no progress with Iran. Iran is now stronger than it was when Bush took office, it is far closer to becoming a nuclear power, and it plays a much more prominent role in supporting the financial terror network in the region and throughout the world. And this is a major threat to our national security.

As long as the majority of our energy needs are supplied by foreign countries, our national security will be weak. The more dependent we are on foreign countries for our energy needs, the more tied we are to the highs and lows of foreign economies. The Republicans in power have done absolutely nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign energy. In fact, they have increased our dependence on foreign oil. In 2000, when Bush took office, the US received 58% of its oil from foreign countries. By 2006, that number had jumped up to 70%. Republican members of Congress, such as John McCain, have time and again voted against bills that would reduce our dependence on foreign oil. As T. Boone Pickens explains in his commercials, we now send $700 billion per year to the Middle East in exchange for their oil. We’re sending an exorbitant amount of money directly into a region of the world known for its anti-American sentiment and its connection to the terrorist networks that want to harm us. How much sense does that make?

Finally, we cannot be strong globally unless we are strong domestically. A strong, diverse economy is integral to our national security. The best way we can ensure a flow of the proper supplies and equipment in the US is by producing those things in the US. An example: If every computer was made in China and we suddenly had a battle with China, we wouldn’t have any access to the new computers we would need to fight the battle. Being able to produce a diversity of products in the US will make us less tied to the economies of other countries. Further, a strong economy generates taxes, which help to support our government and our military. Finally, a strong economy supports a strong middle-class, and these are the people who become members of our military. A strong economy gives them something to fight for.

Our economy today is, by all accounts, in the gutter. As the New York Times reported in July,

“Plummeting home prices have in recent months eliminated jobs for hundreds of thousands of people, from bankers and real estate agents to construction workers and furniture manufacturers. Tighter lending standards imposed by banks in the wake of huge mortgage losses have made it hard for many Americans to secure credit — the lifeblood of expansion in recent years — crimping the appetite of consumers, whose spending amounts to 70 percent of the economy. Joblessness has accelerated, and employers have slashed working hours even for those on their payrolls, shrinking the size of paychecks just as workers need them the most.”

The national unemployment rate rose to 5.5 percent in May 2008, according to the Labor Department. That does not include people who are jobless and have given up looking for work, or people who have been bumped to part-time jobs from full-time. Add in those people, and the so-called underemployment rate rises to 9.7 percent, up from 8.3 percent in May 2007. The dollar is weaker than it ever has been in US history. We owe $9.6 trillion to other governments. The number is growing by the minute, but we haven’t made one payment to the national debt since the Republican Party took office. US companies are being bought by foreign entities at a rate of 95 per month. A quick skim through the business section of any major newspaper supports the claim that our economy is incredibly weak.

By most objective measures, Republicans are bad for the economy. Their policies widen the gap between rich and poor. Republicans historically (and currently) give the largest tax breaks to the wealthiest individuals and the lowest tax breaks to the poorest individuals. And even Reagan, who is considered to be one of the best presidents for the economy in US history, increased our national debt more than he did GDP in his eight years in office. Further, his tax policy actually increased the tax burden of working class families. And the fact remains that we need government, and the government needs money. And if they don’t get it from taxes, they borrow it. So if the Democrats are the “tax and spend” party, then the Republicans are the “borrow and spend” party. Of course, when you borrow in order to spend, you leave future generations to pay for the benefits you are reaping, whereas when you tax in order to spend, you make current generations pay for the benefits they are reaping. And that is true fiscal responsibility.

While there have clearly been global influences on our economy in the past eight years (such as the demand for oil, the growth of China, and 9/11), it is clear that our current economic weakness is the result of the Republican administration’s failure to address the changes we are facing every day. When George W. Bush took office, we had a budget surplus leftover from Bill Clinton. Clinton oversaw the largest economic expansion in the history of our country. In just eight short years, as Republicans have controlled both the White House and Congress, our economy has plummeted. And yet the McCain campaign proposes no solutions to our economic problems. The McCain campaign’s economic plan largely follows the failed policies of the Bush administration, according to the Tax Policy Center.

When we expand our idea of national security beyond the military and take into account such things as our international standing, our relationships with our allies and our enemies, our energy independence, and our economy, we see that the Republicans, despite being the so-called “party of national security,” have weakened our national security in the last eight years. By failing to acknowledge and address the changing face of the world, they have put our country at risk and have shown themselves to be short-sighted and lacking a clear vision of how to address the national security problems of the 21st century.

Perhaps the most disappointing truth in all of this is that the Republican nominee for president in 2008, John McCain, has not articulated a complete understanding of national security. Nor has he shared a plan with the American people for how he will bolster our national security by improving our international standing, improving our relationships with our allies and our enemies, securing long-term energy independence, or growing our economy. Instead, he proposes the same policies that the Bush Administration has tried. Almost 70% of Americans agree that the policies of the Bush Administration have failed. A quote I’ve heard often this election (including from Republicans at the RNC) is that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. Yet that is exactly what the McCain campaign is asking us to believe: that he can do the same thing Bush has been doing but will give us a different result.

Fischer, B.A. 2007. The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. 192 p.*


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