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November 06, 2006

A Brief Response...
Posted by Marc Grinberg

Some important questions have been raised about the argument in my original post - that the liberal's national security problem is not one of policy but of marketing.  To be clear, the purpose of the post was to describe the problem (my thoughts on addressing it were for the future- check back soon!).  But it is clear that several concerns arise from my characterization of the security problem.

Read on...

The first is that turning security into a marketing issue encourages the outsourcing of national security messaging to professional "communications specialists," who very likely know nothing about national security and deliver politicians substance-less messages, which, it turns out, does more harm than good to liberal credibility. 

I absolutely agree that this is a concern that liberals need to be careful to avoid.  But I am encouraged by the fact that most of the innovative and influential (at least at the national level) national security-message thinking going on today is happening in places like this blog and a growing number of small center-left national security groups that have sprung up over the last two years.  These groups are run by liberals who are national security experts first, political or communications experts second.  They are not communications shops that churn out poll-tested speeches, but national security shops that churn out politically smart messaging.

The second concern - posed by Shadi in his last post - is that characterizing the national security problem as an appearance or perception issue encourages liberals to overcompensate and take positions that are poll tested as "strong," but which have no bases in liberal values, leaving them looking like they stand for nothing, beyond political expedience. 

Again, I think this is absolutely something that liberals must be careful to avoid.  Remember, among the root causes of the liberal national security problem I listed here was the belief that liberals aren't sincere when they take "strong" policy positions.  I would never advocate for a liberal politician to take a position that is not rooted in their values simply because it is politically smart.  Instead, I would encourage politicians to talk about their policy (whatever it may be) by making constant reference to the values that led them to their position. (More on this soon).

Simply being principled, however, does not address another part of the liberal security problem - which is the belief that liberals won't do what needs to be done to keep America safe (aka we are not seen as "strong").  Shadi is correct to raise the issue of what it means to be "strong" and I hope that this will kick off an important discussion on this challenging question.  I take a first stab at it in my next post.


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Having read the exchanges on "what is strength," I had a few thoughts. First, I thought Marc was on point when he talked about stressing a comprehensive approach that uses all the tools available (diplomacy, aid, intelligence, law enforcement, alliances and international institutions and, when necessary, military force). As for Shadi's citation of Harold Ford's conservative stances on the Patriot Act and military spending, in my mind there is no question that he was at least in part crafting his positions to appeal to the voters of Tennessee, saying what he expected a substantial number of them would want to hear. This has been a conundrum for most Democratic candidates, who are afraid, for example, that calling for cuts in military spending (even if they are cuts in unneeded systems) will be a political albatross around their necks. An alternative approach is to call for a shift in security spending, with cuts in Cold War relics like the F-22 fighter and the Star Wars missile defense program shifted to other, non-military tools of security, from protecting nuclear and chemical plants to increasing foreign aid to revitalizing our public health system so it can deal with epidemics, regardless whether they are the result of a terrorist attack or a natural outbreak (I use the term natural advisedly, since human activity has a tremendous impact on the course of disease and our vulnerability to it). This notion of a "security shift" is highlighted in a task force report on "A Unified Security Budget 2007," put out jointly by Foreign Policy in Focus and the Center for Defense Information. Obviously, this approach only goes so far -- some may criticize it as a liberal attempt to sneak other goals (public health spending, for example) under the security rubric. Some liberal colleagues may feel that part of our challenge is to put the national security paradigm in its rightful place, and invest in other activities on their own merits. However these debates turn out, there will be the additional challenge (which I think Marc was getting at) of coming up with a way to communicate alternative defense policies in a forceful way that candidates for office would be comfortable adopting. Otherwise we're whistling in the wind.

Dear Mr. Hartung,

Thanks so much for posting your comments here. In comments over at America Abroad at TPMCafe I have requested several times that they try to recruit someone from FPIF or CDI as a regular contributor, so that the more left-leaning side of the Democratic debate could at least be represented and openly debated. But they seem determined to preserve the site as an organ for the center to center-right perspective.

What is Michael Klare up to these days? I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago, and he's someone who has had a major influence on my own views.

The F-22 cold war era system and Star Wars. That is why there is still poverty in America.

Whatever the aircraft is called or when the program first began at some the air superiority fighter the US uses, the 35 year old in design F-15 needs to be replaced. Period. Full stop.

Planes have a very limited lifespan based on number of flight hours and/or factors like landing cycles and average stress on the airframe. The F-22 is in fact 5 to 10 times more effective than an F-15 and is simply the best fighter in the world, without a near peer competitor.

Does anyone sending their children to war want them flying a plane half as expensive but perhaps 1/4 as effective (Eurofighter) or want their kids depending on that less than world class aircraft for air cover? Anyone stating the F-22 is not needed because nobody else has anything as good does not understand the nature of conflict. The whole point is that it's that good. One prefers not to fly something the enemy has a reasonable chance to shoot down.

As part of Star Wars there is a program of theater missle defense using the USN's Aegis system that Japan is a 1/3 partner with us. Currently the system works, is being used by both us and Japan today, is being expanded by both, and given North Korea being nearby it's an extremely usefull and needed system.

To lump all missle defense into a dismissive category called Star Wars does not serve the nation nor the progressive cause. It's exactly why the Democratic party has problems being trusted with national security.

If one really wanted to save money in the Pentagon then one must look at force structure. The real driving cost is people not weapons. The F-22 and parts of Star Wars the nation actually does need. What it does not need and what it is ill served by is having 6 seperate branches of the military. Cutting one would save far more money.

The entire rationale for the existence of the USAF is flawed. JSF will cost more than the F-22 and it does nothing well and is a huge waste. It simply exists to give the Air Force fighter jocks something to fly to replace the F-16. The F-16 was created because the high/low mix of forces came into vogue in the 1970s's along with the military reform movement. It was a debateable postion then and not needed now.

The nation does not need USAF F-16's and certainly does not need to replace them. That is a progressive arguement that could easily be won. Instead we hear having the best fighter in the world is somehow a bad thing. Better to have 100 more F-22's than 500 F-35's. It costs less. It costs far less in personal costs. The most cost effective aircraft in the USAF is the B-52. Dropping bombs from an F-16 or it's replacement is expensive and of very limited military utility. Afganistan is currently served by A-10's extremely well which is an aircraft the USAF never wanted and always wanted to get rid of.

If we don't cut the USAF then we'll hate ourselves when we get rid of the army, the USMC has 14 divisions worth of troops and the air force is still around.

Lane, you make a lot of sense here. Yes, we should phase out the USAF completely. And we should transfer the Marines to become a branch of the army, and also their transport. The army needs its own navy just as much as it needs its own air force. The rest of the navy can focus on sinking other navies and on punitive airstrikes.

100 F-22s are better than 500 F-35s provided we don't lose any of them. If we get into a situation where we take losses, then they're only somewhat more than 1/5 as good. Of course we want to win wars without casualties, but that mostly isn't in the cards. We take casualties in wars, it's only cakewalks where we don't.

For fighter aircraft we need to consider that our planes aren't going to keep having any 30-year lifespans. In 10 years or so we won't be able to afford to fly most of them, our high-performance planes are fuel hogs. We'll have to mostly switch to small, cheap, remotely-piloted or AI-piloted planes. And it's a lot easier to accept a cheap plane when nobody's son will be sitting in it. So how much is it worth to switch to a more expensive plane now?

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