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August 29, 2012

National Security Nite: Reinvention Convention, or Groundhog Day?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Today’s five-minute Romney appearance at the American Legion and convention appearances tonight from Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seem to be the sum total of what the party has planned on national security for the convention. Given this decision to downplay the issues, can the campaign back up Karl Rove’s boast that President Obama is easily vulnerable on national security? And does it have forward-looking policies for the security challengesahead?

The infighting among Romney’s national security advisers, documented by copious leaking to the New York Times and ForeignPolicy.com in the spring, doesn’t seem to have settled down. Indeed, stories intended to show how the team is operating smoothly instead feature anonymous backbiting.

It’s a Jungle in Here. But that’s nothing compared to the debates on national security policies outside the advisory team. The drafting sessions of the RNC platform saw amendments trying to roll back longstanding GOP support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Press reports say that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), in his address to the convention, will call for cuts to the Pentagon budget and a mandatory audit, even as Romney, Ryan and their platform continue to call for massive increases in Pentagon spending. (Expect Rand Paul to be booed.)

Tone Deaf. Partisan and non-partisan experts wrote off Romney’s verbal gaffes in London and Jerusalem, and his campaign spokesman’s embarrassing loss of cool in Poland, as flukes. But the treading on diplomatic toes hasn’t stopped. After the platform appeared to break new ground in support for Taiwan and opposition to Chinese claims in the South China Sea, and astonishingly, lectured China that “The next lesson is that political and religious freedom lead to national greatness,” China’s state-controlled media slammed back in language that would almost work at a debate:

"It requires political vision as well as profound knowledge of Sino-U.S. relations as a whole, to make sensible policy recommendations about what are widely recognized as the most important bilateral ties in the world," the commentary states. "Romney apparently lacks both."

Then, too, there is the minor embarrassment of the GOP platform denouncing something called the “UN Convention on Women’s Rights,” which doesn’t actually exist.

Everything Old is New Again. Secretary Rice and Senator McCain both enjoy great personal respect from Americans. At the same time, there is no denying that Rice bears a heavy share of responsibility for the Bush Administration’s failures in Iraq and Afghanistan – as well as laying out a freedom and democracy agenda for the Middle East that the Bush Administration proved utterly unwilling to live up to. So it is surprising to see her as the personification of Romney’s national security policies – though she certainly personifies a Romney advisory team made up in overwhelming majority of Bush Administration alums.

McCain, for his part, has disagreed with party orthodoxy so many times over the years that it’s hard to imagine what his presence on the podium should be understood to mean. In 2008 he was a vocal opponent of torture and supporter of closing Guantanamo – neither position adopted by this year’s nominee. He has pushed Romney repeatedly, and thus far unsuccessfully, to follow his lead in advocating a no-fly zone for Syria. He voted for the Budget Control Act establishing the automatic sequestration, including Pentagon spending… of which Paul Ryan was the author. McCain now says he regrets his vote… what does Ryan say? McCain has forcefully condemned Muslim-baiting by former presidential candidate Michelle Bachman and other GOP luminaries, while Romney and Ryan have remained silent. McCain’s Foreign Policy preview of tonight’s speech picks up some of the Romney campaign’s most disingenuous arguments about sequestration, missile defense and leadership. But given McCain’s maverick status, his remarks indicate little or nothing about what Romney’s leadership would actually entail.

Will the Real Policy Please Stand Up? Meanwhile, the campaign’s positions on key issues have become, if this is possible, less clear than they were in the spring. Paul Ryan endorsed a 2014 pullout from Afghanistan, seeming to reverse his own statements of a few days earlier; the GOP platform opposes planned withdrawals of the surge troops this year but after waiting eight pages into the national security section to mention Afghanistan, remains silent on the ultimate fate of the U.S. mission there. This week campaign adviser Rich Williamson reiterated campaign criticism of the Obama Administration’s Syria policy. Other campaign advisers praised French government officials who called for military intervention. (Yes, you read that right.) So, as Syria mobilizes fighter jets against its citizens and the Administration says movement of Syria’s chemical weapons is a redline, does Romney support a no-fly zone? It seems not: But the Romney team struggled to draw clear distinctions between its policy and what the Obama administration is already doing. For now, the Romney camp is sticking to its calls for arming the rebels directly but not using U.S. military assets inside Syria. Last month, Williamson struggled mightily at a Brookings event to explain how a Romney Administration would pay for its proposed increases to Pentagon spending. This week, Republicans said that the 100,000 new troops would go first and foremost to staff the near-doubling in Navy shipbuilding Romney wants to institute. Even at 6,000 sailors per aircraft carrier, this would require 16 new carriers – more than we currently have active and the rest of the world currently has. And with next-generation carriers costing $15 billion each…

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