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August 25, 2012

Parsing the RNC's national security platform
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

POLITICO found what seems to be a close-to-final draft on the RNC's website. The national security section, titled "American Exceptionalism" is here.

Below I have gone through and blogged some of the more mendacious and ridiculous content. But what's the short take:  the Middle East, Israel and Iran sections are more reasonable than an observer of recent rhetoric from the Romney camp might expect. The adults -- who know they might have to govern, and that better policy options are exceedingly hard to come by -- are firmly in charge.

But they had to give up something to get that.  The document's tone and content will be offensive to both Chinese and Russians, as it puts into doubt the greatness of their civilizations. It will be ridiculed by those who know there are not "thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists" in Venezuela, that US Strategic Command believes our nuclear modernization efforts are fully sufficient, and that the potential budget sequestration will not touch military pay or billets. The absence of Japan, the European economic crisis, any mention of the links between the global security agenda and a global economic agenda.

The biggest absence, though, is any strategic sense of where the US is going or should try to go in the world. The document references Reagan a few times, and George W. Bush once -- what is the Romney/Ryan vision of the future? What, exactly, is that larger military for? How do we re-grow US influence and economic success overseas?

It is no surprise to anyone that platforms are full of dog whistles. Every paragraph of this one is, in some cases of contradictory dog whistles as the GOP tries to look forward and backward at the same time. Supporting women's advancement in the military and barring our service on combat is just one example. But the continuing need for the party to reconcile its libertarian, neocon, paleocon and modernist elements (by modernist I mean the need to obscure the plank which seems to pledge consideration of re-instating Don't Ask Don't Tell) means that the dogwhistles-to-strategic vision quotient is rather high.

I should add that I am delighted to see the relatively large sections covering trafficking in persons, AIDS and aid effectiveness.  They don't jibe with Paul Ryan's budget proposals to gut US diplomacy and development assistance. But I digress.

Fascinatingly, the first paragraph's definition of American exceptionalism -- "the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history" -- is one that I agree with. In fact, I think it is tautological. There is no other United States. I would say that is a definition of American exceptionalism that even Ron Paul could love.  Hmmm.

Interestingly, the rest of the opening paragraph is a paean to "peace through strength," which the platform links to the Reagan era without mentioning the president. It also doesn't mention that the phrase "peace through strength" is a registered trademark of the American Security Council Foundation, which seems to exist to promote it.  But I'm sure the platform committee got the proper permissions.

Assorted highlights:

Military Keynesianism:  "The Republican Party is the advocate for a strong national defense as the pathway to peace, economic prosperity..."

Hippie-punching: "The current Administration's most recent National Security Strategy represents the extreme elements in its liberal domestic coalition." Would that be its embrace of drones? The Afghan transition? Both of which are supported by cross-partisan majorities of public opinion, and not the Democrats' left wing.

More hippie-punching: "The strategy subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues." Wait, does the GOP not understand how energy is strategic? Also, the George W. Bush 2006 national security strategy has "human dignity" and "development" right up there with "fight terrorism." But we'll leave that for the professional fact-checkers.

First actual flat-out falsehood:  p. 4. The Admin has said sequester will not affect troop pay; there is no plan anywhere to separate from service "another 100,000 [troops] under sequester."

Second flat-out falsehood:  the next paragraph. When assessing whether the US manintenance and updating of the nuclear deterrent is adequate, are you gonna trust the GOP platform committee or the Pentagon's Strategic Command?

Third flat-out falsehood:  the Administration didn't "abandon" missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic -- the Czech Parliament made clear it wouldn't vote to approve the site, and the Administration put together an alternate plan.

Cybersecurity: if the Administration's approach is too defense, does that mean the GOP favors pre-emptive cyberwarfare?  It'd be good to know. Also, no mention of the bipartisan bill the Administration worked with Congress to pass to create a foundational cyber approach, which is being held up by conservatives who just didn't want to see a major achievement, despite their fellow Republicans who worked in good faith to write a compromise bill that had won grudging respect from industry and civil liberties groups alike.

Don't Ask Don't Tell and women in combat:  the platform pledges to maintain the ban on women from direct combat, which, they may or may not have noticed, has largely disappeared in practice thanks to the exigencies of counter-insurgency warfare. I will let the don't ask don't tell experts parse the following sentence, but I suspect anti-DADT activists think it means repeal:  "We affirm the cultural values which encourage selfless service and superiority in battle, and we oppose anything which might divide or weaken team cohesion, including intra-military special interest demonstrations." I wish I thought that last phrase meant a Romney Administration would get after the extremist brand of Protestantism which has taken over so much of the military chaplaincy and made non-evangelicals, and commanding officers, very worried about team cohesion.  I also wish they just had the guts to say what they think the cultural values which encourage selfless service are.

Oh, the next graph affirms that the GOP will fight against efforts to ban Bibles from military installations (wonder if they will fight for Torahs and Korans too?) and enforce the Defense of Marriage Act in the military. So much for states' rights.

The UN section explicitly rejects a number of treaties that inside-the-Beltway folks thought they could garner GOP support for, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities -- both of whose inclusion surprises me a bit -- as well as GOP red meat such as Law of the Sea and the Convention on the End of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (which the drafters appear not to know the name of).

Prize for overstatement:  "The war or drugs and the war on terror have become a single enterprise." (p. 11)

First region-specific section:  Latin America. Does anybody really believe that "thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists" hold Venezuelan visas? Thousands?

Also, it's touching that the GOP "rejects any dynastic succession" in Cuba, given that Raul Castro has already de facto taken over from Fidel? This reminds me of the story that, upon hearing that the New England transcendentalist Margaret Fuller was fond of exclaiming, "I accept the universe!" the British writer Thomas Carlyle responded:  "Gad! She'd better."

First mention of President Reagan by name:  p. 3

First/only mention of President George W. Bush: praise for PEPFAR, his AIDS program. Let me say that this is fully deserved. Africa, however, deserves better than mentions only in the context of AIDS and terrorism.

First mention of Afghanistan: p. 12 of 16. First mention of a future strategy for Afghanistan, or a justification for the current troop levels:  never.

Order of one-paragraph discussions of Taiwan and China:  Taiwan first.

Sentence that will have the Chinese ruling classes rolling on the floor laughing:  "the next lesson is that political and religious freedom leads to national greatness." Umm, you can like it or not, but can you really argue that China is not already a great nation, based on several thousand years of advances while the ancestors of Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and yours truly were running around the British Isles in skins painting our faces blue?

First mention of Europe (apart from a throwaway of NATO next to the UN, which for the GOP is a real insult): p. 13, featuring one sentence on NATO and a completely random reference to "ongoing reconciliation" in Northern Ireland, but no tribute to President Clinton for his role in helping midwife that peace agreement.

Second embarrassing reference to one of the world's great civilizations:  the Russians "seek to reestablish their rich national identity." (Note to GOP platform committee:  you should get out more often. The Mariinsky Ballet, for example, will be in DC in the next year. It doesn't need any re-establishing.)

Middle East Peace:  given all that has come before, and what was reported about efforts to eliminate the two-state solution from the platform, this section strikes me as pretty benign. It doesn't break any new ground that I can see in GOP Israel-hugging. I salute the anonymous GOP-ers who fought to keep this paragraph the way it is.

Changing Middle East:  again, I salute whomever exercised adult supervision here. There is no discernable Syria policy, excoriation of fallen dictators but no mention of our current allied dictators (Bahrain, anyone?), no pledges of additional financial support for states in transition. But there's nothing horribly problematic either. In particular, there's no mention of the Muslim Brotherhood, which surprises me given its popularity with the Bolton wing of the party.

Then, as the very last section in the national security section, we come to Iran. It says... absolutely nothing. The next president must "retain all options."

First mention of GOP members of Congress who negotiated sequestration and voted for it: never.

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