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National Security Virtually Vanishes From GOP Conversation, Convention

Posted by Colin Clark on

UPDATED: AEI Analyst Eaglen Argues Strong Economy Best National Security
Remember the Republicans, those muscular supporters of America’s military, those vigorous champions of an ascendant Western military alliance. Where are they now?

Well, they’re around, but you are unlikely to hear more than a few sentences about defense during the GOP convention. The Romney campaign is completely focused on the economy and on President Obama’s record. Even the GOP’s talking points for the convention fail to contain a single word that even hints at national security issues. The official party platform, which means virtually nothing, supports American exceptionalism and accuses President Obama of “weakness” in facing the many threats we face and making things worse by “fighting” GOP efforts to stop sequestration.

Why so little about national security from the Romney campaign? First, Romney appears to have made the simple calculation that national security issues will not win him any votes. But almost as important is that Romney does not want to give either Obama supporters or factions within his own party any opportunity to compare Romney to the policies of the most recent Republican president, George Bush.

It’s not really a surprise that defense will play such a small role at the convention. Aside from some muscular talk about rolling back Obama’s spending cuts and adding bodies to the Army, the Romney campaign largely has avoided defense and foreign policy issues. When he has ventured there, things haven’t always gone well. Romney’s big foreign policy trip this summer was pretty close to an unmitigated disaster. He pissed off his hosts in Britain, managed the ensuing hullaballo pretty badly, and then made a gaffe or two just about everywhere he went, even managing to anger both the Israelis and the Palestinians during his visit to Israel.

“They are not going to make national security a campaign point, but they are going to make Obama’s record a campaign point,” said Robbin Laird, an international defense consultant and member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors, who works with many of the Romney campaign’s various national security advisors.

“Romney himself, and his very inner circle of advisors, have made the decision that national security just isn’t going to win many votes,” he said.

Instead, Romney is likely to raises questions about Obama’s record during the debates but will cautious in dealing with these issues to avoid setting off conflict within his own party. “They won’t discuss it because it will open up fissures in the Republican Party,” Laird said, pointing to disagreements within the party about Afghanistan, Iraq, defense spending and other national security issues.

And one of those who has informally worked with the Romney campaign, Mackenzie Eaglen, offered a lovely twist on the Romney and Ryan campaign’s focus on the economy. “Without an honest effort at reining in costs and putting the Big 3 entitlements on more solvent footings, the debate about the shrinking defense budget will simply be overtaken by the math of America’s debt,” Eaglen offers in a posting on the American Enterprise Institute’s website today. “America cannot continue to fund entitlements without reform while playing a leading role in global affairs.”

The only mentions I’ve been able to find of national security events at the convention are below. The Foreign Policy Initiative, led by some of the GOP’s heaviest heavyweights on national security, compiled the list.

– “The Future of U.S.-Russia Relations.” The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) and the Institute of Modern Russia will host this at the University Club of Tampa. Cocktails and discussion from 5:00 to 8:00 PM with Ambassador John R. Bolton, Pavel Khodorkovsky, and Vladimir Kara-Murza. Since Romney has declared Russia to be our top “geopolitical foe,” this should be a fun one.
– The International Republican Institute will offer a discussion about “The Future of U.S. National Security Policy” from 2-4 p.m.

– “Peace Through Strength: Restoring American Leadership in the World:” FPI hosts former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Weekly Standard’s editor William Kristol from 3:45 to 5:30 PM.
– The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, International Republican Institute & ONE are hosting “America’s Leadership in the World: Our Legacy. Our Future” from 1-4 p.m. at Tampa’s Centro Asturiano Theater.

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