If one or more of the would-be 2016 GOP nominees steps forward soon with a detailed plan on how to reshape and fund the Defense Department from 2017 through 2020, he or she will instantly achieve a significant advantage in the race for the Republican nomination.
There is simply no established voice for robust defense spending on behalf of a purpose-driven national security. Many of the leading lights in the Republican Party speak about the need for American leadership, about the awful consequences of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry orchestrated vacuum, and of the perils of the years ahead, but not one of the potential candidates has laid out a plan on what spending needs to be and on what it needs to be spent.
There is no excuse for this. The Beltway teems with expertise, just not with leaders. Carrier task forces can be costed out, the construction and operation of “x” number of Virginia-class submarines or of a fleet of additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornets can be calculated, the bottom-line budget necessary to support a Marine Corps of 200,000 as opposed to the maximum 175,000 presently planned for can be totaled up, but not one GOP hopeful has yet done so.
The rise of the combined forces of the new isolationists and the deficit hawks has all but gagged the voices of the party for a strong defense, the proponents of American military superiority, and not just superiority, but superiority beyond questioning. A few leaders, Sen. Marco Rubio especially, have boldly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Venezuelan thug Nicolas Maduro, but none has done the job of the loyal opposition: to quantify and outline where the additional spending must be spent.
Should America pay for NATO‘s robust garrisoning of Poland and the Baltic states after Crimea? And should a second American carrier take up more-or-less permanent station in Japan or a nearby neighbor? (Vietnam is not out of the question, according to Robert Kaplan in his must-read new book Asia’s Cauldron.)
Whatever the plan for a renewed American commitment to unchallengeable superiority, a Republican who is first to announce it will be a Republican with a deserved head start on the affection and potential allegiance of a large bloc of Republican activists heading into 2015. It hasn’t been popular to put up with the slings and arrows of the neo-isolationists for the past half-dozen years, thinking as they do that President Obama’s fumbling away of Iraq and dithering in Afghanistan make any less real the actual victories that had been achieved in both places by President George W. Bush.
But the first Republican to say and believe in America’s continued role as guarantor of the peace and policeman of the world’s waters will merit a very long look indeed from conservatives who recall that President Reagan was defined more than anything else by one strategic vision: “We win. they lose.”
“We” was and remains the West and those parts of the rest of the world that want to be part of the West. The “they” remain the enemies of civilization, whether as close as a Mexican cartel or as far away as a Somali warlord.
It takes military assets, lots of them, to lead the world. They are expensive, as are the men and women who control and command them. Waiting for a GOP leader to speak on behalf of the most important part of the budget is getting old indeed.