For the last two weeks Mitt Romney’s campaign has incessantly attacked President Obama for the cuts to defense spending mandated by the agreement he made with Congress to lift the debt ceiling last year. Romney and his surrogates blame Obama, instead of their fellow Republicans in Congress, for this turn of events, and claim it will damage America’s national security. They are also playing hypocritical politics, and violating their own supposed principles, by complaining that the cuts will cost jobs in swing states such as Virginia. Here’s a sampling of their statements:
§ Mitt Romney, in his speech Tuesday to the VFW: “We are just months away from an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats.”
§ Senator Jim Talent (R-MO) on a Romney campaign conference call: “They’re planning to cut 200,000 troops. Given the state of the economy, it’s equivalent to laying them off and the military is sending them to the unemployment lines.… at a time when Iran is making progress towards a nuclear weapon, Syria is in the middle of a civil war, Chinese power is surging, we have men and women fighting and putting their lives at risk in the field in Afghanistan. So in all my years in and around Washington, it’s the most irresponsible thing a Commander-in-Chief has done.”
§ Tea Party hero and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in a Romney campaign statement: “For President Obama to play budgetary Russian roulette with national defense is shameful. The damage to our local economy here in Virginia will be enormous. But the damage to our national security is what really counts.”
§ Representative Scott Rigell (R-VA), in a statement for the Romney campaign: “The President must address—directly and decisively—the massive, violent reduction in defense spending that is headed our way. Pink slips are looming, Virginia will be reeling come January, and our Commander in Chief is eerily silent on this issue. That, in my opinion, is a breach of his duty as head of our armed forces.
§ Romney surrogate Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) said on CNN: “I’m worried not only about jobs in Virginia, but I’m worried about the security of the United States of America.”
As conservative Ramesh Ponnuru points out in a Bloomberg View column, Republicans are making a big-government Keynesian argument for defense spending, that it’s a necessary public employment program. They utterly reject this logic if applied to, say, retaining public school teachers or police officers. “The Republican position on federal spending could not be clearer: It doesn’t create jobs. Except when it goes to defense contractors,” writes Ponnuru.
As Dave Weigel notes in Slate, Romney and his supporters have taken to audaciously referring to “President Obama’s Massive Defense Cuts,” as if they were his alone. In fact, they are not Obama’s at all. Obama, of course, was perfectly happy to let Congress raise the debt ceiling as it always had in the past without attaching any conditions. Republicans insisted that only massive spending cuts, and no additional revenue, would have to accompany any such vote. They held the economy—which would have collapsed from a governmental debt default—hostage. So Obama gave in and agreed to spending cuts. The only concession he won in exchange for cuts to domestic spending was cuts to defense as well. But the defense cuts would have been avoided if Republicans had not been so irresponsible in the first place.
Where did Romney figure into all of this? As is typical of the coward who wants to lead the free world, he hid out, saying as little as possible. When the deal was finally reached, he simultaneously condemned it for not going far enough and for cutting defense spending. “As president, my plan would have produced a budget that was cut, capped and balanced—not one that opens the door to higher taxes and puts defense cuts on the table,” he said.
How one balances the budget without cutting defense spending remains a mystery no Republican has actually solved. Defense spending accounts for 24 percent of our total federal budget. Most of the rest is taken up by mandatory spending on entitlement programs and interest on our debt.
Republicans such as Romney make no effort to actually prove that the sequestration cuts will damage the military. They just assert it.
Any look at the statistics will demonstrate the absurdity of their claims. In 2011 the United States spent $698 billion on defense. That is 43 percent of the world’s share. China was number two, at $119 billion. Every other country in the top ten military spenders, except for Russia, was an ally. Russia and China combined, at $178 billion, spent vastly less than the United States. So which enemy is challenging us for global supremacy? How could the sequestration cuts of $500 billion over ten years, as we wind down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, possibly make us unable to defend ourselves?
Romney doesn’t say, because he does not have an answer. Rather, he is simply flailing, looking for ways to attack President Obama on national security, when polls show Obama is more trusted on the issue. The American public is hardly known for its deep knowledge of global affairs, but they do know who killed Osama bin Laden and decimated Al Qaeda’s top leadership, and it wasn’t Mitt Romney.