Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the weakest of them all? According to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, it is President Obama who is endangering American national security – despite the fact that this president increased military spending in each of his three years in office, ordered more drone attacks on the Taliban and Al Qaeda than his predecessor, and took out Osama bin Laden.
And yet, Mr. Romney, in his foreign-policy speech at The Citadel military college in Charleston, S.C., last month, characterized Mr. Obama as weak on national security: “If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president,” he said. “You have that president today.”
He echoed that assertion in Saturday night's GOP debate focusing on national security and foreign policy. "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon," Romney stated.
Obama’s record on military spending is apparently not enough for Romney, who wants to add another $30 billion a year to the Pentagon budget as well as enlist another 100,000 new troops. With two wars winding down and tremendous budget pressures, Obama now wisely seeks more than $450 billion in defense cuts.
Still, one wonders who among the Republicans will be the first to declare that America is facing an “Obama gap” in defense? Watch for it when the GOP candidates again debate national security on Nov. 22 in Washington.
Americans too easily believe the simplistic myth that Democrats are weak on national security and Republicans keep the US strong.
It’s a cheap shot but by no means the first, and Democrats have also played this dishonest game.
They shamelessly misled the public during the Eisenhower administration, indicting Ike for allegedly weakening America. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led allied forces to victory over the Nazis, was scurrilously defamed by Democrats who accused him first of permitting a “bomber gap” to develop between the United States and the Soviet Union, followed by the fictitious “missile gap.”
One of the worst proponents of the missile-gap lie was John F. Kennedy, who said the nation was losing the “satellite-missile race” because of “complacent miscalculations, penny-pinching, budget cutbacks, incredibly confused mismanagement, and wasteful rivalries and jealousies.”
He and other officials went so far as to claim that Soviet missile counts were as much as 1,000 times what really existed – a gross exaggeration.
Around the time of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the Soviets had only four intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the US. The US, on the other hand, had more than 100 land-based nuclear missiles targeting the Soviet Union and 144 submarine-based warheads.
There is much that is morally wrong with fabricating nonexistent weaknesses. For one thing, it misleads the public as to what constitutes genuine strength.
And such political disingenuousness can breed immense tragedies. In the summer of 1964, Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential candidate, was biting at President Lyndon Johnson’s heels calling for bombing North Vietnam as the situation in the South worsened weekly.
With an eye on his own election prospects and fearful of being called “weak” by Republicans during the campaign, Johnson took America into a disastrous war in Vietnam. This, he hoped, would demonstrate that he was “strong.”
That folly cost $150 billion and 58,000 American lives. Ultimately, it was the Vietnamese with at least a million dead of their own who proved themselves strong and the Americans “weak.”
Jimmy Carter, whom Republicans love to ridicule, actually demonstrated great moral courage by refusing demands to take America to war with Iran after the Islamic Republic held 52 US embassy workers for 444 days.
Carter demonstrated the same tensile strength that John Adams wielded by refusing to take the US to war with France. Both lost reelection bids even though they demonstrated moral fiber and enduring strength.
America does not need another election that hinges on imagined weakness aimed at frightening the public. Parading about and chest-thumping are destructive, misrepresenting our real national interests during elections. Romney’s fantasy of reinventing an American Empire would have disastrous consequences for the battered US budget.
Walter Burdick, professor emeritus of Elmhurst College in Illinois, cautions, “If you’re going to play with this kind of saber-rattling, someone like Romney may have to put up or shut up in Iran or North Korea. If you’re going to sell the public such a bill of goods, you may find you have to live up to it.”
Israel’s most brilliant military historian, Martin van Creveld, put it succinctly in his book “The Transformation of War”:
“The cold, brutal fact is that much present-day military power is simply irrelevant as an instrument for extending or defending political interests over most of the globe,” he writes. “When it comes to preventing acts of terrorism closer to home, the military services and their arms – fighter bombers, tanks, armored personnel carriers, etc. – are even less useful.”
Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.