George Will: GOP losing "superiority" on national defense

We can’t let the entire day slip away without one seriously unpopular opinion, so let’s check in with columnist George Will. In his latest offering, he cautions that forty years of “a presumption of superiority” on the part of the Republican Party may be coming to an end if we’re not careful. This deals not so much with how President Obama is handling military and national security matters, but with how his aspiring opponents are talking about the issue. He begins with the subject of Iraq.

Hours — not months, not weeks, hours — after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, vicious political factionalism and sectarian violence intensified. Many Republicans say Barack Obama’s withdrawal — accompanied by his administration’s foolish praise of Iraq’s “stability” — has jeopardized what has been achieved there. But if it cannot survive a sunrise without fraying, how much of an achievement was it?

He also cautions conservatives against being too quick to criticize any reductions in proposed military spending and reductions in troop levels overseas, particularly given the current mood of the nation.

The U.S. defense budget is about 43 percent of the world’s total military spending — more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations, many of which are U.S. allies. Are Republicans really going to warn voters that America will be imperiled if the defense budget is cut 8 percent from projections over the next decade? In 2017, defense spending would still be more than that of the next 10 countries combined.

Do Republicans think it is premature to withdraw as many as 7,000 troops from Europe two decades after the Soviet Union’s death? About 73,000 will remain, most of them in prosperous, pacific, largely unarmed and utterly unthreatened Germany. Why do so many remain?

While I understand how some people may look down their noses at the idea of being pragmatic when it comes to the intersection of national security and election year politics, there are other factors at play here which you would be foolish to ignore. Polls have consistently shown that a staggering 75% of Americans supported Obama’s decision to finish pulling out of Iraq on George W. Bush’s original schedule, and those numbers have not shifted noticeably even with the outbreak of secular violence there after our departure. As recently as last month, 78% said they support the President’s plans to step up our rate of departure from Afghanistan. And Obama still gets high marks for taking out bin Laden and other high profile terrorist leaders.

The whole point here is to remember that it is very dangerous to get too far out in front of attacking Barack Obama’s position when he’s playing a winning hand. Something about Kenny Rogers and knowing when to hold them or fold them comes to mind.

There are so many other issues on the domestic front which provide plenty of ammunition to go after the President, and rightly so. This seems a not very opportune time to jump on him over military concerns. In closing, since life imitates art far more than the reverse, perhaps the best reminder might come to us not from the campaign trail, but from Saturday Night Live. Watch it again and put it in context of the current conversation.