National Security Must Not Be An Afterthought

In the wake of Osama bin Laden's well-deserved demise, many politicians and commentators have all but erased national security as an issue in the 2012 campaign.

Under this analysis, President Obama's decision to end the decade-long hunt for bin Laden by ordering the Abbottabad raid demonstrates his foreign policy competence, and fits seamlessly into his predetermined policy to wind down the war on terror globally and in Afghanistan specifically.

Adam Smith wrote in "The Wealth of Nations" that "the first duty of the sovereign, that of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies, can be performed only by means of a military force."

Obama and too many other politicians, left and right, act as though Smith's powerful insight is outdated. The reality is precisely the opposite.
Obama's obsession with domestic issues has been mirrored by Republican reluctance to take on the president's inattention and policy errors in foreign affairs. As important as our economic problems are, we cannot ignore national security and foreign affairs while we deal with them. No domestic prosperity is ultimately safe unless the nation itself is secure.

Americans well understand the intimate connection between foreign and domestic issues. Gasoline prices have risen recently largely because we have no real policy to deal with Middle Eastern turmoil and because Obama refuses to allow exploitation of domestic hydrocarbon resources to reduce our dependence on volatile foreign regions.

Obama's ill-advised pursuit of a weak dollar has not materially increased our exports or domestic jobs, but it has severely reduced the dollar's strength as the world's reserve currency, with its attendant political and economic benefits. The list goes on and on.

During two years of reckless, unprecedented increases in domestic spending, while simultaneously creating unsustainable new entitlement programs, Obama has already cut nearly $400 billion from defense spending, and projects cutting $ 400 billion more.

Critical advanced capabilities, such as the F-22 program, have been drastically reduced, while other modernization and replacement programs have languished for lack of resources.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has pursued a relentless redirection of defense assets toward low-intensity conflict, essentially ignoring growing Russian and Chinese assertiveness.

While no one doubts the importance of winning low-intensity conflicts such as Afghanistan, neither can we ignore the importance of responding to changes in strategic and conventional war-fighting capabilities by traditional adversaries.

Obama's wholesale retreat from national missile defense and the extraordinarily ill-advised nuclear arms control agreement with Russia similarly signal the demise of American resolve.

In virtually every respect -- as with his social democratic directions in domestic policy -- Obama is following Europe's path of declining defense spending, and its inevitably debilitating effect on our national security worldwide.

Obama recently praised the retiring Gates for cutting $400 billion in defense spending over the next decade and proposed doubling that amount.

He said those cuts would rest on "a fundamental review of America's missions, capabilities and our role in a changing world." Gates himself subsequently warned that such reductions would inevitably result precisely in reducing our presence and our resources globally.

But that's the opposite of how we should proceed. We need to derive our security strategy from an analysis of the threats we face, not from ideological preconceptions. And we must persuade our allies to shoulder their proportional burden, as many have failed to do.

Spending on intelligence resources is also inadequate. We face gaps in our "national technical means," the euphemism for satellite imaging and electronic interception capabilities, the effects of which will cascade in coming years.

And we continue the inadequate investments in human intelligence programs and clandestine operations that have been in decline since the Carter administration in the 1970s. It was a great success to find and kill bin Laden, but it should not have taken 10 years.

Homeland security remains tenuous, demonstrated by the violence spreading across our border as the strength of Mexican drug cartels increases. Last year, even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton correctly assessed that Mexico was on the path to chaos, like Colombia 25 years ago.

Obama contradicted her publicly the next day, not only humiliating Clinton but showing his own blithe unawareness of the danger posed by our porous borders.

Given this background, now is precisely the time to raise people's attention to national security issues in our political debate, insisting candidates address these issues seriously and thoughtfully during the 2012 campaign season.

Failure to do so guarantees continuing Obama's woeful approach, with rising dangers in the years ahead.

John Bolton is a senior fellow at AEI

U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez

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John R.
  • John R. Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. From 2001 to 2005, he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security. At AEI, Ambassador Bolton's area of research is U.S. foreign and national security policy.

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