Tag: ronald reagan

Romney’s National Security Problem

It appears some Republicans want to return to their familiar national security play book in their pursuit of the White House, accusing a Democratic president of gutting defense spending and undermining national security. An Associated Press story predicts that Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign may feature the “hawkish and often unilateral foreign policy prescriptions that guided Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.” But the calls from Republican operatives and GOP hawks for Romney to slam Obama for cutting the military and drawing down in Afghanistan are hollow. Focusing on national security isn’t likely to score Romney any political points. To the extent that foreign policy matters in this election, Romney’s policies are both misguided, and at odds with what the American people want.

For one thing, Romney’s prescriptions for Afghanistan aren’t so different from Barack Obama; where they are different, they are politically unpopular. From yesterday’s New York Times:

For Mr. Romney, the evolving politics of the Afghan conflict suggest that he “wouldn’t get a lot of juice for making the argument to stay,” said Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University. “The problem he’s got is, how he can criticize the president by adopting a policy remarkably similar to the president. He’s obviously got to criticize him, but he doesn’t have that much to work with.”

But the problem extends beyond Afghanistan. The more Romney talks about “staying the course” in an unpopular war, the more he sounds like the last GOP presidential nominee. John McCain’s campaign boast that he would rather lose an election than lose a war should haunt the party: he delivered neither a political victory for Republicans, nor a military victory in Iraq. Romney’s embrace of the Afghan quagmire could seal the GOP’s fate as the party that happily defies the wishes of the American people in order to fight costly and interminable nation-building missions in distant lands.

On defense spending, Romney’s approach has been “Fire. Ready. Aim.” He has accused Obama of short-changing the military, and pledges to spend at least 4 percent of the nation’s GDP on the Pentagon’s base budget, a promise that would bring spending to levels unprecedented since the end of World War II. Romney has yet to spell out what other spending he would cut, or what taxes he would increase, in order to make up what I estimate to be $2.5 trillion in additional spending over the next decade. Or he could just add to the deficit, as George W. Bush did. Team Obama would be smart to press Romney for clarification.

But Obama himself is to blame for misleading the public about military spending. Although he boasts of having cut $487 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade, his budget submission for FY 2013 represented only a slight decline below the previous year, and is still above the average during the Bush years. If Obama gets his way, the Pentagon’s budget would rise to near historic highs again by the end of the decade. (For more on this, see here.)

Therefore, far from believing that Obama has gone too far in cutting military spending, as Romney contends, many Americans believe that the cuts could go much deeper. That is the take away from Yochi Dreazen’s story in this week’s National Journal. Noting that we have the biggest and second-biggest air forces in the world (the Air Force and the Navy, respectively) and 11 aircraft carriers to China’s one (which isn’t exactly state-of-the-art), Dreazen quotes an exasperated T.X. Hammes, a professor at the National Defense University, and a 30-year Marine veteran, “the services keep saying that we need to be big. What’s the justification? Based on what threat? I’m just not sure I see the logic.”

A companion story at NJ by George E. Condon Jr. shows that Hammes isn’t alone. A recent Gallup poll found that 41 percent of Americans think we spend too much on the military as opposed to just 24 percent who think we don’t spend enough. It is that latter segment of the population, presumably, that Romney has locked up with his four percent promise. But it is hard to see how his stance will win over the war-weary public that isn’t anxious to repeat our Iraq and Afghanistan adventures, and that isn’t looking to boost military spending, either.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

GOP the Loser in Primary Fight over Immigration

Over at National Review Online this morning, I ask how the Ronald Reagan of 1980 would have fared in today’s Iowa caucuses given his views on how to tackle illegal immigration (“GOP Candidates Betray the Spirit of Reagan on Immigration”). My conclusion, based on the current mood of many Republicans, is that Reagan would have been the target of a barrage of attack ads:

In April 1980, when Ronald Reagan was competing in the presidential primaries, he rejected the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico: “Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit — and then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back. And open the border both ways by understanding their problems.”

If a Republican presidential candidate said such a thing today, he or she would suffer withering criticism for being soft on illegal immigration. Instead, we hear Reagan’s successors talk about implementing national ID cards, imposing intrusive regulations on the labor market, raiding farms, factories, and restaurants, and harassing small-business owners trying to survive in this tough economy, all in the name of chasing away hard-working immigrants.

The unhealthy competition among the current Republican candidates to sound tough on immigration also risks alienating millions of Hispanic voters who could otherwise be persuaded to support the party. If conservatives want to rediscover the more optimistic, inclusive, reform-minded spirit of Reagan, they should be talking about real immigration reform, not about spending more money and enacting more sweeping regulations to enforce a fundamentally flawed system.

Weinberger/Powell Doctrine R.I.P.

This morning at the Skeptics, I blogged about a series of questions raised by the ongoing military operations against Libya. But I left room for one big question: Is the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine dead?

Actually, it isn’t a question. It’s a statement: the doctrine that sought to prevent the United States from engaging in risky and counterproductive missions that had nothing to do with protecting U.S. vital interests (e.g. Lebanon 1983; Somalia, 1991; and Kosovo, 1999) is dead. Shovel dirt on it.

To review, the doctrine was first coined by Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, in a speech at the National Press Club in 1984. Weinberger was aided by a rising military officer, Colin Powell, who later adapted the concepts for his own purposes as National Security Adviser for Reagan and later as Chairman of the JCS under George H.W. Bush. The essential elements boil down to five key questions:

  1. Is there a compelling national interest at stake?
  2. Have the costs and consequences of intervention been considered?
  3. Have we exhausted all available options for resolving the problem, i.e. is force a last resort?
  4. Is there a clear and achievable military mission, and therefore a well-defined end state?
  5. Is there strong public support - both domestic and international - for the operation?

The current operations over Libya fail on at least four counts.

There is no compelling U.S. national interest at stake. The rationale for the mission is purely humanitarian: stopping violence against civilians. Whenever the United States involves itself in such missions, it inevitably raises questions about why we are intervening in this case, and not in others.

The costs and consequences have not been considered or debated. The claim that it will be quick and easy is belied by troubling parallels to Iraq, not the least of which is the divided nature of Libyan society, and the possibility – indeed, likelihood – that in the event of regime collapse a long-term nation-building project will be required to prevent reprisal attacks against former regime supporters.

The mission is not clearly defined, and we do not have a clear understanding of an end state. In the run-up to last week’s UNSC resolution, a number of observers pointed out that a no-fly zone alone was unlikely to halt Qaddafi’s advance on rebel positions. The resolution went one step further, allowing for attacks against forces on the ground. But the danger to civilians will persist for some time (see above), and that seemingly discrete object in fact allows for a very long-term mission, at a time when U.S. forces remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are also engaged in numerous other missions around the globe.

There is some public support for the mission, but I’m most interested in domestic opinion, and I’m most troubled by the Obama administration’s failure to obtain congressional approval for war. There was time for such an initiative, but the administration chose to dedicate its attention to the UN building in New York, not the U.S. Capitol at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. If members of Congress had been asked in advance, they might well have given approval, but someone up there would have asked at least two crucial questions: How long will this take? And how much will it cost?

I will allow that the military option might have been the only thing remaining in the policy toolbox to halt Qaddafi’s advance on rebel positions, but that doesn’t answer the question of why the U.S. military should have been involved (with no vital U.S. interest at stake, and with the U.S. military busy elsewhere, it should not have been), and it also doesn’t address the more troubling question about the long-term ramifications of said military action, even if the best-case scenario of Qaddafi’s speedy ouster plays out.

It goes too far to claim that the Libyan intervention killed the Weinberger/Powell doctrine. It was already dead, or at least very sick. But I see President Obama’s latest decision as a clear indication that the relative wisdom and prudence of the Reagan/Bush I years is but a distant memory.

Reagan’s Libertarian Spirit

At the Britannica Blog I take a look back at Ronald Reagan on the occasion of his impending 100th birthday (February 6):

Libertarians have mixed feelings toward Ronald Reagan. When we’re feeling positive, we remember that he used to say, “Libertarianism is the heart and soul of conservatism.”

Other times, we call to mind his military interventionism, his encouragement of the then-new religious right (“I know you can’t endorse me, but I endorse you.”), and his failure to really reduce the size of government. But the more experience we have with later presidents, the better Reagan looks in retrospect….

And in those moments we’re tempted to paraphrase the theme song of All in the Family and say, “Mister, we could use a man like Ronald Reagan again.”

Bonus: The entry contains links to Encyclopedia Britannica entries on such topics as libertarianism and individualism, normally available only to subscribers. More Britannica reflections on Reagan here. Some other Cato thoughts on Reagan here.

Government Program Immortality

Who said: “A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”?

As political junkies know, that was Ronald Reagan in 1964. The Internet attributes other similar quips to Reagan.

Reagan apparently borrowed the idea from Senator James F. Byrnes, who stated on the floor of the Senate in 1933: “The nearest earthly approach to immortality is a bureau of the federal government.”

My source is “Reorganization of Federal Administrative Agencies,” Congressional Quarterly, September 17, 1933. The article is a reminder that concerns about government waste, duplication, overlap, and inefficiency certainly did not start with Reagan. Government failure has been around a long time.

The CQ article notes that the 1932 Democratic platform called for “an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagance, to accomplish a saving of not less than 25 percent in the cost of the federal government.”

Alas, that leaner-government policy was not exactly the approach followed by FDR.

DREAM Act a Low-Risk, High-Return Option

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to consider bills such as the DREAM Act, approved by the House last evening and on tap for a vote in the Senate as early as today.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would offer legal status to students who came to the United States illegally before they turned 16 and have lived here for more than five years. To gain legal status they would need to complete high school, and then two years of college or military service. Once implemented the act would legalize about 65,000 students a year.

If our immigration policy was more in line with what I’ve been advocating for years, we would not have the large population of illegal immigrants that we do today because more legal alternatives would have been available. And access to in-state tuition would not be such a big deal if our education policies more closely reflected the sound arguments of my colleagues at Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom. Alas, that is not the world we live in yet.

The DREAM Act would improve a less-than-ideal situation by legalizing a population that is primed to live the American dream, and is virtually guaranteed to bestow real blessings on our economy and society.

Critics of the DREAM Act, such as Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), paint these kids as nothing but expensive liabilities and the act as nothing but a backdoor amnesty. Both charges are false.

Young immigrants eligible for the DREAM Act are a low-risk, high-return addition to America. Because they came here at a young age, they almost all speak English fluently and are at home in American society. The fact that they have completed high school and will be attending college makes it likely they and their descendants will pay more in taxes than they consume in government services during their lifetimes. With the U.S. birthrate hovering at the replacement level, these assimilated, immigrant students at the beginning of their careers will help the United States maintain a healthy growth rate in our workforce.

It is wrong to label the DREAM ACT “amnesty.” These kids did nothing wrong. In fact, most of them simply obeyed their parents when the family immigrated to the United States. They should not be punished for the actions of their parents.

The DREAM Act, like most other immigration-related bills, has become charged with partisanship. House Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill last evening, Republicans lopsidedly against. Democratic leaders in Congress are certainly open to the charge that they are using the bill to attract Hispanic voters even though the chances of it passing the Senate and becoming law are, at the moment, slim. But Republicans are open to the more serious charge that they are ignoring the more optimistic and inclusive vision of our country articulated by former President Ronald Reagan.

Demonstrating the Cheap-shot Defense

When I first started arguing that now is the time to press the case for eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, I noted that the biggest obstacle to scaling down fed ed has long been the cheap-shot smearing of would-be downsizers. Today, I want to thank Kevin Carey, Policy Director at the think tank Education Sector, for brilliantly illustrating that very unsightly strategy.

Writing on Education Sector’s blog yesterday, Carey ripped into a post I put up that morning, a post that primarily linked to a call to abolish ED from a left-leaning educator. Carey’s rejoinder: Basically, Cato hates public education, and there’s a whole lotta crazy goin’ on:

The Cato Institute is dedicated to creating “a future where government-run schools give way to a dynamic, independent system of schools competing to meet the needs of American children,” i.e. destroying public education as we know it.  As such, Cato wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. This fringe notion was first advanced by Ronald Reagan, until A Nation at Risk was published and the Great Communicator abruptly made an about-face and became very interested in an expanded federal role in K-12 policy as way to appeal to moderate voters in the 1984 election. The idea come up again a decade later during the brief rise of Gingrichism before fading into deserved obscurity for the next 15 years.

Then Tea Party candidates like Sharron Angle revived the kill Education platform, based on a general antipathy toward the federal government combined with not knowing anything about education….

So now reporters are calling me all the time asking me whether to take this stuff seriously. The answer is: No. Do not take it seriously. Nobody is shutting down the U.S. Department of Education. If one thing is sure in this life, one certainty that can be clung to like a rock in a storm, it’s that Congressional Republicans don’t actually want to shrink the size of the federal government, reduce the deficit, or cut federal programs in any meaningful way, particularly programs that enjoy broad public support as education programs do.

That plain fact, however, hasn’t prevented Cato’s education analysts from excitedly suggesting that the Department of Education abolition movement is on the rise. Few have joined their cause, because few people want to destroy public education as we know it. However, today Cato’s Neal McCluskey identified an ally in the reactionary anti-reform left….

[Long quote from my post]

There you have it: if you were wondering who besides the Cato Institute, an organization dedicated to applying principles of extreme privatization to all walks of public life, is out there enough to abolish the Department of Education — well, now you know.

That said, beyond the “There will always be strange bedfellows in Crazy Town” aspect of this, it does raise the interesting question of whether the NEA and other hardcore anti-accountability / anti-charter / anti-testing / anti-merit pay / anti-TBD people would be willing to join forces with Congressional Republicans to visit some kind of serious harm on the federal education framework of standards, testing, and accountability.

Where to begin…

Let’s start with what’s not in Carey’s big bag o’ belittling: substance. At the root of my argument for eliminating ED is the reality that federal intervention in education has produced little by way of educational improvement while costing significant amounts of money. It is also of highly questionable constitutional validity. So my argument isn’t driven by blind ideology, or just plain wackiness, but serious policy concerns, foremost of which is that ED isn’t actually good for education – which is our main concern, right? – or the country. But those concerns are nowhere mentioned in Carey’s post, and he implies that if you share my opinion, as Sharron Angle does, you probably know nothing about education.

Carey’s dismissal of George Wood, whose blog post is the heart of the entry I wrote that sent Carey over the edge, is similar. Wood makes very logical arguments for why ED is a net loss and should be absorbed into a department like Health and Human Services. I don’t agree with all of his reasoning, but it clearly shows logical thinking about why ED should go. Carey’s response: Forget your arguments, you belong in “Crazy Town” with McCluskey.

How about the stuff that is in Carey’s post?

First, there’s the usual attack that Cato-types are nutty fringers who want to destroy “public education.” As I have (obviously ineffectually) tried to explain to Carey before, I am not against public education, in which government ensures that everyone can access education. I am against public schooling, in which government runs the schools. This gets directly to the bedrock question of how best to operate education in a free society, as well as make schooling work primarily for parents and kids. And contrary to the connotation of phrases like “destroying public education as we know it,” government run schooling with a huge federal presence has hardly been the standard for most of American history.

Here’s another bit of history Carey misrepresents. He suggests that Ronald Reagan’s efforts to abolish ED in the early 1980s were part of a “fringe notion” that there shouldn’t be an ED. That’s a little hard to take, considering that ED was created by legislation signed in 1979, and didn’t start functioning until 1980. Oh, and the final House vote on the Department? It won by a scant 4 votes, 210 to 206. And heck, even American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker opposed the new Department. So yeah, very fringy.

Where Carey does make sense is in his argument that for political reasons it is not very likely that the Department of Education will be abolished.  “If one thing is sure in this life,” he writes, “it’s that Congressional Republicans don’t actually want to shrink the size of the federal government, reduce the deficit, or cut federal programs in any meaningful way, particularly programs that enjoy broad public support as education programs do.”

Carey is far too certain about what’s in Congressional Republicans’ hearts – I bet many really do want to shrink government and reduce the deficit – but based on recent history it’s certainly reasonable to be dubious that as a group they’ll do those things. But I have never said anything different – indeed, I fully acknowledged the political obstacles:

Yesterday, Tad DeHaven wrote about an interview with Rep. John Kline (R-MN), likely chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee should the GOP take the House majority. Tad lamented that Kline seemed to declare any potential effort to kill the U.S. Department of Education (ED) already dead in the water. Unfortunately, Kline is certainly right: Any effort to kill ED in the next couple of years would not only have to get through a (presumably) GOP-held House, but (also presumably) a Dem-controlled Senate and Obama-occupied White House. There just aint no way ED will be dismantled — and more importantly, it’s profligate programs eliminated — in that environment.

That said, if many Tea Party-type candidates win today, it will be precisely the time to start pushing the immensely powerful case for ending fed ed.

I have been very clear in stating that now is the time to start pushing in earnest to end ED, not that success is almost here. But that just doesn’t fit in the “Crazy Town” narrative, I guess.

Anyway, thanks to Kevin Carey for furnishing a terrific example of this most crucial of points: The federal education war is rarely fought with reason and evidence. No, cheap shots and demonization, sadly, are the weapons of choice.