The White House has discovered a new tactic for pushing legislation that most Americans don’t want through Congress: implying the legislation in question is either all for the troops or could hurt the troops if not passed.
Wrapping the crassest political messaging in the flag is the lowest of low-ball politics. Pretending to honor the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform with congressional actions that have nothing to do with “providing for the common defense” is even worse.
Perhaps the most egregious example of playing politics with national security was the Administration’s position that the Senate has to rush through ratification of the New START nuclear agreement with Russia or the troops would suffer. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller recently said, “We also must bear in mind that we have soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan and still working in Iraq… I think that our military leadership would prefer to be concentrating on what’s needed for our soldiers in Afghanistan than having to, through worst-case planning, pour resources into the nuclear forces.”
On its face, this implication of this statement is completely illogical. First, how could ratifying a treaty that might seriously compromise the capacity of the military to protect and defend the U.S. be a good thing for our troops? Gottemoeller is simply using scare tactics to press the Senate to ignore serious concerns with the treaty. Second, how can it make sense to argue that the U.S. cannot afford to fund a robust nuclear deterrent and support our overseas commitments? Defense spending is not the cause of America’s fiscal woes. Mandatory spending on entitlements and interest on our debt currently accounts for over 50 percent of the federal budget, while defense spending accounts for less than one-fifth. It is ridiculous to suggest that America cannot afford a sound nuclear deterrent and conduct the military operations needed to prevent the next 9/11.
Equally outrageous has been the effort to load down the defense authorization bill with all manner of unrelated legislation—everything from immigration to taxes. “It’s a terrible piece of legislation ramrodded through,” Senator John McCain (R–AZ) said in a floor speech, accusing Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D–MI) of “moving forward with a social agenda on a national security bill.” This tactic sets an incredibly bad precedent. The leadership in the Senate has turned defense into a just another “political football.” Anyone in the Congress who takes the issues of national security seriously has a perfect right to be perfectly outraged. As Senator Mitch McConnell (R–KY) rightly declared, “It’s time they put the liberal wish list on the shelf and focused on the priorities of the American people.”
Note to readers: this blog replaces an earlier post which mis-attributed a quote to Assistant Secretary Gottemoeller.