This article was co-authored with Kyle Spector, Policy Advisor for Third Way
When Republicans unveiled their "Pledge to America," they gave the country a worrisome glimpse of how they would govern if voted back into the majority. The national security portion of their plan (buried away on page 37 of the 45-page document) is full of small ideas that fail to address any of America's immediate security challenges. Rather than prove they can govern, Republicans who adhere to the "Pledge" will fail the threshold question of American politics: Can you keep the country safe?
The United States faces a set of serious and immediate national security challenges. We are in year nine of our effort to prevent Afghanistan from again become a terrorist safe haven. Yet Republicans suggest no policy ideas (or even support) for our efforts there. Al Qaeda remains focused on attacking the United States; however, neither the group nor Osama bin Laden merits a mention in the Republican plan. House Republicans are also silent on how to deal with homegrown terrorists, rated as the biggest threat to the United States by Bipartisan Policy Center's National Security Preparedness Group, the successor to the 9/11 Commission.
Though they include a cliché commitment to "support our troops," Republicans fail to provide any policies that would actually do so. Fighting two long term wars drove our all volunteer military towards the breaking point. For several years, the Army had to lower its admission standards, while promising young officers and senior noncommissioned officers left the force in historic numbers -- 58% of the West Point class of 2002 left active duty at the end of their initial obligation. Military equipment stores were depleted and the United States found itself, for the first time, without a rapid response unit on standby. While the withdrawal in Iraq has partially reduced these strains, the legacy of these issues remains. The Army also faces a mental health crisis that has seen active duty suicides triple since 2003 to 160 last year. Releasing their plan in the same week their colleagues in the Senate blocked passage of the Defense Authorization bill -- and the increase in pay and health care services it provided for servicemembers and their families -- Republican leadership missed an opportunity to provide concrete policies to address these issues.
Instead, Republicans offered small, political, short-sighted ideas that will do little to improve America's security. While they cite the continuing threat of attacks on the American homeland, their only policy suggestion is to improve visa paperwork processes. On Iran, they lack any alternative to current policy and offer simply the promise of congressional hearings to ensure sanctions (passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama) are properly enforced. They also remain strangely more interested in keeping America safe from the terrorists we already have in custody than in providing solutions on how to capture and kill more.
This agenda is strikingly small in comparison to the accomplishments of President Obama and the Democrats. The president refocused American efforts on Afghanistan, significantly increasing our military presence in an attempt to finally achieve our mission to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and the terrorist threat. Since President Obama took office, the United States has stepped up its fight against terrorists, capturing or killing dozens of al Qaeda leaders and hundreds of al Qaeda extremists. Further, the Democratic Congress has strengthened America's military by increasing pay for troops in the field, providing them more time between deployments and putting new and better weapons into the battlefield.
The United States continues to face serious challenges to its security and needs serious policy recommendations, yet the Republicans treated national security as an afterthought. While this election is focused on the economy, 'Can you keep America safe?' has been a threshold question for voters. Fail it, and they reject you. This Republican plan fails to meet that bar by a wide margin.
Follow Scott Payne on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ScottPayne7