Today is Veterans Day. Thank you veterans and everybody else who has sacrificed for the rest of us. Thanks to those in uniform and to those in regular clothes.
A rumble has broken out amongst DC defense wonks and it will be a defining fight for the Tea Party. The Libertarians and the fiscal realist Liberals are in one corner, most Democrats and all Republicans are in the other.
Will these new Tea Party Members -- at long last -- force both parties in Congress to put defense spending on the budget cutting table?
The Defense Department should be red meat for the Tea Party. It is the largest government entity. Its budget has grown 67 percent in the past decade. It can't be audited. It doesn't respect the Tea Party's cherished free market principles. If DoD had a real business plan, we would be better prepared to fight bin Laden than Imperial Japan. And we're not. Its programs are subject to far less scrutiny than any other agency -- and forget about rigorous oversight of war spending. Abuse of uniformed personnel -- from over-privatization to over-reliance on them for policy implementation -- is rampant because of Congress' refusal to update and modernize its worldview on defense.
The best thing the Tea Party can do for veterans will be to stop these unaccountable behaviors.
Question the Republican Leadership's talking points. One argument we are going to hear is that defense is the only Congressional responsibility that truly meets the Constitutional litmus test (the preamble also mentions justice, the general welfare and Liberty, but let's save those fights for later).
But if we're going to use the Constitution as starting point, I need someone to explain how a gold-plated barnacle like missile defense gets billions of dollars a year when our veterans can't get adequate mental health care. Missile defense would not have worked in 1787 either. Airplanes are another problem concept in the Constitution time-machine. Don't use the Constitutional argument. Call missile defense what it is, a permanent ear mark for the aerospace industry.
Defense budget exceptionalism gets strange. Second Republican in Command Eric Cantor (VA) recently suggested putting Israel aid into the defense budget to keep it safe. Just what we need! Less leverage with Israel! Excuse the sarcasm, but this is a road you don't want to go down.
Here's the defense problem: The circumstances that we keep finding ourselves in are unconventional and can't be solved by the military. So,
Scrap the "War on Terror" framework. This distorting and inaccurate label has led us to where we are today -- with a safety addiction to the military and a bad hardware hangover. We didn't transform ourselves when our last strategic era ended (Soviet Union RIP 1991). This despite the fact that our military services were in the Balkans, Haiti and elsewhere innovating outside normal expectations: building city councils, fighting AIDS, starting small businesses. These are civilian tasks. Fighting terrorism is a subtle endeavor, lots of police and detective work. Watch the UK -- its more Sherlock Holmes than Braveheart. Read How Terrorism Ends.
Be careful with your anti-government talking points: Most military professionals who have been deployed over the past 18 years will tell you that government is a great counter-terrorism strategy. Look at Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan. Contemporary defense includes long term economic development plans and successful governance. But nearly all of this work must be done by locals and civil society. American involvement should minimize uniforms and guns.
Talking about national security outside of the military is HOT! Bureaucrats might be ideologically pesky for you, but they have done fantastic work to make our country safer. Nearly all of our government agencies have international desks. They are helping combat modern threats like criminal networks and disease contagion. They are innovating, applying American ideas to the international realm -- port security, gang violence reduction and rule of law among them.
Restrain your urge to whack the State Department. It will be very unhelpful to the military if you gratuitously beat up on the foreign affairs budget. Same goes for the United Nations. In order to compete and lead in today's world, we need far more non-military personnel working on behalf of our interests. This is the cardinal lesson for Congress on Afghanistan. Today, credibility is as important as hardware to influence national security. Its like marriage: our relationship with the world is the most important part of our security. Female Tea Partiers, help me out here! We need more investment in relationships: public sector, private sector, non profit, whatever. The American people are the key pillar of our security in a world where borders are less important.
Hire a smart 24-year-old who has taken classes in conflict resolution and/or peace studies. Peace is cool. It no longer lives exclusively in the Berkeley Hills, it lives in every Tea Party district, too.
Make sure you have both a foreign policy and a defense staffer. There is too much to do in each of these realms to have one person handle it all. Make sure your district office is included in these issues.
Tea Party victors, you must take up this challenge. If you shift defense budget politics and priorities, the populist transformation you seek will be possible and a more secure America will be the result.