The 2012 Candidates on National Security: An Overview

With Rick Santorum out of the race, Mitt Romney’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate is inevitable. We have continuously kept track of interesting quotes by the 2012 candidates on this blog (and there have been many), but with only two viable options left, it’s time to step back and look at Obama’s and Romney’s general views on foreign policy.

Romney has continuously criticized the President for “apologizing forAmerica.” He is a believer in American exceptionalism and accuses Obama of focusing excessively on multilateral solutions to global problems. His white paper portrays the world as being full of danger and uncertainty and emphasizes that American strength is necessary for dealing with these imminent threats. According to Romney, “if we continue with the feckless policies of the past three years”, we could be facing the following “not unrealistic” troubles: a nuclear Iran, a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, nuclear weapons in the hands of Islamist Jihadists, a global alliance of authoritarian states led by China, and more. Romney does a spectacular job at reiterating all the worst-case scenarios and criticizing the President, but has little to offer when pressed for policy recommendations. Two wars – one currently being fought inAfghanistanand one we are trying to avoid with Iran– are illustrative of this.

The Obama administration plans to sign a strategic partnership agreement with Karzai to hand over security responsibility to the Afghan Security Forces in 2014 but leave room for some sort of U.S. involvement even after the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. Romney is categorically against negotiating with the Taliban, even if it meant a political settlement to end the fighting in Afghanistan, because “these people have declared war on us… We go anywhere they are and we kill them.” Romney insists that setting a withdrawal date has hindered military effectiveness in Afghanistan because the Taliban will be able to simply wait out the U.S. military, but with only 30% of respondents in a recent poll by Washington Post and ABC News saying the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, will Romney run for election with a plan to stay indefinitely? Will he offer any viable alternatives to the strategy set out by Obama? Waiting until the election to hear an assessment of the situation on the ground by military commanders doesn’t seem like one.

Even in relation to Iran, a topic that has been getting a lot of media attention, Romney has failed to distinguish his policy from the President’s, except in his haste for war. He reiterated that “Obama has been timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear Iran” and has even gone so far as to say that if Obama is re-elected, Iran will have nuclear weapons capability. However, Obama has already pushed for harsh sanctions and said that a military option remains on the table. It is unclear how Romney would do things differently unless his plan is to attack Iran without any tries at diplomacy.

Overall, Obama has a decent record on foreign policy issues. He has ended the Iraq war (as he promised while campaigning), restarted relations with Russia and signed the new START treaty to cut down on numbers of nuclear weapons, and approved the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. Even foreign opinion of the United States has improved under his leadership. Sure, there have been failures, but the question remains, will Romney, with his alarmist and aggressive approach, do better with foreign policy as president? And who will make us safer?

There is a tendency to believe that the traditionally Republican policy views lead to greater security. After all, Republicans tend to advocate increases in defense budget, foreign relationships based on hard power, and unilateralism instead of compromising with other nations. In theory, this creates a powerful America with the ability to exercise its influence to ensure American prosperity and safety. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily hold true. The best chance for peace and security isn’t aggression and military strength but diplomacy and a considerate foreign policy. Thus far, Obama has emphasized cooperation and diplomatic solutions while Romney has articulated that America must remain on top and must act aggressively to discourage foes, a category in his view into which Russia and China fit. Whether the irresponsible tough talk on subjects like Iran and Russia is an appeal to right-wing voters or an actual indication of how a Romney administration would act is difficult to say but on national security issues so far, I’m more inclined to trust Obama.

FY 2013 Proposed Budget Summary

On February 13, the Obama Administration released the proposed budget for the 2013 fiscal year. We will summarize some of the highlights and changes from the previous year, specifically to the State Department’s budget and the Department of Defense’s budget.

President Obama’s proposal allows $3.7 trillion for spending in 2013 and predicts a $901 billion deficit. Only about 30% of the allowed spending is discretionary – $2.5 trillion (a little less than 70%) is mandatory spending and has already been allocated to various programs through existing laws and includes entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. About 6% of the budget goes towards paying down the interest on our federal debt and is included in the mandatory spending.

Of the federal budget, the State Department and USAID takes about 1%. For FY 2013, Obama’s proposed plan provides the State Department and other international programs $51.6 billion in discretionary spending. This reflects an increase of 1.6% or $0.8 billion from the 2012 level when Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) resources are included. The budget focuses on key geographical areas, such as the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. It will continue to provide military aid programs to Israel ($3.1 billion), Egypt ($1.3 billion), and Jordan ($300 million). In addition, it sets aside money to promote democracy, good governance, and free market economies in the critical Middle East and North Africa region, reflecting the recent events and transitions in the region. It stands with the President’s focus on international health programs and funds the Administration’s pledges to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and provides $7.9 billion to the President’s Global Health Initiative. In order to cut down spending, the aid to eastern European and Eurasian countries will decrease by 18% from the previous year. Furthermore, the State Department will hold off on a planned expansion of personnel and an overseas construction program to improve and build new secure embassies.

Many of the Defense Department’s highlights were released by Leon Panetta last week. Overall, Obama’s proposal gives $525.4 billion for the base discretionary budget for the department. This will be a decrease of 1% or $5.1 billion from the 2012 numbers. The decrease is part of the President’s attempt to save $486.9 billion by 2021. There will be a major reduction over the next five years in the size of the military ($50 billion). The end of the war in Iraq and the promised scale back of the war in Afghanistan in 2013 will save about $26 billion through cuts in operations and equipment and the slash in costs of training and equipping the Afghan security forces. The budget entails maintaining 68,000 troops in Afghanistan through September 2013 but those totals can be changed. The proposed budget would terminate low priority programs, such as C-27 airlift aircraft and a new weather satellite and reduce the number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters the Pentagon will buy. There will be maintained spending in cyber security, special operations forces, and unmanned surveillance aircraft. The Administration wants to preserve a reliable nuclear deterrent with investments in the nuclear weapons complex and continue to promote nuclear nonproliferation by securing and neutralizing nuclear threats around the world.

For more detailed information on the FY 2013 proposed budget, see the State Department budget page, the Defense Department budget page, or the White House budget overview.

The New York Times has created an interactive budget graphic which puts the budget proposal in perspective.