Foreign Policy in the 2012 Presidential Election Op-Eds #2

posted on September 24, 2012 in Politics and Society


Domestic Spending and Foreign Policy in the 2012 Election

By Jean Humbrecht, Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives

In an election which previously seemed to be focused on the economy and the stagnant job market, Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his vice president will undoubtedly bring foreign policy to the spotlight. 

The focus by all four candidates on domestic spending, in reality, will have significant impacts on foreign policy.  This might be hard to notice on a superficial level, but Ryan’s budget proposals, which focus on enhancing allocations to defense spending and the Pentagon while cutting benefits to entitlement programs, will force foreign policy to play a major role in the remainder of the 2012 Presidential campaign.

America’s mounting debt and continued high unemployment weigh heavily on the minds of voters.  Only four percent of voters stated in a recent poll that foreign policy was a concern for them in this year’s election.  But with Ryan as Mitt Romney’s Vice President, voters will be required to pay more attention.  Besides the fact that every vice-presidential debate this fall between Ryan and incumbent Joe Biden will focus on foreign policy, Ryan’s budget proposals, while cutting money to entitlement programs, are characterized by increased allowances for military and defense spending in attempts to mitigate the inevitable fallout of the looming threat of sequestration. 

Sequestration will result in automatic budget cuts of $1.2 trillion over the next ten years, with about half of those cuts coming directly from defense spending.  It has not as of yet received a lot of national media attention, which is perhaps one of the reasons why such a small number of voters are concerned with foreign policy in this election.  Ryan’s budget proposal stresses that the government’s top priority is defense.  It would delay the inevitable automatic budget cuts of $55 billion from the defense budget in the next fiscal year if sequestration is allowed to happen.

Many commentators view sequestration as a terrible plan, despite the facts that a number of both democratic and republican congressmen voted for it when Congress was unable to reach a budget deal last year.  Secretary of Defense Gates called it “catastrophic,” and others believe that America will lose its role as a global power if the military is weakened-an inevitable consequence of sequestration.  Defense secretary Leon Panetta last year said that these defense cuts will “tear a seam in the nation’s defense.”

Ryan and other republicans believe that money should not be automatically cut from defense, but that entitlement reform needs to be taken.  He argues that while the defense budget has been shrinking, the money allocated to entitlement programs has increased exponentially.  His budget proposes to cut the budgets of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, while increasing defense spending to more than would be dispensed under sequestration.  Ryan argues that his cuts don’t hurt the American’s benefitting from the entitlement programs, but help them by reforming programs plagued by what he believes to be inefficiency and waste.   

Ryan has stated a number of times that our government’s number one priority is to protect its citizens.   Consequently, he also believes that “the single biggest threat to our national security is our debt.”  Without a strong economy, we will lose out status as a super power.

Buck McKeon (R-CA) noted that “[Ryan] understands the Reagan principle of having a strong defense and the Eisenhower principle of having a big enough military that no one would ever think about attacking you.”  Danielle Pletka, Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, stated that “[Ryan] understands the primary role of the federal government is the national defense and not the handing out of food stamps.”

In a 2011 speech at the Alexander Hamilton Society, Ryan emphasized that the decline of America as a world power is a choice-not an inevitability. “A safer world and a more prosperous America go hand in hand.  Economic growth is the key to avoiding the kind of painful austerity that would limit our ability to generate both hard and soft power.”  

Regardless of whether one agrees with Ryan’s budget proposal to make cuts to entitlement programs g simultaneously increasing military spending, his entrance into the 2012 race now will make foreign policy an important consideration for voters.  How it will ultimately play out has yet to be determined, but we can be sure to see all four candidates talking more about foreign policy in their campaigns, which have up until now been replete with emphasis on the economy and appeared to devote little, if any, attention to foreign policy concerns.