One important consequence of the recent debt deal is the way it has highlighted a growing divide within the Republican Party between budget-cutters and defense hawks. Eli Lake’s recent piece in The New Republic offers a comprehensive look at how the shift in the GOP foreign policy debate is playing out in the party’s presidential race.
Lake points out that many prominent figures in the GOP and the conservative movement now view the defense budget as a source of potential savings. He notes that, last year, “27 leading conservative activists—including Al Regnery, the conservative book publisher; Brent Bozell, the head of the Media Research Center; David Keene, the former head of the American Conservative Union; and [Americans for Tax Reform president Grover] Norquist—sent a letter to the House leadership calling for cuts in military spending.”
Lake goes on to argue that the effects of this shift can be seen in presidential candidates’ stances. He writes that “the penny-pinching mood among Republicans [has] influenced the general tenor of GOP foreign policy discussions—and made the candidates less inclined to sound the kinds of grandiose and expensive notes about foreign policy that were considered par for the course in 2008.” The most prominent example he cites is presumed front-runner Mitt Romney’s uncertainty about the war in Afghanistan: “[Romney] has also flirted with the idea that it’s time to wrap up the mission and leave. ‘One lesson we’ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence,’ he said at a debate in June.”
Another major theme of Lake’s article is the mainstreaming of fears that sharia law is coming to the United States within the GOP presidential field. He points out that Michele Bachmann, who is widely thought to be a viable contender for the nomination, praised a controversial report warning about the spread of sharia in the U.S. for its “systematic and thorough … research, which will highly add to the discussion of sharia law’s impact on the United States.” Lake also notes that Tim Pawlenty has “felt the need to nod in the same direction” by having a spokesman explain that he “does think there is a threat from sharia … of undermining U.S. law and the Constitution.”
Lake’s discussion of this issue suggests that, for many in the GOP, fears about sharia law have become a substitute for serious thinking about national security policy. He implies that Bachmann’s “conviction that sharia law is a threat to the United States,” rather than careful study of the Middle East, played a major role in her decisions to oppose the ouster of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and back a resolution to end American military involvement in Libya.