The Agenda

Reading Between the Lines of Romney’s VFW Speech

Spencer Ackerman of Wired distills five core takeaways from Mitt Romney’s recent foreign policy speech in Reno, Nevada. Despite sharp criticisms of the Obama White House, including of its alleged penchant for leaking sensitive national security information, Ackerman suggests that Romney’s foreign policy priorities aren’t that far off from President Obama’s. I found Ackerman’s last observation — that Romney did not explicitly pledge to increase the defense budget, despite the fact that his campaign has previously championed a substantial Navy build-up — encouraging, insofar as it suggests that a Romney administration’s commitment to spending discipline would extend to the Pentagon. 

Ramesh Ponnuru reminds me, however, that Mitt Romney’s campaign website suggests otherwise:

We cannot rebuild our military strength without paying for it. Mitt will begin by reversing Obama-era defense cuts and return to the budget baseline established by Secretary Robert Gates in 2010, with the goal of setting core defense spending — meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development — at a floor of 4 percent of GDP.

This section does go on to promise more efficient defense spending, greater competition in the procurement process, etc. But the 4 percent of GDP floor is a clear indication that the Romney campaign is committed to substantial defense spending. I’m very wary of targets of this kind, as I think the goal should be to define the capabilities we consider necessary to securing our national security interests and to achieve them as cost-effectively as possible, regardless of whether that means spending 2% or 10% of GDP. 

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