Washington Conservatives Worried About Movement Conservatives on Defense

Washington conservatives will send their more libertarian-inclined movement brethren a message on Monday: don't short change national defense.

In an op-ed to be published in the Wall Street Journal, the heads of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Foreign Policy Initiative warn that there will not be "long-term prosperity"  if the US military is "hollowed out" and can't defend the country.

Although the op-ed, written by FPI's Bill Kristol, AEI's Arthur C. Brooks and Heritage's Edward Fuelner, sets up the Obama administration as its foil, the real purpose to nudge Tea Party conservatives back into line on defense spending, according to a Republican strategist who is working on the program.

"We agree with them on 90 percent of things. But this last ten percent is very important," the strategist said.

The op-ed is the first wave of a national political campaign that will include aggressive legislative outreach. It is organized under the umbrella of "Defending Defense."

Several movement icons, including Ron Paul,  and Senate candidates Rand Paul from Kentucky, Mike Lee in Utah and Ken Buck in Colorado, have expressed doubt about America's military footprint around the world.

In Washington, Kristol, Fueler and Brooks are worried about musings like this one, from Buck, who said that as Iraq "
winds down, I think the military budget will become a less significant part of the overall budget. We've obviously got a commitment in Afghanistan. We've got to figure out what the goals are there and what we can do there. So there may be less need in two or three years than there is now. I think it's still important that we promote research and development in the military budget, but some of the costs of deploying troops may be significantly reduced in the next few years."

In the op-ed, the authors say that the cost of fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are about 4.9 percent of gross domestic product and not the cause of soaring deficits. They say that "defense spending has increased at a much lower rate than domestic spending in recent years."

"The goal is to make sure we're not boxed on by both sides," the strategist said, referring to liberals who want defense cuts and newly elected conservatives who might endorse them because of a preference for isolationism or because they believe defense spending is equivalent to other government spending. 

The new Republican coalition, as David Frum has noted, is based on economic libertarianism. While most conservatives endorse the muscular national security policies of the past administration, libertarian influences are becoming more evident in the party, and the campaign against terrorism no longer unites the right.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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