Test of Hawkishness

With the sound of another shoe dropping, a small group of Republican Senators (McCain, Graham, Kyl, Cornyn, Ayotte, and Rubio) have announced a proposal to cancel next year’s automatic cuts in defense appropriations and instead wring equivalent savings (over ten years) by freezing pay for federal workers and reducing their numbers by 5% via attrition.

The proposal isn’t going anywhere, if only because Democratic support is extremely limited, and the president has already promised to veto any cancellation of the “sequestrations” called for in last year’s deficit agreement unless it’s replaced with a “grand bargain” involving tax increases on the wealthy.

But it’s mainly interesting as a measure of the residual strength of maximum defense hawks–or from a more philosophical perspective, the neocons who once walked so tall in Washington–in a Republican Party whose ardor for dismantling the New Deal and Great Society and making the tax code even more regressive is matched by a continued passion for federal activism in keeping America armed to the teeth, independent of any alliances (other than with Israel), and hyper-aggressive towards real or imagined foes.

It is, after all, one of the sillier parts of the Tea Party myth that “libertarians” uninterested in foreign policy adventurism have taken over the GOP. Aside, of course, from Ron Paul (and occasionally his senatorial son), you’d never know this was the case given the extraordinary support for truculence towards Iran among Republicans, and the continued determination of many to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. Indeed, the likely GOP presidential nominee is one Republican who has yet to indicate that he would pursue a foreign policy significantly different from that of the Bush administration. And most of his top national security advisors would look entirely at home taking turns at the podium in an appreciation dinner for Dick Cheney.

What he, and other Republican opinion-leaders have to say about the senatorial save-the-Pentagon initiative will tell us a lot about the relative priority they assign to the various passions of the conservative movement. Don’t bet against guns trumping butter, ever.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.