Democrats' Real Record on National Security

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer gave a speech a few weeks ago at CSIS, a leading think tank, on the virtues of the Democrats’ record and current policies on national security.  While there is much in the speech that deserves comment, a few specific statements stand out.

(1)  “Through two World Wars, through the containment that checked the spread of communism, through the specter of missiles in Cuba or genocide in Bosnia, Democratic leadership has answered the threats that endangered America’s security, and the world’s.”

Republicans had a little something to do with fighting and winning the World Wars and the Cold War.  In fact, many would say that Ronald Reagan was instrumental in ending the Cold War through policies that were viciously opposed by Democrats in Congress. 

In a broader sense, there were substantial numbers of pro-defense Democrats through much of the 20th Century who worked with Republicans to ensure that America was second to none in military strength.  But the Democratic Party drove most of them away so that now only a handful remain in the Congress. 

Once guided by FDR, Truman, and John F. Kennedy, today the dominant approach toward national security of the modern Democratic Party is guided more by the George McGovern philosophy.  As former Democrat Jeane Kirkpatrick said in 1984, when describing the Democratic Party that nominated Walter Mondale for President, “they always blame America first.”  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and most of the Democrats in Congress are clearly of that school.  Their policies make it harder to meet and respond to the threats that face us.

(2) “Democrats have aggressively stepped up the fight against terrorists.”

The Obama Administration has increased the tempo of some of our anti-terrorism efforts.  For that, they deserve credit.  So far, the administration has been serious about achieving success in Afghanistan, although with a deadline for withdrawal that complicates the mission.  It should be noted, however, that substantial numbers of congressional Democrats oppose both of those policies.

The rest of the story is that the Obama Administration has also taken a number of steps which make it harder to fight terrorists.  For example, they have insisted on having terrorists given a Miranda warning to remain silent after brief questioning.  They have limited all interrogations to the techniques published in the Army Field Manual (which is publicly available and easily accessible on the Internet and thus trained for by the terrorists).  They have reinvestigated the intelligence professionals who have conducted interrogations in the past, even though previous investigations by career prosecutors had cleared them of any wrong doing.  And they have bumbled around trying to figure out how to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and how to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other terrorists held there.

(3) “Those plots [the attempted Christmas Day bombing and the attempted bombing of Times Square] were foiled not by chance but by the vigilance of law enforcement and intelligence, first responders and ordinary citizens.”

However admirable the work of citizens and law enforcement after the bombs malfunctioned, this statement by the majority leader is simply not true.

No one—including those involved in law enforcement, intelligence, first responders, or ordinary citizens—no one did a single thing to prevent those bombs from exploding and killing many, many people.  It was sheer luck and ineptitude of the terrorists that was responsible.   It was only after the bombs failed to explode as intended that the devices and the terrorists were discovered.  This increased pace of attacks against Americans here at home makes the other Democratic policies that tie the hands of our intelligence and law enforcement professionals even more concerning.

(4) “That’s why Democrats, often in the face of Republican opposition, have increased funding for human intelligence collection, cybersecurity, and security for our skies, our ports, and our borders.  For instance, both the fiscal year 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations bill and the fiscal year 2010 Intelligence Authorization bill passed over strong Republican opposition.”

Republicans strongly support increased funding for human intelligence, cybersecurity, and the other goals.  We do insist, however, that if TSA is going to get more money that it be able to use the money effectively in a way that actually increases security rather than just funds a bigger bureaucracy.  But the larger point is that Republicans opposed the fiscal 2010 Intelligence bill, not because of the funding levels (in fact we said clearly on the House floor that there was agreement on the classified annex which contains those amounts) but because of the policy flaws in the rest of the bill.

(5) “So a strong development policy must be a pillar of our national security.”

It is true that there are several tools which must be employed to advance U.S. national security goals successfully, including effective foreign aid.  The problem is that much, if not most, of U.S. development aid has made little real difference in helping the economies of the targeted countries mature. 

We need fundamental reforms of development aid, such as that envisioned in the Millennium Challenge program, with specific goals and conditions required.  Of course, this week the Democrats announced that they intended to cut $4 billion from the President request for humanitarian and development assistance for Afghanistan.  Is this a “strong development policy” except where we need it most?

(6)  Debt is a national security threat.… That’s why the work of the President’s bipartisan fiscal commission is so important to our future – and why I am urging my colleagues to see the necessity of a budget compromise that is a real, politically viable way to restore our fiscal balance and health. …And an agreement like that [under the first President Bush and President Clinton] to be implemented after the economy has fully recovered, is a necessity today.”

It is clear that Majority Leader Hoyer is systematically pushing the case for a substantial tax increase. 

He recently announced that the Democrats would not even try to pass a budget, as is required by law.  He went on to say that it would be “too costly” to permanently extend the current tax law for the middle class, noting that "raising revenue is part of the deficit solution, too."  When speaking at CSIS and equating national security and fiscal policy, he argues in effect that a tax increase is necessary to defend the country.  They are two issues which are, of course, related.  Adequate federal resources must be devoted to national security.  Yet, the Democrats are moving to cut defense, as they often have in the past.  But now they are taking it a step further.  They are arguing that raising taxes is actually a patriotic act.

Polls show that the American people trust Republicans much more than Democrats to keep us safe.  On one of the most fundamental issues facing voters, Democrats are in trouble based on their record and on their rhetoric.  Arguments such as those made by Majority Leader Hoyer can only reinforce their suspicions.

Republicans should not hesitate to stand up for the right policies on national security—the first function of the federal government, even when it makes certain politicians uncomfortable.