Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When Foreign Policy Isn't Foreign Policy

Folks who study foreign and defense policy (like my colleague Steve Saideman, who's written a lot of good stuff on the F-35 program) know that much of the time, foreign policy is really domestic policy in disguise. This can cause serious problems for those who want to see defense posturing and arms buildups as Realist responses to perceived international threats, rather than what they are: domestic politics by another name.

The latest case of this phenomenon can be seen here:
Congress wants funds for Abrams tanks Army says doesn't need
If there's one weapons system that's become nearly obsolete in the American arsenal, it's the main battle tank. Developed originally during WWI (but put to limited use), perfected in doctrine by the Germans in WWII, and further refined during the long years of the Cold War when the Fulda Gap was considered the most significant potential battleground in the world, the battle tank is designed for large-scale mechanized warfare over large swaths of territory where defined front lines and control of territory matter. Its last hurrah may well have been the 1991 Desert Storm operation, a classic retake-territory campaign that was so stunningly successful it surprised nearly everyone.

What's clear from this story is that the Abrams isn't a response to an ongoing threat or a tool to meet significant security concerns in the 21st century. It's a government-funded jobs program, pure and simple. And for all the Tea Party talk about shrinking government and all the Ayn Rand/F.A. Hayek calls to get the government out of the economy and let the market do its work, jobs programs that produce weapons still enjoy widespread bipartisan support. Where is the anger and outrage from the so-called fiscal hawks within the Republican party over this? One can only imagine the hue and cry if this were a bill to fund $500,000,000 worth of public school teachers that districts said they didn't need...

It's a fool's errand, of course, to look for consistency on Capitol Hill or to ask politicians to hold logically coherent positions. We expect that from our elected officials. We just need to remember that the next time they come peddling some one-size-fits-all, solution-to-everything dogma. Look at their behavior; it's clear that they themselves don't believe it, so why should we?

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