Seventy percent of National Journal’s National Security Insiders say Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s attacks on President Obama alleging his support of $1 trillion in cuts to the Pentagon’s budget will not have an impact on voters.
The issue of the looming sequester’s $500 billion reduction to the Pentagon budget absent a compromise on Capitol Hill to reduce the deficit and debt — on top of another $500 billion in cuts over the next decade already planned — has quickly become central to the GOP argument. Romney’s campaign has released ads in five swing states warning that “President Obama’s defense cuts” could cost tens of thousands of jobs.
“There was very little daylight between the president’s budget proposal on defense and what was approved by the House,” said one Insider, adding that it’s “Pretty hard to campaign hard on defense increases when the majority of the public believes that the budget ought to be cut.”
Most voters believe that defense spending can be safely cut now that U.S. forces are no longer fighting in Iraq and are reducing combat operations in Afghanistan, another Insider said. “Even with the sequester, defense spending will decline by only 10 percent (plus reductions made possible by winding down in Afghanistan and Iraq). Most Americans will think this is reasonable, and they would be shocked if key civilian programs were gutted to spare defense cuts.”
Another 30 percent said Romney’s claim would impact voters. “It helps solidify the base of defense-minded voters who were already trended toward Romney. It’s a relatively small bloc. But in a close election, it could make a demonstrable difference, particularly in swing states like North Carolina and Virginia that have a significant military presence,” one Insider said.
Defense-minded voters’ worries could kick into overdrive if companies with Pentagon contracts start to send out mass-layoff notices or warning that industry jobs could be lost due to the cuts set to take effect next year. “The president is holding defense hostage, via sequestration, to tax increases,” said one Insider, predicting that layoff notices will mean “hundreds of thousands of people will fear for their jobs — and not only those in the defense sector.”
No matter who the president is, defense spending will fall from its heyday over the past decade, noted one Insider: “Candidate Romney may promise differently, but President Romney would soon be met with fiscal reality after elected.”
Meanwhile, 70 percent of National Security Insiders also say the recent rash of attacks by Afghan forces that killed dozens of U.S. and NATO troops this year should not quicken the pace of the drawdown in Afghanistan. “Green-on-blue [attacks] is a considered tactic by the insurgents — one designed to alter our training strategy, cast doubt on our Afghan partnership, and quicken the pace of our withdrawal. We cannot alter our plans because of these events,” one Insider said. “Stay the course.”
The pace of withdrawal is already aggressive, according to another Insider. “Hastening it would signal to Afghans and other adversaries that America was withdrawing in fear and defeat, with its tail between its legs,” the Insider said.
The United States has not yet announced the pace of the drawdown between the end of this month, when the last of the 33,000 surge troops were due to leave Afghanistan, and the 2014 deadline for all combat troops to pull out. “To augur its own future, the Afghan government needs to strengthen its vetting of recruits into the security forces,” an Insider said. “This should be the focus of responses to green-on-blue violence.”
Another Insider said the increase in attack frequency corresponds with the political push for more training. “Recent attacks show the need for more training and better vetting, not a more rapid withdrawal,” the Insider said. “We need to step back, slow down, and focus on improvements.”
But 30 percent of Insiders said the U.S. and NATO should withdraw more quickly because the attacks, as some Insiders said, reinforce the general desire for a withdrawal.
“We are leaving, so do it quickly,” anInsider said.
1. Will Mitt Romney’s attacks on President Obama for $1 trillion in looming Pentagon cuts have an impact on voters?
- No 70%
- Yes 30%
“Voters are focused on jobs, the economy, and the failure of institutions in D.C. to resolve things. Foreign policy and defense fall way down the list.”
“Sadly, no. The American people love [the Department of Defense] but don’t follow it closely: Afghanistan ... are we still there???”
“Voters blame both sides for the sequestration mess, and neither candidate will benefit from attacks based on this issue.”
“The trillion dollars is little more than a welfare program for bloated defense contractors who need to find a new line of work. The U.S. spends far more on defense than any other major world power — almost six time as much as China, its closest rival, and infinitely more than North Korea or Iran.”
“National security is not the focus of these elections. It’s jobs, jobs, jobs, and the U.S. economy at center stage.”
“Wake up! The cuts are from Congress, and polls show Americans see room to cut 10 percent.”
“The public has become detached, regrettably, and this is not a burning issue.”
“This will be a big issue after the election, not before — when the administration and the Congress try to make the budget numbers add up.”
“Military Keynesianism is what they've been trying, but it’s unlikely to turn the election unless they crank the BS and demagoguery up to 11.”
“Voters saw the Pentagon coffers swell at the time when the rest of the economy contracted. Many on the right and left feel it is time for the defense community to step up and take some of the bitter medicine the rest of the country has been taking for the past several years.”
“Most Americans do not know what an impact the cuts will have on the employment status and merely regard defense spending as extraneous given our fiscal problems. The issue is runaway entitlement spending — not defense — but they don’t get that.”
“The attacks will be a wash — play well with conservatives, not so much with liberals. The folks in-between will vote with their pocketbooks.”
“It will impact him negatively. Most people believe defense can and should be cut. It is a loser of an issue for Romney, and he should get off of it.”
“The president is holding defense hostage, via sequestration, to tax increases. Once the [Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act] kicks in (just before the election), hundreds of thousands of people will fear for their jobs — and not only those in the defense sector.”
“It helps solidify the base of defense-minded voters who were already trended toward Romney. It's a relatively small bloc, but in a close election, it could make a demonstrable difference, particularly in swing states like North Carolina and Virginia that have a significant military presence.”
“Defense sequestration has disproportionate negative effects on several important swing states — Virginia, Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico in particular. Could swing 5 percent of the vote if Romney is successful in tagging sequestration to Obama.”
“The average voter doesn’t understand what sequestration was all about. Romney would not keep repeating this kind of deceptive attack if he did not have reason to believe that it would sway some voters.”
“Once voters realize the magnitude of the impact of sequestration, they will want to put a stop to this insane way of conducting policy.”
“Yes, but only in limited markets.”
2. Should the recent rash of attacks by Afghan forces on U.S. and NATO troops quicken the pace of the drawdown in Afghanistan?
- No 70%
- Yes 30%
“Time now for patience and work for stability, not a race to the exits.”
“We should fully expect these attacks where loyalty to the unity of Afghanistan — i. e., the state — is not the priority of an ethnically diverse society where the first allegiance is to family, clan, and tribe.”
“The amazing thing is that we expect such operations to be risk-free.”
“John Allen is doing the correct thing by revetting Afghan police and army. Any indication that these actions will change the deadline will create open season for our troops.”
“The worst thing we can do is to strengthen the impression that all we want to do is bail out. Doing so will energize the Taliban and its thuggish counterparts. We need a longer-term strategy for Afghanistan, not only because of that country, but because an unstable Afghanistan could destabilize its Central Asian neighbors to the north, and maybe Pakistan, too.”
“The only 'winner' in such an approach would be the Taliban, Haqqani network, and related insurgents. Would also provide them with momentum to further escalate such activity.”
“The real issue that needs clarity is what comes after 2014 — when will the president be ready to say that a lot of American military personnel are staying indefinitely.”
“Quickening the pace of the drawdown in Afghanistan in response to green-on-blue attacks would play right into the Taliban’s hands. Doing so would validate their strategy and increase the number of attacks, not make them go away. Bad idea.”
“Unfortunately, we’re left vulnerable by the Obama policy of withdrawing troops on a political timeline instead of a security-based one. And we’ve left our civilian personnel in a more vulnerable position as a result.”
“The question isn’t really if the attacks 'should' but rather 'will they' quicken the draw down. There is no U.S. domestic political appetite to continue to absorb these particularly painful losses — at some point, public opinion says no mas.”
“The adviser-centric strategy planned for the next two years will not work in an environment of deteriorating trust between the U.S. and its Afghan partners.”
“The attacks only underscore how the NATO mission in Afghanistan already has passed the point of diminishing returns.”
“Afghanistan has been Obama’s biggest foreign-policy blunder. He should have ended the war in his first six months. Instead, he squandered thousands of lives and billions of dollars with his failed 'surge' and 'Afghanization' policies, leaving the U.S. mired even deeper in Afghan mud at the end of his first term than at the start.”
“Reinforces the general desire for a withdrawal.”
“We are leaving, so do it quickly.”
“Reminds one of Vietnam. Time to leave.”
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the September 19, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.