Opinion

Tea Party must tackle defense issues

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James Carafano
Director, Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
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      James Carafano

      James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security, defense affairs, and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation. He has testified before the U.S. Congress many times and has provided commentary for ABC, BBC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC, SkyNews, PBS, National Public Radio, the History Channel, Voice of America, Al Jazeera, and Australian, Austrian, Canadian, French, Greek, Hong Kong, Irish, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish television.

      His editorials have appeared in newspapers nationwide including The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The New York Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today and The Washington Times. He is a weekly columnist at the DC Examiner. Carafano is a member of the National Academy's Board on Army Science and Technology, the Department of the Army Historical Advisory Committee, and is a Senior Fellow at the George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute. He was the creative director for the feature-length documentary 33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age. An accomplished historian and teacher, Carafano was an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and served as director of military studies at the Army's Center of Military History. He also taught at Mount Saint Mary College in New York and served as a fleet professor at the U.S. Naval War College.

      He is a visiting professor at the National Defense University and Georgetown University. He is the author of many books and studies. Carafano coauthored Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom. The first to coin the term, the "long war," the authors argue that a successful strategy requires a balance of prudent military and security measures, continued economic growth, the zealous protection of civil liberties and winning the "war of ideas" against terrorist ideologies. Carafano joined Heritage in 2003. Before becoming a policy expert, he served 25 years in the Army.

      A graduate of West Point, Carafano also has a master's degree and a doctorate from Georgetown University and a master's degree in strategy from the U.S. Army War College.

The rallying cry of the Tea Party Movement has been fiscal responsibility and limited government.  It appeals across a broad spectrum of the electorate, but falls far short of addressing core issues of governance.

One of those core issues is national defense.

Without question many drawn to the Tea Parties would be happy to slash defense spending, close bases overseas and withdraw to Fortress America.

But a strong counter current runs through the movement as well.  Sarah Palin, for example, is feted as a huge rock star at Tea Party events, and she certainly comes across as a embracing the Ronald Reagan credo of “Peace through Strength.”

The former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate is certainly not alone in this.   Rising rapidly in the Tea Party galaxy of stars is Michele Bachmann, the firebrand Congresswomen from Minnesota.  This April, she headlined with Palin at a massive Tea Party rally in the Minnesota Convention Center.  Bachmann brought down the house.

Now she’s working to bring the Tea Party Movement into the House.  Last week, Bachman filed papers to create a “tea party” caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. At a rally on the Hill she declared, “This caucus will espouse the timeless principles of our founding, principles that all Members of Congress have sworn to uphold.”

Bachmann could well be a natural leader for Tea Partiers. She is considered a maverick by many in the political establishment.  Better yet, she is vilified by the Left.  Liberal columnist E.J. Dionne recently mused that a caucus led by Minnesotan will make Democrats happy and Republicans nervous.

It’s a prediction many on the Right relish.  Nowadays it seems that the more the Left sneers at the Tea Parties and their champions, the more popular they become.  Moreover, a little nervousness amongst Republicans might prove a useful tonic for the GOP.  Lately, some Republican graybeards seem to take their tough-on-defense cred for granted. (Example:  Sen. Lugar’s dubious pronouncement that the New START arms control agreement will enhance national security.)

Bachmann seems well-positioned to help the Tea Party movement think through the national security challenges that face this nation.  Her credentials as a fiscal conservative are impeccable, giving her the ear of all in the movement.  But she has also established herself as a staunch conservative on national security issues, too. In 2009, National Journal rated her voting record on foreign policy and defense issues as more conservative than 75 percent of her colleagues.

Bachman, then, it situated to challenge the Tea Party to think beyond deficits, budgets and enumerated powers, and to spark a thoughtful discussion about how the federal government will to meet its fundamental obligation of “providing for the common defense.”