Warfare Kings and the Tea Party

Monday, October 4th, 2010

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published today, Heritage Foundation founder Ed Fuelner, American Enterprise Institute boss-man Arthur Brooks, and The Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol caution limited government activists to keep the military free of their waste-slashing scythes. Because when it comes to waging peace through war, our two ongoing conflicts and troop presence in 156 countries apparently isn’t enough. More robust, please.

(Elsewhere in think tank land, Cato recently put out a study calling for significant cuts to the military, including bringing both current wars to an end, while Brookings star defense scholar Michael O’Hanlon takes the Brookings-esque position that proposals to cut the defense budget “deserve some thought,” then adds—in case that came off too decisive—that “[i]t is too soon to make decisions on these issues, perhaps, but not too soon to start considering them.”)

Blogging at the Economist, Will Wilkinson issues a pretty devastating critique of the Fuelner/Brooks/Kristol piece, as well as a challenge to the tea party movement:

Messrs Brooks, Feulner, and Kristol have offered the tea-party movement an excellent opportunity to show what it’s really made of. Will it allow itself to be captured by Washington’s establishment conservative elite? Will it follow the example of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Weekly Standard and fight, fight, fight for big government, just as long as it’s big government bristling with the tools of conquest and mass death? Or will it recognise that war is the health of the state, the enemy of liberty, and the bane of humanity and stand up to the big-government Washington war machine?

I’m putting my money on capture. Never bet against Bill Kristol.

Amen to that. I’m still trying to figure out why any serious person would still give Kristol a platform from which to dispense military strategy. The guy is the Matt Millen of the foreign policy world. Only Millen at least had a pretty distinguished playing career before wreaking devastation from the front office.

But Wilkinson’s right. If the tea party is serious about cutting government, there’s plenty of fat to be trimmed at the Pentagon, not to mention reforming the dishonest and misleading way war spending isn’t counted in the federal budget.

If they want to disprove the sentiment that they’re just fronts for the GOP, this would be a darned good place for tea party leaders to distinguish themselves.

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43 Responses to “Warfare Kings and the Tea Party”

  1. #1 |  JS | 

    “If they want to disprove the sentiment that they’re just fronts for the GOP, this would be a darned good place for tea party leaders to distinguish themselves.”

    Agreed. You could even say this is the only place they have a chance to distinguish themselves from the GOP. You can’t seriously be against big government except in the case of the 800 plus military bases in 150 or so countries. From what I’ve seen the tea party is already too far gone to take a serious stand against the empire. Paul is out and Palin in it looks like. this will the rock upon which the republican party splits imo. The Paulians will eventually have to turn their backs on the republicans and leave it to the Hannity/Limbaugh/Palinites.

  2. #2 |  chuchundra | 

    Say what you will about the GOP, at least it’s an ethos.

  3. #3 |  Episiarch | 

    No, chuchundra, these men are tea partiers; there’s nothing to be afraid of.

  4. #4 |  Salvo | 

    The tea party isn’t against big government; they’re against big government when the *other side* is in control.

  5. #5 |  Thoreau | 

    If the tea party is serious about cutting government, there’s plenty of fat to be trimmed at the Pentagon, not to mention reforming the dishonest and misleading way war spending isn’t counted in the federal budget.

    The problem is that when people think of “fat to be trimmed” they think of stuff like $500 hammers. Yeah, there’s stuff like that, and it needs to go, but if you really want to get significant savings you have to go after muscle. You have to decide that the military should be smaller, and do fewer things, and not be global cop.

    Good luck getting anybody to go after that. Conservatives won’t, for obvious reasons. And liberals with ambitions want to be seen as Serious People, and Serious People don’t question having bases in 165 countries, nor do they object to being the global cop.

  6. #6 |  SJE | 

    Amen to all this. I really held out some hope in the early TP days, coming from Ron Paul et al, leading through Scott Brown, the nomination of Ron Paul, etc. The way it is going now is merely the more populist and firebrand elements of the Christian right: i.e. Christian coalition without smooth talking Ralph Reed et al., or, if you like, the worst elements of the last administration.

  7. #7 |  Gold Star for Robot Boy | 

    “And liberals with ambitions want to be seen as Serious People, and Serious People don’t question having bases in 165 countries, nor do they object to being the global cop.”

    Or, liberals have learned (the hard way) Americans like the idea of the US military being the biggest and the baddest, and so they know trying to cut Pentagon spending is political suicide.

  8. #8 |  Gold Star for Robot Boy | 

    “The tea party isn’t against big government; they’re against big government when the *other side* is in control.”


  9. #9 |  the innominate one | 

    No need for the salvo, Salvo. You hit the bullseye with one shot.

  10. #10 |  Cornellian | 

    I’ve often wondered why we have to have bases in large, wealthy, democratic countries like Germany, South Korea and Japan that could easily afford to defend themselves.

  11. #11 |  joe b | 

    My observation is that the so called Tea Party has always been nothing more than a functional subset of the Republican Party. A group within a larger group, a group that fully buys into the myth the Republican Party is the party of small government, a group that is mostly driven by it’s distaste for the Obama administration and Democratic congress. It isn’t a party, it’s the energized Republican base. Therefore, the so called Tea Party will never take a stand to reduce medicare spending, never take a stand to decriminalize marijuana, never take a stand to demilitarize law enforcement, never take a stand in favor of gay marriage, never take a stand that favors controversial concepts of liberty. They are, at their core, conservative republicans, socially and fiscally. What they want is lower taxes, but not so much do they want lower government. Scratch a member of the so called Tea Party and you find a Republican.

    The very name Tea Party conjures up images of Patriots and Patriotism (not so much a coincidence, I think), and by god, nothing is more patriotic than a love for America’s fighting forces. Cut back military spending? Phsssh!

  12. #12 |  Michael MD | 


    The first tea party was organized by Ron Paul Republicans. They knew, last year, the chicken hawks, in the Republican party, were going to try to take it over. Sadly, your evaluation, for a good percentage of the present “tea party-ers”, is not far off the mark. I am a conservative who does not understand the wars on terror, and drugs. They seem to be nothing but continued failures. Too often now, the call for a smaller government is just used to fool those who know nothing of the original intent of the “Ron Paul Revolution”. But, the way the others are talking now, Iran and Pakistan are the next in line to be invaded!

  13. #13 |  billy-jay | 

    “The tea party isn’t against big government; they’re against big government when the *other side* is in control.”

    Heh. Might as well say that about most of the folks here. A government big enough to provide defense and criminal justice is big enough to take them away.

  14. #14 |  Len | 

    You hit it on the head, Joe. The Tea Party is a functional subset, and the Democrats don’t have any of those things.

  15. #15 |  Mike T | 

    Cutting the military’s budget won’t help anything until the rules of procurement are changed. In the name of protecting tax payers’ money, so much red tape has been put into place that it costs more to buy any given good or service through the system than it would to just give wide latitude to procurement officers with the understanding that they’ll be audited every year or two by the GAO.

    One of the things that would really help is if the military was allowed to hire contractors directly. A major in charge of a project should be able to go Monster.com, pull down some resumes and send out proposals to them directly instead of doing bidding. The big companies would hate that because so much of their money comes from management and they’ve become dependent on the bidding process to insulate them from most competition. It would, however, save thousands of tax payers’ dollars per project, per day.

  16. #16 |  John Jenkins | 

    Hmm. Yes, the dastardly tea partiers and Republicans should come out against military spending. Except they’ve not been in power for two years now and the present administration and Democrat congressional delegation have had ample opportunity to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and chosen not to. They could have withdrawn troops from other places and chose not to. They could have cut defense spending and chose not to. It’s almost as though they had some other, insidious, overarching concern, like re-election.

    News Flash: libertarians remain the most minor of minority parties. What we want is not what Democrats or Republicans want, and we shouldn’t expect it to be (that would be naive and stupid).

    The Tea Partiers will not come out in favor of cutting defense spending because the purpose of the tea party movement is still to get people elected and there is no public support for cutting military spending (if there were, Democrats would have done it already!).

    @Radley: you often complain that people accuse you of being a liberal and then wonder why. This post is a good illustration. Your criticism of the Tea Partiers while not even acknowledging that the left has been in power long enough to do these things and chosen not to makes it look as though you’re favoring one side over the other. Neither party supports your position in this, but you only criticize the one OUT of power. How is it, then, unreasonable to believe you support the party in power? Most people don’t go through your archive to figure out the answer to that question, and posts like this one go a long way to making them think they don’t need to (I think Wilkinson is an avowed leftist, so it makes sense for him to flog for his side).

  17. #17 |  Charles | 

    John Jenkins,

    That doesn’t make any sense. Should every single writing that criticizes one political party or group include a disclaimer criticizing everyone else? What exactly are you expecting? Because Radley (like other libertarians) has done plenty of criticizing of the people currently in power.

    Also re: Republicans, do you not remember how the US got involved in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place?

  18. #18 |  PW | 

    Kristol is a piece of shit, far and away the most annoying of the neocons because he keeps coming back despite thoroughly discrediting himself many times over.

    He’s like the semi-adult version of that kid from high school who’s not very smart, a complete fuck-up in all his classes, and always boasting about conquests with women that he obviously never made and everyone knows he never made because the best he can do is the fat chick who dresses in all black. Then he wrecks his car through something that’s clearly his own fault, only to shows the next day a brand new BMW that daddy bought him – the third one this year alone. And despite his intellectual shortcomings, all the teachers and administrators in the school are always slobbering over him because his father also wrote them a giant donation check.

  19. #19 |  Tom | 

    The Tea Party movement is what we make it. Paul is speaking at the Virginia Tea Party Convention this weekend. All you folks complaining the Tea Party isn’t what you wan it to be, need to stop spending your time on the Internet and get out and get involved. It is the only way we’ll ever get our freedom back.

  20. #20 |  Radley Balko | 


    Wilkinson is hardly an avowed “leftist.” He’s a doctrinaire libertarian. He writes most frequently about economics from a staunch free market perspective. His only “leftist” tendencies come from his advocacy that libertarians try to align more with the left on social issues in the same way they’ve historically aligned with the right on economic issues.

    My criticism of the tea partiers on military spending is an attempt to call them on their own bullshit. The same way I call out the left when they drop the ball on civil liberties. I don’t think this is all that difficult to understand. If the tea party is anything more than just Republicans in disguise, and they truly care about limited government, then they should be as against America’s wasteful spending on military adventurism as they are with welfare spending here at home.

    Most people don’t go through your archive to figure out the answer to that question, and posts like this one go a long way to making them think they don’t need to….

    Oh well, then. If someone wants to draw generalizations about my politics from one post, based on who I didn’t criticize in it, let them. I’m not going to go out of my way to be sure I criticize right and left equally on every issue, in every post, just so someone doesn’t mistake me for a conservative or a liberal. I’ve levied plenty of criticism at Obama for government growth and spending under his watch, as well as for his continuation of the wars and his dismal record on civil liberties. That wasn’t the point of this post.

    Feulner, Brooks, and Kristol are drawing a line in the sand. They’re urging the tea parties to exclude the military from their demands for limited government. My post was a response to that. If asking the tea party to be consistent in its limited government advocacy makes me a leftist, then I guess I’m a leftist.

  21. #21 |  Ben | 

    John Jenkins –

    Why would Radley take the Democrats to task for not cutting military spending? The Democrats have never claimed to even WANT to cut spending. He is taking the Tea Party to task on this specifically because they claim to be all about fiscal sanity and cutting spending and reducing deficits. And military spending is a HUMUNGOUS FREAKING CHUNK of our total spending. So he’s saying to the tea party to basically sh$% or get off the pot in regards to their consistency (and credibility in my mind)

  22. #22 |  JS | 

    “I’ve often wondered why we have to have bases in large, wealthy, democratic countries like Germany, South Korea and Japan that could easily afford to defend themselves.”

    Because the US government wants to dictate policy and treat Europe as a colony, like this, where the USG demands that Europeans turn over privacy data, including dna, of their citizens:


  23. #23 |  Marty | 

    growing up, the military is where I diverged from the republicans. I was a democrat/independent because I didn’t want war and the ridiculous drug war. To me, these are still the two biggest issues we face.

    I don’t think it matters who is in power- this is big money and it’s gonna take a serious revolt to change it. The tea partiers don’t look like a serious revolt to me.

  24. #24 |  Mattocracy | 

    I love how the conservatives say that the Tea Party movement isn’t full of hipocrisy, then they immediately perpetuate every hipocritical stereotype about themselves.

  25. #25 |  SJE | 

    The Democrats are, at least, making a concerted effort to cut spending. However, the grown up way is not just to take away the toys: Gates is telling the Pentagon that we cannot afford any more toys: we need value for money. They are kicking and screaming but are coming around.

  26. #26 |  John Jenkins | 

    @ Charles: the tea party is not, has never been (and never will be) in power. Criticizing it makes no sense at all, especially since the logical (charitable) conclusion is that they disagree with the PREMISE that military spending is unnecessary or excessive. They may well be wrong (in fact, I think they are wrong), but essentially the argument is that if they shared your premises, they would agree with you. Well, I suspect that’s true, but if they don’t, then they won’t, and there will be *no inconsistency*. It makes no sense to criticize a minority of the minority party for disagreeing with your premises. It’s just fruitless. Nothing I said could be taken as a defense of Republicans (I think there is literally no difference between the two major parties except the faces they show to the public).

    @Radley: Wilkinson is an avowed supporter of “liberaltarianism” and therefore not a doctrinaire libertarian. Permanent alliances with either side (liberaltarianism or fusionism) is inconsistent because you will give up more than you get (being the weaker party in the deal), so he’s a leftist as long as he wants to truck with them.

    @Ben: The Democrats (particularly the President) did say that the U.S. would get out of Iraq and get out of Afghanistan (and close Gitmo), all of which would substantially reduce defense expenditures (now, they might well spend the savings on something else, but we’re talking specifically defense here). None of those things have come to pass (and Democrats have wanted to cut defense spending as long as I’ve been alive, so I am not sure what you mean there unless you’re talking about aggregate spending).

    @JS: there is not a word in English sufficient to describe the irony of accusing the U.S. of treating Europe like a colony, but I appreciate the joke.

  27. #27 |  John Jenkins | 

    @SJE: When? Where? (or do you mean just defense spending)? I wouldn’t consider anything a spending cut if it’s just moved to another expenditure column (e.g., moving defense spending to health care is not a cut).

    Neither party wants wholesale spending cuts (because people love their government benefits), and we will never get them.

  28. #28 |  SJE | 

    OK, John, I’ll bite
    1. F22
    2. The entire FCS boondoggle
    3. The Marines Ambib EFV
    4. The LCS: not cancelled, but seriously curtailed
    5. Increased use of drones
    6. Increased pressure to use of propellor-driven ground attack aircraft over jets or ‘copters. The AirForce fighter mafia do not like this, but COIN prop planes are more cost effective and arguably better for the job.
    7. Increased use of soft power, which is cheaper than hard power.

  29. #29 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “[Kristol] is the Matt Millen of the foreign policy world. Only Millen at least had a pretty distinguished playing career before wreaking devastation from the front office.”

    I’ve read some low blows in my time, but that one was subterranean.

    But seriously, the idea that Bill Kristol is a foreign policy failure is laughable on its face. The man serves HIS interests rather well or he would have been replaced long ago.

    Doubly ironic is that only mild intelligence, above-average enthusiasm and extreme loyalty are required to succeed in Kristol’s position, making Millen perhaps an ideal candidate for Kristol’s job someday.

    However, the recent trend here of falsely conflating the interests of TPTB and the interests of the peasantry is puzzling. How any adult can believe that USG is of/by/for the people is beyond me.

  30. #30 |  John Jenkins | 

    @SJE: you didn’t counter my objection at all. If you mean defense spending only, I’d agree that Democrats definitely want to cut defense spending (which is what I said in my original objection), but cutting from defense so you can spend somewhere else is not a spending cut as such.

    I don’t know whether your #6 is right (it seems contrary to doctrine for one thing, it’s easier to shoot down slow movers than fast movers, and I don’t know how Democrats would be pushing for a doctrine change like that in any meaningful way).

    We could spend days arguing about the efficacy of “soft power” (or even whether it qualifies in any sense as a sort of “power,” which I don’t believe), so I think your #7 is specious: the two are not exclusive and “soft power” however you define it is useless (I side with Mearscheimer over Nye on that issue).

  31. #31 |  SJE | 

    John: I was only trying to make a point about defense. I would not say it is obvious that the dems want to cut defense.

    Considering #6: props are faster than copters. beyond a certain speed, however, you are at a disadvantage in attacking ground targets.

    #7: I agree that this is matter of political philosophy, and I cannot see one entirely divorced from the other. At the same time, reducing strategic nuclear warheads, or making friends with Iran’s enemies, is a whole lot cheaper. I side with Von Clausewitz, Sun Tze, Frederick I, Clive of India, and Von Hindenberg, all of whom knew the value of smart politics.

  32. #32 |  SJE | 

    PS: John, I’m not the one giving you negative karma.

  33. #33 |  LibertarianBlue | 


    Im sure majority of us here have worked with a local tea party in one way or another but have been largely turned off because like others point out want to peace meal their opposition to statism instead of being against it entirely. In my experience the local groups in my area (Hudson Valley region NY) are hostile to Ron Paul, especially his foreign policy views. When chickenhawks like Limbaugh, Malkin, Ingram and Beck are views a good light and Paul in a bad light any Libertarian can see that these are people we dont wanna be around. Majority of them support Carl Paladino over Warren Redlich for the fact that if Paladino gets elected as Governor will use Eminent Domain (which he has a history of using to make his money) to stop the Muslim Community Center. They dont want to hear the fact that he donated money to Hillary Clinton, Kerry, and Schumer; calling it a liberal lie.

    Of course this doesnt apply to every tea party but as Radley and the rest have pointed out, this movement went from the Ron Paul Revolution to the Neocon Empire love fest. I see no change in the future, all I see if more debt, more theft and the growth of government will continue only a bit slower under the statist banner of security.

  34. #34 |  John Jenkins | 

    I never pay attention to that. Many people here want to have an echo chamber of me too comments, so if someone has the temerity to even suggest they may be wrong, that gets negative karma. Sometimes you have to wrestle with others’ arguments, and I was never good at the likability thing anyway.

    I don’t think Von Clausewitz would have accepted soft power as a concept, having been the person who said that diplomacy is war by other means and believing that war was not a moral or immoral enterprise, simply the necessary result of competition for power.

  35. #35 |  Ben | 

    John Jenkins –

    You still aren’t getting it, so I’m going to try again. First of all, regardless of the wishes of most Democrats, they have not been actively campaigning on a platform DEDICATED to cutting spending. The Tea Party is. If they are serious about reducing deficits and restoring fiscal sanity, then it shouldn’t be taboo to say that our military is a prime target for cuts (especially since we spend more on “defense” than than China, Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Saudia Arabia, Italy, South Korea, Brazil, Canada, and Australia combined)

    What you are doing is misdirecting. Radley points out hypocrisy in A’s argument, and you respond by saying that since you believe B is also a hypocrite, then the entire argument is moot. It isn’t. Whether B is or is not hypocritical here is irrelevant to the argument of whether A’s position is consistent.

  36. #36 |  John Jenkins | 

    Ben, you don’t even have a meaningful definition of hypocrite.

    A is a hypocrite if he says or does something inconsistent with what he believes, or at least publicly states he believes.

    So if A believes that defense spending is not excessive but welfare spending is excessive, then he is not being a hypocrite when he advocates for cutting welfare spending and not defense spending.

    At that point, if you believe that defense spending is excessive, you can’t accuse A of being a hypocrite, you have to accuse him of being wrong in his premises. Those are not the same. If you can’t see that, there’s nothing for us to discuss.

    The argument that the U.S. spends more on defense than X countries combined is not an argument that we spend too much. Maybe they spend too little. Maybe they misreport the data. Maybe we misreport the data.

    Take this example. A spends $200.00 at the grocery store every week. B, C & D spend $180.00. Does A spend too much? Who knows? The conclusion that A does spend too much does not follow from the premises unless you smuggle in some other premise (e.g., each person should spend the same on groceries), which is not argued or proven.

    I don’t know of a proven principle that says every country should spend the same proportion of its budget on defense, so I say you’re smuggling in an unproved premise to make your argument (or, rather, that you’re making an assertion, not an argument).

    The only valid analysis as to whether we spend too much is a CBA analysis that evaluates costs and benefits. As it happens, I personally thing that (a) we spend too much on defense; and (b) we have too many military personnel stationed overseas, and that (a) and (b) are necessarily correlated, but I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and everyone who disagrees with me isn’t a hypocrite because he disagrees with my premises (even if I think he is wrong!).

    I don’t think either side is a hypocrite in this debate, I think they are both wrong. Focusing on false charge of hypocrisy rather than explicitly stating that you think your opponent is arguing from wrong premises makes your argument fail (you cannot assume your opponent shares your premises).

    I think it is fruitless to spend time focusing on a minority of a minority party, that can do nothing, when there is a majority party that can act and isn’t.

  37. #37 |  Tom | 

    I was for the Tea Party, and still am to an extent, but now it seems it is being co opted by Republican establishment beltway types to gain power for themselves. Plus you can’t avoid the fact that some social conservatives are pushing their moral busibudying as well.

  38. #38 |  SJE | 

    John: I think that your comments about Von Clausewitz make the point for me, in that he recognized the continuum between diplomacy and military force: indeed, he saw war as merely one aspect of a total struggle that involved economics, culture, technology, policy, etc between state actors. I do think that Von Clausewitz’s emphasis on decisive battles is not appropriate to asymetric warfare, but retains relevance to conflicts between nation states.

  39. #39 |  SJE | 

    Also, I gotta agree with Ben. The issue is that TP campaigns on a platform of reducing debt and government, but the Christian coalition side doesnt want to touch defense, and has no plan for the biggest costs: Soc Sec, Medicare etc. You see a pretty clear difference with Rand Paul, who is for both reduced military committment and raising the retirement age.

  40. #40 |  John Jenkins | 

    @SJE: And I am saying neither side has a plan for anything except to get re-elected, but that charges of hypocrisy on this count are unfounded.

    I also don’t think your interpretation of Von Clausewitz actually supports your argument regarding soft power and actually supports my argument that persuasion and force are not mutually exclusive (i.e., Von Clausewitz would have been fine with diplomacy, but if it didn’t work, he would have rolled in the troops; it’s more opening salvo than alternative approach). I think that’s sufficiently off-topic that we don’t need to take this thread any farther afield. Maybe Radley will do an IR post at some point :-).

    The day that there are enough people like Rand Paul in any legislature in the country to actually shape policy in that body, you let me know (that will never happen). Right now, the Tea Party is a minor annoyance to one side of the great duopoly. If they were ever to become an actual threat, both sides would unite to crush the shit out of them. Until then, they are hardly relevant. Spending time and effort criticizing them is a waste because they do not and will never amount to a significant political force (shit, libertarians have been trying for forty years and not managed significance!),

  41. #41 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Cool, my secret admirer is back!

  42. #42 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “Will it allow itself to be captured by Washington’s establishment conservative elite? Will it follow the example of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Weekly Standard and fight, fight, fight for big government, just as long as it’s big government bristling with the tools of conquest and mass death?”

    Yes, it will allow itself to be captured. That is all. Thank you.

  43. #43 |  Deekaman | 

    Bite me. Most of you don’t know jack about the TEA Partiers or the military. Nor do you know about spending. Transfer payments to individuals (spreading the wealth) is by far the largest proportion of government spending. And while I agree that there is plenty to be cut in DOD, at least it is a legitimate, Constitutional function of the Federal Government. Most of the rest is not.

    So, again. Bite me.