With both political conventions finished and the final push underway for the U.S. presidential election in November, this much is clear: While President Barack Obama’s defense plans are now a matter of record, it’s time for the challenger, Mitt Romney, to flesh out his defense plans and how he would pay for them if elected.
To date, Romney has been long on rhetoric and short on details. He has criticized the Obama administration for gutting defense spending, while pledging himself to dramatically increase military funding, building 15 ships a year instead of nine, retaining 100,000 more troops than planned and executing a more muscular foreign policy.
What’s not been explained so far is how he would do all that.
To begin with, Romney will have to turn around his own party to achieve his goals, because the bulk of the cuts made during Obama’s term came last summer as the result of the bipartisan Budget Control Act.
Some $1 trillion was cut immediately across the U.S. government — including $487 billion from projected growth in Pentagon spending over the coming decade — and the agreement said that unless Congress agreed on further cuts over the decade, another $1 trillion would be cut automatically from government spending, half from defense, through a mechanism called sequestration.
Romney has pledged to peg defense spending to4 percent of GDP, which would add more than $2 trillion above what his own running mate’s budget resolution calls for.
Even Romney insiders admit that raising Pentagon spending will be difficult, and that increases would come over time, if at all. Rather, tough tradeoffs will still be necessary, advisers say, like cutting Air Force and Army spending to cover increased shipbuilding.
Similarly, Romney has not explained why the U.S. should retain 100,000 troops added in 2006 (to cover the surge of forces then needed in Iraq and Afghanistan), given that he backs the 2014 pullout.
Romney wants to differentiate himself from his opponent. But he has yet to do so with the kind of specific and considered proposals that strike at the strategic, industrial and financial challenges facing America’s national security infrastructure.