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GOP platform at odds with public on defense spending

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 Mitt Romney speaks at the American Legion National Convention, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, in Indianapolis.

Evan Vucci/AP

In May, the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center unveiled the results of a major poll on defense spending. Our poll found wide consensus among the public and across party lines that the defense budget could use some trimming — around three-quarters of those polled thought there should be cuts for air power, ground forces, and naval forces, and over eighty percent said there is “a lot of waste” in the defense budget. In fact, respondents preferred far deeper cuts than those suggested by either the Obama administration or the Republicans.

During the conventions, we decided to take a look at what the party platforms say, and how that measures up to public opinion. First up: the GOP and presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Romney has made it clear that he intends to expand defense spending if elected in November, having already called for spending a minimum of four percent of the GDP on national defense.

But Tuesday afternoon, as Romney was being officially nominated at the Republican National Convention, his party unveiled the official GOP platform for 2012. Included in the party platform was a thirteen-page section on “American Exceptionalism,” laying out the Republican view of defense and the future of the military.

While the document is light on specifics and heavy on rhetoric, there are some clues for what would be the Romney administration’s national security priorities. And in some very expensive cases, they don’t match up with public sentiment.

For example, the platform includes a call to strengthen American’s nuclear arsenal. “We recognize that the gravest terror threat we face — a nuclear attack made possible by nuclear proliferation — requires a comprehensive strategy for reducing the world’s nuclear stockpiles and preventing the spread of those armaments,” reads the platform. “But the U.S. can lead that effort only if it maintains an effective strategic arsenal at a level sufficient to fulfill its deterrent purposes, a notable failure of the current Administration.”

This line echoes calls from prominent Republican congressmen who wrote a letter in February calling proposed cuts by the Obama administration a “deep concern.” At the time, the Center reported how campaign finance records show that since 2009 the signers received $1.12 million from the employees and political action committees of the four large defense contractors with a major stake in the nuclear weapons industry. (Spokespeople for House members and companies alike deny there has been any quid pro quo.)

But the public would prefer that the nuclear arsenal be reduced, not expanded. In fact, respondents on average favored at least a 27 percent cut in spending on nuclear arms — the largest proportional cut of any in the survey. Overall, two-thirds of those polled — 78 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents — expressed a desire to cut spending on nuclear arms.

In another part of their platform, the GOP claims the Obama administration has “systematically undermined America’s missile defense” and calls for a recommitment to America’s missile shield. However, a pair of recent studies by the Government Accountability Office have called into question the costs and effectiveness of the missile defense program. In one case, as the Center has previously noted, a missile defense system has been cancelled for inefficiency but is still set to cash in on $250 million in taxpayer dollars.

According to the Center’s poll, the public favors cutting 14 percent of missile defense spending. At the same time, 74 percent of those polled believe that pursuing missile defense is important for the country’s national security, which means that Americans want a missile shield — just one that costs less money.

While discussing foreign aid, the GOP insists on relying more on private sector work than government-run programs that are a “proven breeding ground for corruption and mismanagement by foreign kleptocrats.” Corruption and waste in Afghanistan and Iraq is a long-standing problem that has haunted both the Bush and Obama administrations. In July, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction told the Center he believes $6 billion to $8 billion of taxpayer money has been lost to waste and abuse in Saddam Hussein’s former fiefdom; later that month the IG for Afghanistan reconstruction reported to Congress that millions of lost funds have been sunk into construction projects.

While the Center’s poll did not specifically ask about foreign aid, respondents were very clear about their views on Afghanistan: It’s time to get out. 85 percent of respondents expressing support for a statement that said in part, “It is time for the Afghan people to manage their own country and for us to bring our troops home.” A majority of respondents backed an immediate cut, on average, of $38 billion in the war’s existing $88 billion budget, or around 43 percent.

The platform also delves into social issues, calling for an enforcement of the “Defense of Marriage Act in the Armed Forces,” a reference to President Obama’s support for gay marriage. The GOP also pledged that “a Republican Administration will return the advocacy of religious liberty to a central place in our diplomacy” while calling for increased security against human traffickers on the border.

At the very end of the platform is a paragraph about Iran. ”A continuation of [the Obama Administration’s] failed engagement policy with Iran will lead to nuclear cascade,” warns the GOP. “American must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability.”

The need to contain Iran, a major focus among the neoconservative wing of the Republican party, has also driven the U.S. to increase arms sales to friendly Middle Eastern countries, most notably to Saudi Arabia, which last year purchased $33 billion in arms from America.

And, of course, not all Republicans are locked in with their party on military spending. In recent weeks some noted Republicans have begun calling for a Romney presidency to consider cuts to military spending as a necessity facing the country.

Stay tuned next week when we take a look at the Democratic party platform.