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GOP Sounds The Call: Spend More, Engage Less

The Obama administration's engagement policy and Defense Department budget cuts portend "an America in decline," an approach the country must not accept, one of the top defense Republican lawmakers said today in a speech billed as a major policy address.

"A defense budget in decline portends an America in decline," Rep. Buck McKeon, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee says in a speech written for delivery at the conservative Heritage Foundation this morning. Pointing to the Pentagon's decliing investment accounts, McKeon calls for change. "This is an outcome we cannot accept. America in decline is not the type of change the American people signed up for, nor is it a change we should believe in," DoD Buzz obtained an advance copy of the speech. The speech was clearly designed to test themes for the November elections.

McKeon took some of the Obama administration's basic tenets head on, especially targeting engagement, which Jim Jones, the president's national security described last week as a central tenet of the administration's national security approach. "Put bluntly, the Obama Administration’s predisposition thus far to engage with adversaries — past or present — has not made us safer. The Teddy Roosevelt mantra of speaking softly and carrying a big stick still has a place today — it should not be out of vogue," McKeon writes. "Whether dealing with a former adversary like Russia or a present-day adversary like Iran, I’m concerned that engagement has translated into weakness. We cannot let this approach compromise our commitments to friends and allies."

McKeon hammered away again and again at the administration's national security policies. "A reluctant wartime President, I fear, abstains from using words like victory and winning—because he is more committed to ending the conflicts we’re in rather than winning them. This is the risk of a war strategy driven by an unchecked declinist national security policy," McKeon said, But America is an exceptional country and must act that way, McKeon said.

"We must never give up on our belief that America is truly great…and that we have the responsibility to help make others great, too," he says. "I take issue with a declinist vision of our country, not only because every fiber of my being believes in our nation’s greatness, but because of the impact it is having on our standing in the world. I’m increasingly concerned that the rejection of American exceptionalism reflects a fundamental view of this Administration that has permeated American national security policy. At its core, this view holds that America should never lead alone, that it must aspire to do less, and acquiesce to the will of others more. In other words, we must do less with less," he writes.

McKeon invokes President Theodore Roosevelt's famous dictum -- "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far" -- saying "the Obama Administration’s predisposition thus far to engage with adversaries—past or present—has not made us safer."

To fix this, the California Republican urges an increase in defense spending, tying a smaller defense budget to lost jobs. And he said the country needs "a National Defense Education and Investment Act, which would increase funding for basic defense research, and ensure we maintain our technological edge." The country needs "to invest in American exceptionalism to stem the tide of decline."

Otherwise, declining procurement and R and D accounts "could lead to another round of defense consolidations like that of the 90s. But where will we cut this time? Satellites? Military aircraft? Shipbuilding? The result is less diversity and an increasing reliance on foreign firms to meet our defense needs. This may be the most harmful impact of a Department of Defense in decline," he writes.

In portions of the speech clearly meant for the faithful, McKeon slammed Obama for his handling of the Christmas Day bomber. "Instead of recognizing that terrorists targeted America long before Guantanamo Bay held enemy combatants, he attempted to re-write history to the benefit of our enemies and detriment of our people. Put bluntly, the President believes that American policy was a root cause of AQAP’s attack on the homeland," he says. "The simple truth is that relaxing our Guantanamo policy puts Americans at risk. We can draw a bright and terrifying line between releasing those war criminals and harm to our people."

Then, in phrases sure to be heard a great deal from the end of August, McKeon calls for: "No more mirandizing terrorists. No more trials in downtown Manhattan. No more terrorist transfers to Yemen. The American people need a new terrorist detainee policy."

All in all, McKeon crafted a bracing speech. While some of it can be dismissed as preaching to the faithful, he offers one of the most comprehensive and cogent critiques so far of the Obama administration's national security policies.

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