James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Campaign 2012 Roundup: Perry Backs No-Fly Zone over Syria

by James M. Lindsay
November 22, 2011

Texas Governor Rick Perry makes a point during the South Carolina Republican party presidential debate on November 12, 2011. (Chris Keane/courtesy Reuters)

The GOP presidential candidates meet tonight in Washington, DC, for a CNN-sponsored debate on national security policy. It will be the eleventh debate this year, with two more scheduled before the Iowa caucuses on January 3. The unusually high number of debates hasn’t hurt viewership. The debate that Fox News sponsored in September drew 6.1 million viewers—nearly twice the audience of the most popular debate four years ago. The debate ten days ago in Spartanburg, South Carolina drew more than 5 million viewers. To put those numbers in perspective, last week’s episode of NBC’s The Office drew 5.5 million viewers.

One question that could come up tonight is what to do about Syria. Rick Perry was asked that question last night on Fox News. His answer? Impose a no-fly zone. Unlike President Obama in Libya, however, a President Perry “would not spend a lot of time waiting for the UN” before deciding to act. Perry didn’t say whether he expected other countries to join the U.S. effort, how the no-fly zone would operate, or why the United States would want to become involved in yet another military conflict in the Arab world.

Jon Huntsman writes on CNN.com today that the United States needs to rethink its defense policy in the wake of the super committee’s failure to craft a long-term deficit reduction deal. He proposes shifting attention to the Asia-Pacific region, scaling back the number of active duty troops, and reducing America’s global footprint:

We must also transform our orientation. By almost any objective measure–population, economic power, military might, energy use–the center of gravity of global human activity is moving toward the Asia-Pacific region. Embracing this reality may bring a dramatic change to the look of our military.

If we simultaneously transform our capabilities and posture while enhancing our Guard and Reserve, our active duty army could be reduced to around 450,000 troops, from the approximately 565,000 we now have. Our Department of Defense civilian work force can also be cut by 5 percent to 7 percent of its current size.

At the same time, we should conduct a global posture review with the goal of closing at least 50 overseas military installations. The U.S. military maintains more than 700 installations outside the United States, the vast majority of which were opened during the Cold War. With a more mobile and flexible force, we simply don’t need as many facilities overseas.

Newt Gingrich announced his national security team this morning. The marquee names are former Reagan national security adviser Robert McFarlane and former Clinton CIA director R. James Woolsey. Gingrich says he plans to rely on his advisers:

as we assert our vision of an exceptional America that, contrary to what President Obama may believe, will continue to be both the world’s leading power and most assiduous defender of freedom for generations to come.

We should hear a lot tonight about Obama’s purported failure to believe in American exceptionalism. On that score, the Pew Global Attitudes Project reports that its most recent poll found that just 49 percent of Americans either completely or mostly agreed with the statement “Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others.” That’s down from 60 percent in 2002 and 55 percent in 2007.

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