Jacob Heilbrunn

The Timorous Republican Pledge to America

There's something strangely timorous about the Republican "Pledge to America." It's supposed to be a tribute to, or head off, the Tea Party, but bloggers and pundits on both the right and left have pointed to its failure to call for any real sweeping cuts to entitlement programs. The pledge, in other words, doesn't really believe in pledging very much. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson observes,

These 21 pages tell you lots of things, some contradictory things, but mostly this: it is a serious of compromises and milquetoast rhetorical flourishes in search of unanimity among House Republicans because the House GOP does not have the fortitude to lead boldly in opposition to Barack Obama."

This evasiveness extends to the cursory section devoted to foreign policy. The Obama administration should be ripe for criticism from the right. But the "Pledge" doesn't provide it. Instead, it calls for ensuring that tough sanctions are maintained against Iran. OK, isn't that what the Obama administration is promising? It calls for funding the military without attaching amendments to bills concerning the Defense Department. Wow, there's a real hot-button election issue. The "Pledge" doesn't simply fail to attack Obama for his approach to Russia, China, or the Middle East. It doesn't say anything at all. And, by the way, what about Afghanistan? Should America step up the fight or retreat? What would define victory in Kabul? The "Pledge" doesnt say.

At most, it talks tough about holding President Obama accountable for border security and for preventing terrorist attacks. Missile defense is the centerpiece of the brief discussion of foreign affairs. Other than that, the document is strangely quiescent about who the bad and good guys are abroad. Perhaps its most egregious failing is that it doesn't address the issue that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has forthrightly tackled, which is reducing expenditures to try and help lower the federal deficit. A truly bold Republican plan would call for a mixture of cuts in both entitlement and defense programs. So far, however, the GOP seems to be treating social spending programs and the defense budget as sacrosanct.

Maybe foreign policy won't have any impact in the November election (though a big foreign crisis could change that overnight). All signs are that American are exercised about spending and tax policy, something that both sides have flunked, as the Bush tax cuts are set to expire since the Democrats aren't willing to tackle the issue before the elections. America will essentially be governed by committee, as both Republicans and Democrats wait for the electoral cover that Obama's deficit commission, which will state the obvious, is supposed to provide.

But there is no commission to hide behind when it comes to foreign policy. If the "Pledge" is anything to go by, Republicans aren't thinking about it. But if they are serious about getting their mojo back, that will have to change.