Politico reports on a number of lawmakers, high-profile upholders of the bipartisan military consensus, who are heading for the exits:
At least half a dozen heavyweights, such as Sens. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Reps. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), either announced retirement or lost their seats this fall. Their successors will carry far less clout on Capitol Hill — and few took office vowing to carry the mantle of the military. That’s bad news for the Pentagon, which is facing the first serious threat to its funding in years — including more cuts of nearly $500 billion over the next 10 years if the country slides over the fiscal cliff at the beginning of next year.
Add to them centrists with military experience like Jim Webb, Scott Brown, and Daniel Akaka.
Whether this is good or bad for those who would like to see a more modest American foreign policy is an open question. While one hopes that these retirements could allow for some fresh thinking on foreign policy, it’s equally possible that their less-experienced replacements defer to the military and policy establishment.
The list of names seems heavy on the type of moderates who get praised for statesmanship; Blue Dog Democrats, Republicans in liberal states, Joe Lieberman. Their absence could turn defense policy into a partisan issue. The Democratic Party has been more or less successful in heading off traditional GOP criticisms about being soft on defense, in part because of President Obama’s willingness to continue the hawkish policies of predecessor, but also because of the presence of lawmakers like Webb. Republican criticisms now sound increasingly unhinged, taking to task an administration that launched an undeclared war in Libya and an unprecedented due process-free drone assassination program for being insufficiently hawkish; planning to leave Afghanistan too early, leaving Iraq at all.
Despite valiant efforts, Sens. Graham, Ayotte, and McCain have been unable to make sequestration a partisan issue, and not just because McCain voted for it. Waging similar fights in the future could get easier in the absence of a strong pro-Pentagon faction in the political center.
(As an aside, the National Intelligence Council has a report today with one line that might rankle those who still cling to the neoconservative vision of American exceptionalism: “With the rapid rise of other countries, the ‘unipolar moment’ is over and no country – whether the U.S., China, or any other country – will be a hegemonic power.”)