With virtually no media attention, we are seeing what is either a watershed moment or at least a significant disconnect in the manner in which national security is being treated in American politics. At least for the past century, the national security “card” had always served as a powerful device to rally political support – to cast the opponent as being “weak” or inattentive to security concerns. That has played out regardless of party, JFK used Cuban security issues as a major issue in his election campaign, LBJ used the Tonkin Gulf incident and his response to position himself against a Goldwater security initiative in their presidential contest. A focus on issues of national security have also been a frequent tactic in Republican political efforts against Democratic Administrations, especially those giving priority to domestic and social issues.
As a corollary, Shadow Warfare deals with the ongoing issue of Presidents balancing the political risks of overtly dealing overtly and publically with what they perceive to be national security threats with a lack of domestic support – and choosing covert and clandestine action as an alternative. That has led to periodic Congressional chastisement of President’s and at least minimal efforts to ensure that the Commander in Chief obtains Congressional approval for overseas military actions.
In short, national security issues and threats have been a foundation for political positioning, with all parties trying to claim the high ground of being most sensitive to threats and most directly involved with actions, legislation and spending to deal with them. The greatest risk to a sitting President has often been seen as not being aggressive enough on national security – or on occasion – being seen as dismissive of Congress by independently pursuing their own security initiatives.
Yet as we enter 2015, we see calls from a Democratic administration for more military spending – and a call for congressional legislation on expanded military authorization and budgets to deal with jihadi terrorism movements such as ISIS. We even see requests for military spending to address a resurgent Russian nationalism and President Putin’s obvious ability to convince his nation to endure whatever privation is necessary to fully fund a major Russian military buildup.
On the Republican side, we see constant warnings on the threat of ISIS, on the risk of terrorism on American soil, demands to provide lethal military support to the Ukraine – yet no legislation to address any of those issues and no response to Presidential proposals on each of them. Instead we see a Republican effort to actually defund Homeland Security – based on concerns over purely domestic issues such as immigration and healthcare. The Republicans appear to have abandoned national security as a primary issue and the Democrats are left with it by default – yet they show no particular enthusiasm for using it in the manner of times past.
In a dramatic contrast, President Putin of Russia has revived the national security card in a comprehensive and literally overwhelming fashion. His strident message of a growing threat to Russia and the need for patriotism as a primary and driving national requirement appears have served him and his power base in an exceptionally successful fashion. In fact it has worked so well for that he has been able to deploy internal Russian media with the sort of blunt propaganda messages not often seen from a major power since Joseph Stalin – or Adolph Hitler. And by all accounts, according to Russian public polling, even the most outrageous messages are proving quite effective.
It may not be that the world has actually turned upside down, it is far too early to tell. However if you are a social studies, political science or history teacher, you certainly have a great deal of current events material to stimulate discussion in your classes – the only problem is that few of those classes are a priority for the standardized testing which will receive all your student’s attention at this point in time. Still, it might be good for a couple of minutes of student attention.
Oh, and if you thought I was being a bit harsh in regard to President Putin, you might want to actually search and read some of the statements and articles appearing in the Russian media over the last few months….or seriously think about the history of Putin regimes with their critics, a brief history of that is available at: