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Air Wars

How defense is playing in the 2012 campaign.



Foreign policy may play a small — if occasionally bizarre and amusing — role in American elections, but defense spending is a different beast, allowing candidates to blend the best (and worst) of American patriotism with that all-important campaign theme: jobs.

This season, a slew of ads — many anti-Obama, all anti-Democrat — are warning that looming defense cuts threaten tens or even hundreds of thousands of jobs, mostly in battleground states it seems. Of course, it was Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — who voted for nearly $1 trillion in mandatory defense spending cuts, with last year’s Budget Control Act accounting for about half and the sequester set to begin in January providing the other. But never mind.

For better or worse, Democrats have a few tricks up their sleeves as well, including the shameless use of random veterans to attack their opponents’ character. Fortunately, Republicans have a thick skin and a willingness to tar their competitors as anti-American. It all makes for good fun since we’re not talking about anything serious like, say, the defense of the nation.

So, as the 2012 election season draws to a close, here are our favorite contributions to political discussion of the military.




1. Virginia Is Not for Lovers 

In Virginia’s heated Senate race, Republican George Allen has taken aim at Governor Tim Kaine for supporting cuts to defense in a TV ad which asserts that, if elected, Allen will “stop the defense cuts by growing our economy, using our energy resources, and creating jobs.” No word on how burning coal would boost defense spending, but fortunately Allen has the backing of conservative Super PAC Crossroads GPS, which produced an ad complete with ominous voice and dark imagery warning that “one million small business jobs” are “at stake” because of those cuts. The figure (repeated in many ads this season) comes from a debunked study written by a George Mason University economics professor — that was commissioned by defense industry lobbyists. A third ad — this one from the National Republican Senatorial Committee — says that the cuts would cost only 200,000 jobs, but it also calls them “Kaine’s defense cuts,” even though Congress did not offer the Virginia governor a chance to vote on the Budget Control Act.


2. Live Free or Die

Mitt Romney has a new radio ad in New Hampshire repeating his oft-touted claim that the U.S. Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1917, and it does its best to turn Obama’s memorable debate quip — “We also have fewer horses and bayonets” — against the president: “For Mitt Romney, that’s a problem. For President Obama, it’s a chance to deliver a punch line.” The ad says 3,600 jobs are at stake in New Hampshire, but its most interesting line is a dog-whistle about Obama’s supposed rejection of American exceptionalism: “Sure, his flippant remarks insult Mitt Romney, but do they also expose how President Obama views the world — and America’s place in it?” The ad repeats the canard about reversing “Obama’s defense cuts,” but we have to applaud the use of “flippant,” which is a first in our campaign-ad memory.


3. Stealthy Attack 

In this presidential campaign, China has figured mostly as that most evil of bogeymen — the currency manipulator — and this Romney ad promises the governor will stand up to Beijing on economic policy. It also includes Romney’s oft-repeated criticism that China is stealing American ideas, but with a twist: this ad says that’s true of fighter jet design, too. The ad shows a pretend-blueprint sketch of what looks like China’s J-31 with a line drawn to a similar sketch of an F-35. What’s interesting is that the ad may actually be on to something in its suggestion that China has pilfered U.S. stealth technology. In 2009, the F-35 program was hacked, resulting in the loss of sensitive data and requiring a costly revamp of the program’s security.


4. Indiana’s Back 

With approval ratings higher than almost any other demographic in the country, a veteran’s word is almost unimpeachable. And that’s why this year has shown that deploying veterans in political ads has been an effective tactic. has a series of ads attacking Republicans in various races around the country, from Virginia to Indiana to Arizona. In one, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Sam Schultz, of English, Ind. says Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock — probably most famous for his ill-advised comments on rape last month — voted to stop the bailout of Chrysler and potentially rob veterans of well-paying jobs. Zinger: “I know what it’s like to serve with people who have your back, and I can tell you,” Schultz says as he tinkers with a small motor outside a garage, “Richard Mourdock doesn’t have ours.”



5. Vets on Flake

VoteVets repeats the tactic in Arizona with an ad criticizing Republican Senate candidate Jeff Flake, in which Stephen Lopez of Chandler, Ariz. looks sternly at the camera as he shoots holes in Flake’s record on veterans: “He was one of only 12 in Congress to vote against the G.I. Bill, which is putting veterans like me through school.” And Flake was one of only three who voted against job training for returning troops, he says. The punch line: “Jeff Flake doesn’t deserve my vote or my respect.” Ouch.


6. Buckeye Defense 

This Romney ad charges that Obama’s defense cuts — again, a pretty serious fudge given their bipartisan origins — could cost Ohio 20,000 jobs. The interesting question is where would those defense jobs actually be lost? The Lima plant that produces M1 Abrams tanks was already slated to stop production later this decade, since the Army says it has more than enough new tanks. United Technologies facilities in Ohio work on advanced engines for jets like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but that program is going strong (despite cost overruns and schedule delays). Meanwhile, the ad says that Romney will stop the cuts and create 450,000 new jobs for Buckeyes. Defense jobs?



7. Connecticut Cuts 

Refreshingly, this ad by Connecticut’s Linda McMahon, Republican candidate for Senate and wife of World Wrestling Entertainment founder Vince McMahon, rightly blames Congress for creating the sequestration beast. She also lists specific defense contractors in Connecticut that could be hurt if sequestration kicks in. Among these are Sikorsky, maker of the H-60 family of helicopters for the Army, Navy and Air Force, aircraft engine-maker Pratt & Whitney (a United Technologies subsidiary) that provides engines for everything from C-17 cargo planes to fighter jets like the F-35, and finally, the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics that makes nuclear-powered submarines. However, we’re not sure where the ad’s suggestion that McMahon’s Democrat rival, Chris Murphy, supports sequestration comes from. Few politicians want the sequestration to go forward, but Murphy actually voted against the 2011 deal that set it up.



8. Tommy vs. Tammy 

In this doozy, Wisconsin Senate candidate Tommy Thompson attacks his Democratic opponent, Tammy Baldwin, for hating on troops, 9/11 first responders, and apple pie (ok, maybe not apple pie) while loving Iran. Tommy says Tammy receives support from a “radical pro-Iran group” while Tammy says Tommy invested in companies that do business with Iran. Who to believe!? Well, that radical pro-Iran group is the D.C.-based Council for a Livable World, whose research arm is the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Apparently, they are “pro-Iran” because they don’t think the country poses an “immediate” nuclear threat to the United States. Tammy did vote against a 2006 bill praising 9/11 first responders because it also gave support to the controversial PATRIOT Act and immigration bills that she opposed. Apparently, the claim that Baldwin is opposed to giving troops body armor has its roots in a failed bill she co-sponsored that would allow conscientious objectors to have their tax dollars spent on non-defense programs

Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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