The GOP's presidential candidate seems to share this dangerously broad conception of national defense. Like McCain, Mitt Romney criticizes President Obama for supposedly endangering the country with spending "cuts" that let the Defense Department's budget, which has almost doubled in the last decade, continue to rise, albeit at a slower pace. McCain arbitrarily insists that "core defense spending" should never fall below 4 percent of gross domestic product, no matter what threats the country faces or how much it costs to protect against them.
At last week's convention, Romney promised to maintain "a military that is so strong no nation would ever dare to test it." The U.S. currently spends five times as much on defense as China, its closest competitor. Surely there is room for cuts, even by Romney's standard.
Paul Ryan, whom Romney picked as his running mate largely on the strength of his reputation for fiscal conservatism, told the convention, "We need to stop spending money we don't have." But the Wisconsin congressman also suggested that a Romney administration would defend every democrat and defeat every dictator. "Wherever men and women rise up for their own freedom," he promised, "they will know that the American president is on their side."
Contrary to Romney and Ryan's implication, Democrats are perfectly capable of reckless military interventions that have nothing to do with national defense, as Obama proved with his illegal air war in Libya. The real puzzle is why Republicans think that being quick to risk other people's lives and squander their money is a mark of courageous leadership.