New group seeks to shape GOP candidate views on national security 

Concerned by "isolationist" sentiments among the 2012 Republican presidential candidates, some national-security minded Republicans are planning a new advocacy group to keep the war on terror, and especially the war in Afghanistan, in the first tier of party concerns.

The group, which is still in the planning stages and does not yet have a name, will try to influence the '12 candidates' positions on issues like the intervention in Libya and the effort in Afghanistan.  When it comes to supporting more robust action against Libya's Moammar Ghadaffi, or continued involvement in Afghanistan, says GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is helping organize the group, "the path to the Republican nomination should not be to the left of Barack Obama." Sen. John McCain, the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee is involved in the effort, and Graham says Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman is also "interested" in taking part.

At the June 13 Republican debate in New Hampshire, frontrunner Mitt Romney said, "It's time for to us bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can."  Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose performance at the debate received high marks, said the U.S. should not have taken action in Libya.  Other candidates were critical of U.S. foreign involvements, prompting widespread comment on the apparent change from GOP positions in the Bush years.

Sen. Graham says that after the debate, he and McCain received calls from national security-minded Republicans who were worried not only about those statements but also about the brief time given to security issues.  Those calls -- other than McCain and Lieberman, Graham did not mention names but said the group would include veterans of previous administrations, national security analysts, and "concerned citizens" -- focused on a desire to bring the candidates' views into line with recent GOP policy.  "We want to make sure that people who are running for president clearly understand that the majority of Republicans are in the peace-through-strength camp," says Graham.  "We want to basically organize a group that can become a safety net for those who will embrace a peace-through-strength, we-will-defeat-radical-Islam position within our primary field."

McCain has been particularly critical of the GOP candidates' positions. "This is isolationism," he said Sunday on ABC.  "There's always been an isolation strain in the Republican party, that Pat Buchanan wing of our party, but now it seems to have moved more center stage."  Graham -- who praised statements by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Bachmann's recent vow to "stay the course" in Afghanistan -- attributes some of the Republican sentiments to frustration with President Obama's policies and overwhelming concerns about the economy and federal spending.

The fear, Graham says, is that the latter concerns will overwhelm the former. "We have two challenges to face as a nation: an insurmountable debt and defeating radical Islam," Graham says.  "They are not mutually exclusive.  We have to address both and you can address both."

About The Author

Byron York


Byron York is the Examiner’s chief political correspondent. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He blogs throughout the week at Beltway Confidential.

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