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As previously noted, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have invoked the hoary Republican claim that Democrats, in general, and Barack Obama, in particular, are "weak on defense." It's an attack first begun when Romney was but a toddler. It's been a theme in this campaign at least since the candidate made his foreign policy speech at The Citadel in October 2011.

One favored technique these days is to allege Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama were men whose presidencies did not exude "peace through strength" and therefore turned the United States into a wimpy target for evildoers that a Republican president would have deterred by his very presence in the White House.

The latest iteration of this theme has come in response to the killings of U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Adam Serwer dissects it:

"When we project weakness abroad, our enemies are more willing to test us, they are more brazen and our allies are less willing to trust us," said vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan at an event in Colorado last week. "[T]hat will not happen under a Mitt Romney administration because we believe in peace through strength." Ryan was referring to potential defense cuts, so if Al Qaeda pays enough attention to American budget politics to base its strikes on funding cuts then they probably know Ryan projected weakness by voting for them in the first place. Romney adviser Richard Williamson went so far as to suggest to the Washington Post last month that under a President Romney, no protesters would dare defile an American embassy.[...]

Having Ronald Reagan in office didn't mean an end to attacks on US diplomatic targets. Despite Reagan’s refrain of "peace through strength," several high-profile attacks on US diplomatic facilities occurred on his watch, including the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, by Islamic militants. Twice. According to the Global Terrorism Database compiled by the University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), attacks on American diplomatic targets actually rose during Reagan's term—before beginning to subside in the mid-1990s.

And remember that peace-through-strength-and-cowboy-talk president named George W. Bush, the guy who nearly doubled the core Pentagon budget? The Global Terrorism Database lists 64 attacks on American diplomatic targets during his administration, including the bombing of the U.S. diplomatic compound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in December 2004. Four security guards and five staff were killed.

What Romney and Ryan are really promoting to the great delight of the neoconservatives, defense contractors and Pentagon inhabitants who will soon step out of uniform to serve defense contractors is another massive build-up of the already bloated U.S. military. Another 100,000 troops, another $2.2 trillion over a decade added to a budget that is already out of control and an armed forces that grew by 100,000 in the last years of the Bush administration.

Their failure of imagination is the same one that has for so long plagued Republicans and far too many Democrats as well. Strength is about far more than projections of military power and talking like Clint Eastwood (in his movies, not to empty chairs). Romney now occasionally invokes the term "soft power," but there's no evidence he has any familiarity with the concept beyond its value as an insertable buzzword.

Military power is only one aspect of a nation's true strength. There comes a time when the pursuit of yet more military power, especially by a nation already spending more than the next 20 nations combined on that pursuit, has a pernicious effect not just on the world outside but also domestically. The real strength of a nation is built as well on its educational system, the effectiveness of its safety net, its investments in innovation and infrastructure, its dedication to equality and to social and economic mobility. America could use a lot more politicians who not only understand that, but also take forceful action to do something about our failures in those realms.

Instead, from too many we get chest-thumping backed up by horrendous overspending for the Pentagon's doings. Keep it up and it will be our undoing.

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