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What Ever Happened to the Party of National Security?

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The Marines are using solar panels to power forward bases in Afghanistan.

I don’t spend a lot of time listening to Rush Limbaugh. But driving through Wyoming recently, I chanced upon his distinctive cadences on my car radio. I couldn’t find a reliable signal for NPR, I don’t like Mötley Crüe, and I was getting tired of listening to the preacher on a Christian station who was giving listeners his interpretation of the stream of crazy weather events and disasters this spring -- raging wildfires in Arizona, floods on the Mississippi, epic tornados in the Southeast, record snowfall in the Rockies. The preacher told them not to be concerned. It was all foretold in the Good Book, and these were simply signs that the End Times were approaching.

I found Rush one notch up on the FM band and decided to swing into the parking lot of a nearby supermarket to listen to the nation’s pontificator-in-chief for a few minutes. It turned out he was sniffing out heresy in the Republican Party. Any Republican who failed to understand that global warming was a scientific hoax and a plot to find a pretext for strangling the U.S. economy was ipso facto unfit for high office. True believers should recite these articles of faith at every opportunity; past sinners should immediately recant; those who persisted in the error of the ways should be cast out of the one true church. Old Rush sounded like Pope Paul V as he handed Galileo over to the Inquisition.

So "climate change" is a fevered secular-socialist conspiracy to do in the American way of life. That raises an inconvenient question for Republicans: why then is the U.S. military one of its leading protagonists? Here I was in the most Republican state in the nation (Obama got 32.5 percent of the Wyoming vote in 2008), and traditionally that equates to being stridently loyal to all things military. The mud-spattered pickup parked next to me had a Marine Corps sticker and an American flag on the rear windshield. The supermarket had posted a sign that declared it to be a "Proud Supporter of the Wounded Warriors Project," and another that said, "Budweiser: Here’s to the Heroes."

There was, to put it mildly, a disconnect here: the military were heroes, Rush Limbaugh had papal authority, and global warming was a hoax. Yet the Department of Defense has been actively promoting that hoax since 2003, when a much-heralded report by two Pentagon consultants, Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, warned that catastrophic climate change "would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately" and constituted a threat "greater than terrorism."

Since then the drumbeat has only grown stronger, to the point where the U.S. military has become more aggressive about combating climate change than any other part of the hated "Washington elite," right up there with the Environmental Protection Agency -- which many Republicans in Congress regard as the Employment Prevention Agency and would like to abolish.

I wondered if the driver of the pickup truck with the Semper Fi sticker knew that the Marines are using solar panels to power their forward operating bases in Afghanistan, that military bases in the United States are introducing building codes and energy efficiency measures even more stringent than California’s, or that the Navy is pioneering a new generation of biofuels that may one day radically cut the carbon emissions of our civilian airplane fleet. The Pentagon’s most recent Quadrennial Defense Review vows to cut the military’s greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent between 2008 and 2020. Indeed, the Pentagon has become so environmentally conscious that it plans to buy 200 million rounds of a new, lead-free "green bullet" that will kill enemy soldiers without harming wildlife. (This is not a joke.)

Once upon a time -- in fact for most of its modern history -- the Republican Party liked to prove its conservative credentials by stressing unswerving allegiance to the military and its values. Now its leaders seem bent instead on establishing their bona fides by kow-towing to the most extreme know-nothing fringe of American politics. Whatever happened, I wondered, to the "Party of National Security"? These days it feels more like the Party of the End Times.

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OnEarth's executive editor has reported from five continents, chronicling civil war in Central America, the democracy movement in China, and climate change in countries from Bangladesh to Peru. His most recent book, Empire of Shadows, is about the 19... READ MORE >