posted on behalf of John Noonan a former USAF ICBM officer who writes on defense policy for The Weekly Standard and other publications. He will be writing more on this initiative as it develops.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, the chiefs of three major conservative think-tanks (the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, and Foreign Policy Initiative) sound the trumpet on the importance of excluding the defense budget from much-needed cuts to overall federal spending (Peace Doesn’t Keep Itself).

The unusual alliance of beltway think-tankery was swiftly misinterpreted as a fissure between the tea-party and the old school Washington conservative establishment, a narrative amplified by Ben Domenech over at Real Clear World:

“In my view, Secretary Gates isn’t seeking cuts aimed at men and women in uniform, but at technology which serves no purpose within a broken procurement process that is out of touch with the demands of the real world. But assume I am wrong, and that the Kristol et al. argument is an accurate critique: if that’s the case, this has to be considered a case of right message, wrong messengers. While Brooks has no quarrel with the Tea Partiers, Feulner’s organization endorsed TARP, and Kristol is perhaps the poster child of the kind of insider-ism which Tea Partiers are soundly rejecting.”

Domenech nails it on message -a strong national defense is an inherently conservative principle- but whiffs on the messengers.

Though various conservative organizations occasionally swim against fiscal conservative currents, Heritage, AEI, and FPI remain trusted proponents of conservative principles. The focus, therefore, should not be on the messengers – but rather the messaging.

Three major think-tanks unifying behind a single rallying call, handled “Defending Defense,” should be eye-opening. Such an alliance should not be interpreted as old-school Washington establishmentarians manning the bulwarks against a new, popular conservative grassroots movement, but rather a plea for the Tea Party to acknowledge the dilapidated condition of the US military, which is facing unheard of budget cuts and historically low spending during a time of a tough, protracted war against Islamic extremism.

The Wall Street Journal op-ed, and a Defending Defense factsheet to be released later this week, acknowledge and support the Tea Party’s concerns about runaway entitlement spending. And both documents appeal to the Tea Party’s strong support for men and women in uniform, as well as their advocacy for a strong national defense.

Bottom line: this is not a rift, but a rallying call. Distrust of the mainstream Washington establishment harbored by independents and libertarians should not distract from the central message of “Defending Defense,” that US military is stretched, fatigued, overworked, and in bad need of an upgrade.