[As has been pointed out here at Dkos, Republicans are dripping with poutrage in a lame attempt to prevent President Obama from benefitting from his own accomplishments. Dissent is important, but so is political reality.]
For decades, the Republican party enjoyed an advantage on national security and defense, anchoring and reinforcing its status as America’s ‘daddy party’. Bush’s failed Iraq strategy and prolonged bloodshed there damaged the brand, leading to a midterm meltdown and the axing of Rummy. McCain’s war service helped revive the GOP strength gap for 2008, but the financial crisis and Palin swamped that advantage. In 2012 however, the script has been flipped. After scoring an early victory on Gitmo, Republicans have largely been silent (apart from the 'Obama apology tour' meme) or muddled over security and foreign policy during the Obama presidency. Neoconservatism is unpopular and the tea party isn’t focused abroad.
The events of last year proved a major turning point in reshaping perceptions and bolstering President Obama’s standing on defense and national security as he enters into a challenging re-election campaign. In 2011 Barack Obama:
• eliminated Osama bin Laden
• ended the Iraq war
• intervened militarily to help Libyans oust the Gadhafi regime
• leveraged our relationship with the Egyptian military to end Mubarak’s reign, breathing life into the Arab Spring
• removed several other al-Qaida leaders—including Anwar al-Awlaki—from the battlefield, dramatically weakening the terrorist organization
• ended “Don’t ask, don’t tell”
• announced the withdrawal of surge forces from Afghanistan by summer of 2012, followed by a steady drawdown approaching the 2014 transfer deadline
The raid President Obama ordered that killed America’s enemy #1 is the most memorable and visceral because of its surprise nature, revealed in a dramatic Sunday night presidential statement, and for the obvious emotional connection to 9/11. The successful mission ended a decade of national impotence, unleashing a wave of euphoric celebration that manifested outside the White House, in Manhattan and across the country. As the details came out, it was clear that the elements of risk associated with the raid were high and that Obama’s advisors were not sold on the mission, further elevating the presidential decision. Finally, President Obama demonstrated such graceful leadership in visiting NYC to honor the heroes of 9/11 and comfort the victims’ families.
By fulfilling his campaign promise to end the Iraq war, Barack Obama pleased the American people and upset Republican politicians. Nothing else so starkly highlights the chasm between Republican foreign-policy ideology and the thinking of average Americans. The troops were home for the holidays but Republicans were acting like grinches, prognosticating a collapse of the Iraqi government and a return to sectarian conflict. Well, the new round of P5+1 negotiations with Iran are taking place in Baghdad next month, so I guess all hell hasn’t broken loose yet. Back on the home front, the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden are leading a national effort through Joining Forces to, among other things, encourage companies to help meet the president's jobs challenge for returning veterans and their spouses.
Three years ago, the president traveled to Cairo and articulated a post-Iraq war vision for America’s relationship with the Arab and Muslim world. Arab youth-led revolts, beginning in Tunisia, offered the opportunity to move toward that vision. After backing the uprisings in Egypt and Libya, the administration is aiding the opposition to Syria's Assad, who has directed a horrific bloodbath there. As for the Republicans, most were confused and conflicted about the military intervention against Gadhafi, resulting in a thank-you letter to Speaker Boehner from the soon-to-be-dead Lockerbie terrorist. Also, the Republican base obsessed over scary Muslims everywhere. So to recap, Americans witnessed President Obama effectively push out two Arab dictators, while the conservatives either carped from the sidelines (virtually all of them) or hid their heads under the sand (Romney).
Not only did al-Qaida miss out on the Arab Spring, but a lot of them just plain went missing over the last year. Senior operatives Anwar al-Awlaki (American-born jihadist imam tied to 9/11, Fort Hood attacks; helped train underwear bomber in Yemen), Atiyah Abd al-Rahman (bin Laden protégé and second in command), Ilyas Kashmiri (military operations chief linked to Mumbai attacks), Abu Hafs al-Shari (al-Rahman’s replacement) and Badr Mansoor (chief commander for attacks inside Pakistan) were all killed by drone strikes. In addition to decimating al-Qaida’s leadership, President Obama has authorized the targeting of members of the Haqqani network and Pakistani Taliban, both of which are allied with al-Qaida.
President Obama recently described the repeal of DADT as the “dog that didn’t bark.” In other words, all the Republicans who predicted various poxes and plagues would befall the U.S. armed forces should gays be allowed to serve openly were dead wrong. By assiduously working with powerful allies within military command and the Pentagon, the commander-in-chief outflanked his cranky nemesis and the religious right, thus strengthening the military and saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. None of the Republican presidential candidates condemned the booing of a gay soldier who dared to stand up for his own dignity and equality. Only one major candidate in November will be standing to proudly represent all American military personnel.
While the Afghanistan war should loom large in the fall debates, it’s already clear the Republican nominee doesn’t want to talk about it. After flopping around for months like a fish out of water, about the only consistent statement from Romney on Afghanistan is that he will “listen to the generals,” a position for which he was mercilessly mocked by his only sane primary competitor. With the NATO blueprint for the drawdown and residual anti-terror presence to be agreed upon next month in Chicago, I foresee only half-hearted, boilerplate criticism from the right in response. Republicans can read the polling. Polls also show a deep reluctance to the U.S. precipitating a regional war in the Mideast over Iran’s nuclear program. Any Republican war push on either front will be hard-pressed to compete with Obama’s reassuring message that “the tide of war is receding.”
With these accomplishments under his belt, earlier this year President Obama went to the Pentagon to personally put his stamp of approval on a defense budget that proposed modest spending cuts, ending outdated weapons systems and a 14% reduction in Army and Marine forces over the next decade. The biggest news on the topic since has come from Paul Ryan, who stupidly accused military leaders of lying to Congress about their support for the president’s 2013 budget request. With Ryan putting his own party—not Obama—on the defensive, National Journal suggests that “if Republican hawks stick with their guns, the ‘GOP-versus-the-Generals’ theme only threatens to grow, and to bleed into Romney’s campaign.” The incompetence of House Republicans joined with the incoherence of the Romney campaign will be a sight to behold.
By emphasizing these presidential actions, I don’t mean to lessen the importance of other areas critical to U.S. security (China, Russia, nuclear proliferation, North Korea, Israel-Palestine, climate change, etc.) but rather pinpoint key developments that play positively into the dominant security narrative of the past generation: terrorism and Middle East dictators. (DADT repeal is a marker of change under Obama.) Media careers are launched, military heroes made, presidents buoyed and cut down amid the real-life drama. In Barack Obama’s case, his entire candidacy hinged on his outspoken opposition to the Iraq war.
By racking up victories on these fronts, President Obama has fulfilled his foundational security promise to the country and, in the process, poached the ‘daddy party’ mantle from the opposition. And he’s prepared to go on offense. End Iraq war. Check. Re-focus on al-Qaida. Check. Get bin Laden. Check. Americans like to get the bad guys, but desperately want to change the boots-on-the-ground paradigm in the so-called GWOT.
With almost every pundit minimizing the effect national security will have on the presidential election, you might find it shocking for me to disagree. Economic forecasts project slow-to-modest GDP and job growth for the rest of the year. Currently, hardly anyone outside the GOP base blames Obama for the state of the economy. Voters are well aware of Republican obstruction and D.C. squabbling over domestic policy. So it seems to me that in addition to the central message of economic fairness and middle-class security, a major positive theme of the Obama campaign will be responsible stewardship of the nation’s security.
Here’s why: it is central to Americans’ view of the presidency; it elevates the president above Washington gridlock; it projects both confidence and competence, key qualities people look for in leadership; it demonstrates promises kept, reinforcing trust; and it illustrates that Obama can get a lot done when not hampered by self-interested Republican obstruction. The goal is not to displace the economy as the dominant issue of the election, which Republicans will claim, but to positively shape voters’ perception of the president. The image President Obama often projects as a protective father dovetails perfectly into this narrative: a steady, responsible leader determined to keep faith with the trust voters have placed in him. It’s all about values.
Barack has a few character witnesses as well.
In his Farewell Address last fall, CJCS Admiral Mullen offered what sounds like an endorsement:
President Obama made it clear from the beginning that he valued military counsel and that protecting the American people was his top priority. And he's made good on both promises. Bin Laden is dead; Awlaki is dead; al-Qaida is a much-diminished network; we are ending the war in Iraq, and our troops and their families have no stronger advocates for their well-being than he and the First Lady, the Vice President and Dr. Biden.Secretary of Defense Gates heaped major praise on Obama’s central role in the bin Laden raid:
I worked for a lot of these guys. And this is one of the most courageous calls – decisions — that I think I’ve ever seen a president make…It was a very gutsy call.
And we all remember when Gates was asked about the difference in managerial style between George W. Bush and Barack Obama, he came up with this gem:
I think that probably President Obama is somewhat more analytical, and he makes sure he hears from everybody in the room on an issue. And if they don’t speak up, he calls on them.So there you have it: two of the most well-regarded defense officials of the past generation, neither a Democrat, saluting the decision-making and management of national security under President Barack Obama.
Republicans know they've been upstaged. And they are pissed.
Update: Wow. Second time at the top of the rec list this year! Thanks.
Republicans are — forgive the cliché — shocked, shocked to discover that a presidential contender is “politicizing” an important national event. In this sense, “politicizing” might be best translated as “beating us up and we don’t have anything much to say to stop it.” The ad itself raises intriguing, substantive, legitimate questions — and the ferocious, sputtering Republican reaction is proof positive that they know it, or at least suspect it.And Josh Marshall is great as always:
...The way to put oneself in a position to take the harder, more honorable political path is to argue for one’s virtues in a vigorous way. That’s what Obama has done, and is doing. There’ll be more punches coming.
But as I first argued back in 2004, national political campaigns are only loosely about ‘issues’ as news obsessives construe them. Contemporary American campaigns are much more meta-battles over power, masculinity and dominance, what I once called “bitch-slap politics.”Which, of course, surprises none of us. But Peter Bergen did try to enlighten his slower colleagues over the weekend in his Warrior in Chief piece.
...People don’t expect Democrats to make such brash moves on national security politics. It’s been a very long time since a Democratic president has been in a position to do it. It’s aforementioned obviousness aside, it’s garnered a collective gasp from the pundit class.
Update 2: Another dumb statement from Swiss Mitt:
Romney said “of course” he would have ordered the terror leader killed. “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”Joe Biden was right:
Thanks to President Obama, bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive. You have to ask yourself: If Gov. Romney had been president, could you have used the same slogan in reverse?Update 3 Just saw Jed's post on PBO's epic takedown of the "well-lubricated weathervane":
As far as my personal role and what other folks would do, I'd just recommend that everybody look at people's previous statements in terms of whether they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out bin Laden.We've officially reached the "unman" Romney stage that Josh Marshall referenced in his analysis. A rare glimpse of the Obama smirk.
I assume that people meant what they said when they said it—that's been at least my practice. I said that I'd go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they would do something else, then I'd go ahead and let them explain it.