I think under Obama, national security has fallen off the radar screen of political issues. And honestly, I don’t think the Republican Party has done an effective job in opposing that gap. And if we don’t start talking about these national security issues [bold mine-DL], we will find ourselves in desperate straits. Ignoring what’s going on overseas doesn’t make the problems any less significant.
The curious thing about this and about Bolton’s new PAC is that Bolton is trying to fill a void that doesn’t exist. National security and foreign policy issues have received a fair amount of attention in the press and in the national political debate over the last five years. Considering the strong preference of most Americans to focus on domestic issues, it is all the more remarkable that these issues have received the attention that they have. That’s not surprising, since the U.S. is still waging one war in Afghanistan and has conducted a number of smaller military operations in several countries around the world, and the U.S. very nearly started bombing Syria just five months ago. The Syria debate saw an enormous and vocal popular outpouring of opposition to military intervention. There have also been fairly intense debates over the use of drones in counter-terrorism and NSA surveillance programs in just the last year, and most recently there has been a great deal of attention paid to negotiations with Iran and the terms of the interim agreement reached last fall. National security issues aren’t being ignored.
Then again, Bolton has a very strange definition of what “ignoring” an issue means. He said later on in the same interview that national security “has been invisible in the past couple of presidential elections.” As Friedersdorf notes, this might apply to 2012, but it’s ludicrous to say this about 2008. In both the primaries and the general election, the Iraq war was consistently one of the most important issues for voters, and some of the clearest, most significant differences between the candidates were on national security and foreign policy issues. In both 2008 and 2012, the more hawkish, reflexively hard-line candidate lost, and at least in 2008 the candidate lost in no small part because of his greater hawkishness. So we have been and still are talking about these issues, and the policies that most of us prefer are at odds with what Bolton and his allies want. He and his fellow hard-liners have been losing one debate after another, and it is obviously bothering them, but it’s just silly to argue that the issues are being ignored.