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Can Obama Win on War?

The economy languishes, but the president has given Americans the foreign policy they want.
Obama speaks

The hot-air-fueled tropical storm called a political convention has blown out of Tampa. Now it is making landfall in Charlotte, having acquired the even more violent Category 2 status for which the Democrats are known.

The party of Barack Obama and the Clintons commences on a nearly week-long celebration of abortion, gay marriage, and diversity through ideological conformity. What else to do, when economic growth is weak and unemployment is above 8 percent almost four years into Obama’s tenure?

Obama will, of course, rightly say that he inherited this mess. But blaming George W. Bush can only get him so far. Paul Ryan was right: after assuming office, there comes a point where a president must assume responsibility.

More promising is the strategy of portraying Ryan and Mitt Romney as too radical a replacement, a pair of heartless number-crunchers who see people only as lines on a balance sheet. Swing-state polls show this resonates with the slender segment of the electorate that is still undecided. But here too there is a risk that voters might conclude things are bad enough to risk rolling the dice.

While continuing to paint Romney-Ryan as inhuman plutocrats, it might profit Obama to revive foreign policy as an issue. Spend three days celebrating the killing of Osama bin Laden, the president’s only incontrovertible popular achievement. Even Romney had to devote part of his acceptance speech to giving Obama props.

Put bin Laden’s death into the broader context of Obama’s repeated hits on al-Qaeda leaders across the globe. Point out that more terrorist leaders have been killed than under the previous administration — which people will recall failed to snag the 9/11 mastermind — and make all the apologizing-for-America stuff seem totally superfluous.

Then key on Romney’s blithe dismissal of talks with Iran. Having established that a nuclear-armed Tehran is unacceptable, what is Romney’s alternative? A preventive war with Iran? The logic of Romney’s position, such as it is, along with the identity of his national-security advisers, virtually screams war.

The American people have not liked the Iranian regime since the hostage crisis under Jimmy Carter, following the fall of the shah and the rise of the ayatollahs. But their lack of affection for the Islamic Republic is matched only by their lack of enthusiasm for yet another war without end in the Middle East.

Iraq was a disaster that lacked a credible casus belli — the Duelfer Report put paid to the myth of Saddam’s WMD. Afghanistan began as a just response to the Taliban’s decision to shelter the 9/11 master-murderers, only to degenerate into a quagmire in which we appear to be training local police to kill our own troops. Few people outside the GOP convention hall in Tampa are eager for a repeat of either operation.

None of this is to say that Obama’s foreign policy has been wise. He launched a war of choice in Libya which succeeded in dislodging Muammar Gaddafi from power but accomplished dubious long-term results. Obama sought no congressional authorization for this military action and articulated no U.S. national-security interest.

Obama initiated an Afghanistan surge despite appearing to believe the war was already lost. His administration sought to prolong U.S. involvement in Iraq, but the Iraqis were not interested. A war with Iran remains a possibility under Obama as well. Even his legitimate strikes against terrorist targets have created unwelcome precedents in the exercise of executive power and caused collateral damage that could inspire the next wave of terror.

But Obama didn’t put boots on the ground in Libya, thus avoiding significant casualties. After the Iraqis kicked us out, he was smart enough to claim credit for ending the war instead of trying to install a more accommodating Baghdad regime. He is putting an apparent expiration date on an Afghan mission that has now outlasted World War II, and he is clearly hoping to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons without U.S. military action.

In other words, Obama has found a way to kill those who would threaten Americans without new large-scale invasions and occupations of foreign countries. However imperfect that may be, it’s the balance most voters are seeking. If Romney and his advisers want to pursue the foreign policy outlined by John McCain in his convention speech, which would put U.S. boots on the ground in Tehran, Damascus, and who knows where else, they will not have the country behind them.

Instead of the latest lame defense of his dubious fiscal record, the president ought to make these facts crystal clear. Obama can no longer pretend it is Bush’s economy. But he can say he is keeping his promises to end Bush’s wars. Romney seems to want to fight them all over again, and a few even the Decider decided weren’t worth it.

W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a contributing editor to The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter.



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