Stealing their foreign policy thunder

Imagine for a moment that in this presidential race, the roles had been reversed – that there was a Republican commander-in-chief whose call it had been to order or not order the raid that took out Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year. With the economy still engendering make-or-break fears for an incumbent, there’s no way Republican strategists would not have looked into ingenious ways of giving their man’s tough-as-nails national security image a place of high prominence in the campaign. Hardly should we be surprised, though, that the Democrats’ attempt to highlight one of President Obama’s major accomplishments gets doused with cold water by the president’s critics, with hollow protestations that partisan political boasts should be excluded from such national security matters.

Constantly are we reminded of how true it is that politics has a morality of its own. PBS commentator Mark Shields, in pointing out the disingenuousness of such Republican sniping, referenced the celebrated and disastrously premature “Mission Accomplished” stunt with George Bush in full military regalia aboard a battleship, in dramatizing that Republican penchant for shamelessly going the double standard route.

The Obama reelection committee trotted out this ad, in which Bill Clinton is seen commenting on the gutsiness of the president’s call on that bin Laden capture/kill mission, Clinton injecting the “what if” scenario, had the intelligence been in fact faulty. That flip side would of course have brought no end of condemnation of the president and his being unequal to the role. Predictably, the fact that the operation was such an outstanding success has brought rather muted respect and acknowledgment from the other side (the more bellicose among them, anyway) and, to no one’s surprise, the claim from Mitt Romney that he would have acted the same way had the decision been his to make. Since there were reportedly even some within the Obama circle who weren’t fully on board with the mission getting a green light, Romney’s assertion that he would have done the same thing is typical of the Romney-speak that has made his lack of believability and passion so much a topic of discussion over this marathon presidential quest of his.

Given the foreign policy pluses that have earned honorable inclusion in Obama’s report card, Romney and the Republican signal callers are of course on a mission to literally blow foreign policy issues off the map, in favor of almost total concentration on the economy. George H.W. Bush was the last sitting president to get thrown out of office largely on account of economic concerns impacting an election. It bears noting that a marked difference in this 2012 picture from the goings-on in 1992 is that Obama is doubtless not the clueless figure on matters economic that Bush looked to be back then.

Still, there’s no denying that Obama has some strong headwinds to contend with on the economy bit at this point. And chances are that a change in the average Joe’s personal outlook won’t undergo any dramatically positive shift by November. After the gas hike absurdity that consumers have experienced, the latest downward trending, if it holds, could be one less worry for the president. But the educated take on unemployment numbers seems overwhelmingly to be that they won’t change much in the next few months. That rate remaining at current levels is perhaps borderline problematic, but absolutely would be big-time bad news if they spike up to where they had been during the worst of the recession.

Again, the relentless Romney pitch will be that he’s just plain better at this sort of thing than the incumbent. And as we’ve said here before, there’s been one very public demonstration of Romney’s expertise coming through in less than stellar fashion, and that was his berating the administration for its bailout of the U.S. auto industry when collapse seemed imminent. That the administration’s call on this proved to be so emphatically the right one, both economically and from a national pride standpoint is something that the Obama camp would be insane not to give the highest possible profile in the campaign. Perfect juxtaposition (and eminently saleable campaign fodder) is provided by Romney’s insistence, even after Detroit’s stunning turnaround, that government had no business going there.

But even as Romney and his Republican/Tea Party confederates try to convince the electorate that Obama’s methods have not been the correct panacea for the ailing economy, there surely are some among them whose focus on foreign policy hasn’t entirely been put to rest. It cannot but be bothersome to GOP types that an area that has seemed so comfortably the party’s to control has been, at least for the time being, expropriated by a most unlikely pretender. Between the two parties, Democrats have been seen, for quite a while now, as more prone to a softer approach on foreign policy, Republicans definitely of more militaristic bent. Suddenly with Obama has come a level of aggressiveness – as evidenced in the takeout of bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, in Libya and others – that has turned on its head that conventional wisdom about who is and isn’t soft on the use of force and other manifestations of American muscle. “Warrior in Chief” the New York Times recently headlined an article about Obama’s record as the guy in charge. Republicans aren’t too much liking that. That’s blatant theft of thunder they think to be theirs alone.

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