President Obama is clearly peeved at suggestions that he is “soft” on foreign policy. On Thursday, he shot back:
“Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,” the president declared. “Or whoever’s left out there, ask them about that.”
That’s not a bad one-liner but, like the best one-liners, it avoids the real issues. Nobody is questioning Obama’s toughness on al-Qaeda. But that’s not exactly a controversial stance. Even the most dovish Democrats are in favor of targeting al-Qaeda. There is as close to a consensus about this issue as it is possible to achieve in American politics. It does not require much leadership to target al-Qaeda’s leadership–the foreign policy equivalent of targeting “drug kingpins” or other major criminals on the homefront.
But when it comes to dealing with Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and other pressing issues, there is no consensus. On these issues–the tough ones that require presidential leadership–Obama has been mostly AWOL. Or else, as in the case of the Iraq withdrawal, the Afghanistan drawdown, and the massive cuts to the defense budget, he has made decisions that pander to the left-wing base of his own party, thereby undercutting our troops in the field and hindering their ability to fight groups that are closely connected to al-Qaeda if not quite as well-known.
My sense is Obama has actually gotten more dovish since the death of Osama bin Laden, because, in his own mind at least, the success of that daring raid put to rest any doubts about his national security credentials. Thus, what may stand as the signal achievement of the Obama administration–bin Laden’s death–may also prove its undoing.