Commentary Magazine


Topic: Veterans of Foreign Wars

Romney Blasts Obama on Intel Leaks

Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech to the VFW today hit the right marks, but was unfortunately sparse on details and lacked an overarching vision. It was definitely more of a political speech than an ideological one; he mentioned President Obama by name 14 times, and many of his positions were framed in terms of his opposition to Obama.

But Romney’s speech did get an assist from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He quoted her while criticizing the administration’s intelligence leak investigation:

Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake. But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways. More top-secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action in Iran.

This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a national security crisis. And yesterday, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, quote, “I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.”

This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel, with explanation and consequence. Obama appointees, who are accountable to President Obama’s attorney general, should not be responsible for investigating the leaks coming from the Obama White House.

Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed, and punished.  The time for stonewalling is over.

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Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech to the VFW today hit the right marks, but was unfortunately sparse on details and lacked an overarching vision. It was definitely more of a political speech than an ideological one; he mentioned President Obama by name 14 times, and many of his positions were framed in terms of his opposition to Obama.

But Romney’s speech did get an assist from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He quoted her while criticizing the administration’s intelligence leak investigation:

Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake. But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways. More top-secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action in Iran.

This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a national security crisis. And yesterday, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, quote, “I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.”

This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel, with explanation and consequence. Obama appointees, who are accountable to President Obama’s attorney general, should not be responsible for investigating the leaks coming from the Obama White House.

Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed, and punished.  The time for stonewalling is over.

Obama has had decent poll numbers on his national security performance, though that’s mainly because he’s flouted the left’s policy prescriptions and increased the use of drones and other covert operations. The Obama campaign has been trashing Romney’s foreign policy “platitudes” — yes, really — in an effort to show how much more serious Obama supposedly is on these issues.

But Feinstein really undermined that with her acknowledgment yesterday that the intelligence leaks probably came from the White House. This is the last story the Obama campaign wants to be discussing on a day when it’s trying to play up its national security achievements before Romney’s Israel trip. Apparently somebody passed that message along to Feinstein, who backpedaled on her assertion this afternoon:

“I stated that I did not believe the president leaked classified information,” Feinstein said in the statement on Tuesday. “I shouldn’t have speculated beyond that, because the fact of the matter is I don’t know the source of the leaks.”

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney seized on Feinstein’s remarks in a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Tuesday, accusing President Obama of not trying to find the source of the leaks until after the election.

Feinstein said that she regretted her comments were being used against Obama and said she was “disappointed” in Romney’s remarks.

It’s too bad Feinstein felt the need to backtrack, especially on something that’s so obvious. If some of the leaks were from the Presidential Daily Brief, this means there are a limited number of sources. The fact that the stories ended up benefiting the Obama White House politically gives you a good idea of the type of people who might have had a motive.

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Did Romney Offer an Alternative on Iran?

Mitt Romney’s foreign policy address at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention today rehearsed some of the themes he has been trying to promote throughout the campaign. Romney got a standing ovation when he mentioned President Obama’s habit of giving apologies for America “that were not due” and also scored points on the topic of White House leaks of classified information and the administration’s “shabby” treatment of Israel. But in his survey of the country’s standing abroad, his strongest point was his highlighting of the president’s failure to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Though President Obama continues to promise that Iran will not go nuclear on his watch, this is the one foreign policy front on which Romney’s attempt to pose the “are you better off than you were four years ago” question gives him a clear advantage. While the Republican candidate’s critique of the president’s announcement of a withdrawal date for all U.S. troops from Afghanistan is well-taken — and prompted an angry pushback from the president in his VFW speech yesterday — Obama is probably right to count on a war weary public to give him a pass on the advantage he has handed the Taliban. But the Iranian nuclear threat, which Obama has met with feckless “engagement,” futile diplomacy and belated and half-heartedly enforced sanctions, is an issue on which his position is difficult to defend. The question is, did Romney offer a coherent alternative policy? The answer is a qualified yes.

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Mitt Romney’s foreign policy address at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention today rehearsed some of the themes he has been trying to promote throughout the campaign. Romney got a standing ovation when he mentioned President Obama’s habit of giving apologies for America “that were not due” and also scored points on the topic of White House leaks of classified information and the administration’s “shabby” treatment of Israel. But in his survey of the country’s standing abroad, his strongest point was his highlighting of the president’s failure to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Though President Obama continues to promise that Iran will not go nuclear on his watch, this is the one foreign policy front on which Romney’s attempt to pose the “are you better off than you were four years ago” question gives him a clear advantage. While the Republican candidate’s critique of the president’s announcement of a withdrawal date for all U.S. troops from Afghanistan is well-taken — and prompted an angry pushback from the president in his VFW speech yesterday — Obama is probably right to count on a war weary public to give him a pass on the advantage he has handed the Taliban. But the Iranian nuclear threat, which Obama has met with feckless “engagement,” futile diplomacy and belated and half-heartedly enforced sanctions, is an issue on which his position is difficult to defend. The question is, did Romney offer a coherent alternative policy? The answer is a qualified yes.

Romney was eloquent in outlining the danger from Iran and in noting that Obama’s policies have only brought the nation four years closer to nuclear peril. But he was short on details. He did say that in his administration sanctions on Iran “would be enforced without exceptions.” Though he did not explicitly say so, this is an allusion to the exemptions Obama gave to China and India to go on importing Iranian oil. The Treasury Department has also granted thousands of exemptions to companies wishing to continue doing business with Iran.

In speaking of not allowing Iran any right to refine uranium, Romney also drew a clear distinction between his view and the negotiating position of the P5+1 group that the president has entrusted to negotiate with Iran. The P5+1 alliance led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has made it clear to the Iranians that if they will only agree to some sort of deal, their right to go on refining uranium will probably be protected. If Romney is telling us that his administration takes the position that he will not acquiesce to any kind of Iranian nuclear program, he is articulating a clear difference with Obama. That makes good sense because, as past nuclear talks with both North Korea and Iran proved, leaving Tehran any nuclear facilities ensures they will cheat on any deal and ultimately get their weapon.

Romney also probably knows that at this late date in the game, even the most rigidly enforced sanctions are not likely to make enough of a difference. As Romney told the VFW, the ayatollahs are not going to be talked out of their nuclear ambitions. His veiled reference to the use of force in which he said he “will use every means” to protect U.S. security illustrates a greater understanding that this issue is not going to be resolved with more engagement.

Though his Iran policy is still a loose outline rather than a coherent plan, Romney was still able to show where he differs from the president. On this point as well as on others (such as the president’s attitude toward Israel that will be highlighted by Romney’s upcoming trip to the Jewish state), the GOP challenger made a good start to showing why foreign policy can be a strength rather than a weakness for his campaign.

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Obama Didn’t Owe Taliban a Victory Plan

Yesterday, at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Obama did his best to defend his foreign policy record as well as to denigrate Mitt Romney’s positions despite never mentioning his name. Though much of the speech was the usual tribute to veterans delivered by public officials at such events, Obama was at pains to refute the one specific criticism that Romney has made about the administration’s conduct in Afghanistan. Obama claimed that his announcement of a withdrawal date for American troops there was necessary because, “When you’re commander in chief, you owe the troops a plan. You owe the country a plan.”

But as with much of Obama’s laundry list of alleged accomplishments, this assertion leaves out the messy details about what happens when you announce in advance when you’re going to bug out of a war: the enemy finds out along with the American people. The Taliban may have been pushed back during the surge the president ordered, but he let them know all they had to do was survive until U.S. troops pulled out in order to prevail. As is the case in Iraq where, against the advice of many of his own advisers, the president withdrew all American forces, he is confusing U.S. withdrawal with the end of the war. The timeline he defended doesn’t conclude the conflict; it gave the Islamist foes who are seeking to reverse the hard-fought victories gained by U.S. troops confidence that they would win out due to the president’s lack of staying power.

While the president covered himself with praise for his “leadership” abroad, an honest look at the situations he touted as illustrating his genius paints a different picture.

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Yesterday, at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Obama did his best to defend his foreign policy record as well as to denigrate Mitt Romney’s positions despite never mentioning his name. Though much of the speech was the usual tribute to veterans delivered by public officials at such events, Obama was at pains to refute the one specific criticism that Romney has made about the administration’s conduct in Afghanistan. Obama claimed that his announcement of a withdrawal date for American troops there was necessary because, “When you’re commander in chief, you owe the troops a plan. You owe the country a plan.”

But as with much of Obama’s laundry list of alleged accomplishments, this assertion leaves out the messy details about what happens when you announce in advance when you’re going to bug out of a war: the enemy finds out along with the American people. The Taliban may have been pushed back during the surge the president ordered, but he let them know all they had to do was survive until U.S. troops pulled out in order to prevail. As is the case in Iraq where, against the advice of many of his own advisers, the president withdrew all American forces, he is confusing U.S. withdrawal with the end of the war. The timeline he defended doesn’t conclude the conflict; it gave the Islamist foes who are seeking to reverse the hard-fought victories gained by U.S. troops confidence that they would win out due to the president’s lack of staying power.

While the president covered himself with praise for his “leadership” abroad, an honest look at the situations he touted as illustrating his genius paints a different picture.

Rather than his “leadership” on the nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran showing the administration’s strength, it demonstrates the feckless reliance on failed diplomacy. North Korea successfully bamboozled the Clinton and Bush administrations into deals that allowed them to go nuclear. Iran is following the same pattern. The sanctions that Obama reluctantly and belatedly imposed on Tehran are riddled with exemptions and non-enforcement. As even some of his more candid admirers admit, the president’s only strategy is to kick the can down the road until after he is re-elected, when he might have the “flexibility” to avoid keeping his promise to prevent Iran from gaining nukes.

The hallmark of Obama’s foreign policy has been undermining allies such as Israel, Britain and Poland (not by coincidence, the three nations Romney will visit this week).

As for standing for freedom abroad, it has been a generation since there has been a president who was less interested in promoting human rights than Obama. His favorite tactic of “leading from behind” — a phrase he avoided in his VFW speech — has allowed Syria to disintegrate into chaos and presents a danger to the entire Middle East. The toppling of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, the one instance where his tactic can be said to have worked, has led to trouble in neighboring Mali.

Nevertheless, no part of his speech was as disingenuous as his claim that he has strengthened the military. His budget cuts are gutting the capabilities of our armed forces. For him to blame these policies on the budget standoff with congressional Republicans is the height of chutzpah. The game of chicken he’s been playing with the GOP has led to the sequestration disaster that will hurt defense. But even without that dangerous tactic that he pursued for partisan purposes, the intent of his administration to downgrade defense was already clear. Indeed, he said as much in his speech when he spoke of a mythical post-Iraq and Afghanistan peace dividend he claims will pay down the deficit.

For Obama, even the most serious questions of war and peace always boil down to partisan politics. While Romney has much to prove when it comes to foreign policy (he will be speaking at the same convention this afternoon), Obama’s demonstrated lack of leadership provides his opponent plenty of room for justified criticism.

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George Will on the Democrats’ Situation

George Will has a wonderful column today that begins this way:

The candidate who on Tuesday won the special election in a Pennsylvania congressional district is right-to-life and pro-gun. He accused his opponent of wanting heavier taxes. He said he would have voted against Barack Obama’s health-care plan and promised to vote against cap-and-trade legislation, which is a tax increase supposedly somehow related to turning down the planet’s thermostat. This candidate, Mark Critz, is a Democrat.

And that just about exhausts the good news for Democrats on a surreal Tuesday when their presumptive candidate for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut — the state’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal — chose to hold a news conference at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall to discuss why he had falsely said he fought in a foreign war. National Democrats may try to find a less damaged candidate for Connecticut, but first they may have to do that in Illinois.

Their candidate to hold the Senate seat Obama held, Alexi Giannoulias, has a problem: The failure of the bank owned by his family — it made loans to Tony Rezko, the convicted developer who helped Obama with a 2006 property transaction — may cost taxpayers many millions. Proving his credentials as a disciple of the president, Giannoulias blamed the bank’s failure on George W. Bush. …

The whole thing is worth reading.

George Will has a wonderful column today that begins this way:

The candidate who on Tuesday won the special election in a Pennsylvania congressional district is right-to-life and pro-gun. He accused his opponent of wanting heavier taxes. He said he would have voted against Barack Obama’s health-care plan and promised to vote against cap-and-trade legislation, which is a tax increase supposedly somehow related to turning down the planet’s thermostat. This candidate, Mark Critz, is a Democrat.

And that just about exhausts the good news for Democrats on a surreal Tuesday when their presumptive candidate for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut — the state’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal — chose to hold a news conference at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall to discuss why he had falsely said he fought in a foreign war. National Democrats may try to find a less damaged candidate for Connecticut, but first they may have to do that in Illinois.

Their candidate to hold the Senate seat Obama held, Alexi Giannoulias, has a problem: The failure of the bank owned by his family — it made loans to Tony Rezko, the convicted developer who helped Obama with a 2006 property transaction — may cost taxpayers many millions. Proving his credentials as a disciple of the president, Giannoulias blamed the bank’s failure on George W. Bush. …

The whole thing is worth reading.

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