Barack Obama was even more prominently featured in the news on Sunday than is usual for a president of the United States, what with his four appearances in Sept. 11 remembrance events. These opportunities afforded him the chance to appear dignified, nonpartisan and, well, presidential. A more illuminating sense of the man and his presidency, however, was provided by a curiously bipolar treatment of Mr. Obama in that day's WashingtonPost. Call it a tale of two Obamas.
On the one hand, columnist Dana Milbank scathingly describes the irrelevancy of the Obama presidency. Mr. Milbank not only chronicled the jaded response of many Republicans to Mr. Obama's pitch for his new jobs bill. He also describes the unconcealed lack of enthusiasm congressional Democrats are exhibiting for the leader of their party.
On the other hand, The Post also served up a double dose of fatuous spin from Obama partisans about the president's derring-do as a hands-on leader in combating terrorism. In a putative "news" article entitled "Obama scores well against terrorism" and in a column by David Ignatius under the headline "The covert commander in chief," we are assured that the man who has publicly dithered on myriad issues and so bungled the economy and his relationships with members of both parties on Capitol Hill as to have become "irrelevant" has been stunningly decisive and successful in the secret campaign against our terrorist foes.
For example, Mr. Ignatius declares, "Intelligence is certainly an area where the president appears confident and bold." The retired general appointed by Mr. Obama as director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, goes so far as to declare unctuously that his boss is "a phenomenal user and understander of intelligence." Mr. Obama is, we are told, a president who "prizes his authority to conduct covert action." A case in point is supposedly his decision to opt for the most risky of three options with respect to Osama bin Laden, namely sending in the SEALs (albeit after 16 hours of struggling with the question).
The spinners behind the puffery about the president's skillful stewardship of his counterterrorism responsibilities are promoting the idea that, as The Post's "news" account had it, "National security has gone from being Obama's big political weakness to his only area of policy strength." For example, presidential handler (and obviously primary source for the spin) David Axelrod told the paper, "I don't think the remaining al Qaeda leadership that's on the run would think of [Obama] as a weak leader."
Republicans are portrayed as taking the bait. They are described as giving Mr. Obama a pass on national security or, worse, deferring to him on the grounds that he bagged bin Laden.
Such spin, and the lack of a robust GOP response to the president's national security stewardship to date, would be laughable were the implications not so serious. While the take-down of bin Laden and other al Qaeda operatives is certainly welcome, they do not begin to offset Mr. Obama's serial failings as commander in chief. Such failings have had a far worse effect than making him "irrelevant." They have helped to make the world a vastly more dangerous place for America, its people and others who love freedom.
A necessarily illustrative list of ways in which such dangers are arising would include the following examples:
- Israel soon is likely to be engulfed in yet another war for its very survival. Straws in the wind are: the sacking of its embassy in Cairo over the weekend and intensifying attacks on its territory and natural gas pipelines from territory at least nominally controlled by Egypt; the portentous approval next week by the U.N. General Assembly of the Palestinians' demand for recognition of their unilaterally declared state; the increasingly overtly-hostile posture toward Israel being taken by Turkey under its Islamist prime minister, Recep Erdogan; the arming to the teeth of jihadists in Libya; Lebanon under the control of Iranian proxy, Hezbollah; the prospect that the Muslim Brotherhood will emerge ascendant as Egypt unravels; and Iran's incipient nuclear weapons capability.
- China is becoming increasingly assertive in the South China Sea and elsewhere as its military build-up progresses, its economic power becomes more dominant and its colonial expansionism spans the globe. Last week, The Washington Times' Bill Gertz reported that in 2008, Chinese naval vessels and bombers temporarily blinded and repeatedly buzzed the crew of a U.S. Navy survey ship. Unfortunately, prospects exist for far worse.
The evisceration of our military and its supporting industrial base - a likely hallmark of the Obama policy legacy - will be a far more important determinant of our future security and that of the free world more generally than all of Mr. Obama's putative decisiveness in the fight against al Qaeda. Today's spin will be the subject of tomorrow's ridicule as we inevitably reap the whirlwind of wars that could have been prevented.
The key question is: Will Republicans be able to show that they opposed the abandonment of the time-tested principle that Ronald Reagan called "peace through strength"? Or will they prove to the American people that they were "irrelevant" - or worse, complicit - in conduct by Mr. Obama that will cost us greatly in lives and treasure?
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program "Secure Freedom Radio," heard in Washington weekdays at 9 p.m. on WRC-AM 1260.
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