Tuesday’s rematch between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is likely to be the first of two in which the incumbent’s record as commander in chief will be a matter of direct debate. If last week’s set-to between their running mates is any guide, there will be opportunities and perils for the challenger. It behooves Mr. Romney to maximize the former and minimize the latter if he wants to defeat the president decisively in these mass-audience settings and in November.
Here’s how he can do that:
One obvious way is to pick up on the success his partner, Rep. Paul Ryan, had in exploring the run-up to the murderous attack last month on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the event itself and the Obama administration’s serial lies afterward. Mr. Romney can rebut the contention that he is “politicizing” this incident by showing that it is a teachable moment about the whirlwind we are going to reap from the seeds sown in the Middle East and elsewhere by President Obama.
But it will not be enough to castigate the administration for failing to protect our diplomatic personnel and facilities in a very dangerous part of the world. The point is that as a practical matter, attacks on such targets must be deterred, not simply defended against. Mr. Obama not only is not deterring our enemies, he is legitimating, enriching and emboldening them.
A case in point is the Muslim Brotherhood — the font of modern jihadism and the wellspring of groups such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, Gema’at Islamiyya and others that engage in violence or “terrorism” as a companion to the stealthy, pre-violent “civilization jihad” in which the Muslim Brotherhood specializes. Where that organization is in charge, terrorists are finding safe havens and organizing for their holy war against non-Islamist Muslims and the West. The attacks in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere are but symptoms of the rising confidence of our Islamist foes that America will submit to, not resist, their gathering power.
By taking on Mr. Obama squarely over his support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Romney can make clear that he is not simply quibbling about how many U.S. troops are left in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan and for how long, nor is it a case of Monday morning quarterbacking about the Libya debacle. Rather, the two presidential contestants have a profound policy difference rooted in Mr. Romney’s recognition that the threat we face emanates not just from al Qaeda but from all those who, whatever their tactical or sectarian disagreements, fundamentally share that group’s commitment to the triumph of the totalitarian, supremacist Islamic doctrine of Shariah. The Republican candidate must communicate a determination to defeat, not accommodate, them.
The poster child for such accommodation could be Omar Abdul Rahman, the jihadist cleric serving a life sentence for fomenting multiple terrorist plots in this country, including the first conspiracy to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has demanded the release of the so-called “Blind Sheik.” Mr. Romney could announce that if he’s president, Abdul Rahman will die in American prison, period — and call on Mr. Obama to say the same.
The American people need to have the president clarify his stance on another front as well. In March 2012, he was overheard conveying a promise to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, saying, “This is my last election. And after my election, I have more flexibility.” Mr. Romney can helpfully establish whether, as seems likely, that would translate into an even more aggressive effort to pursue U.S. nuclear disarmament (unilaterally, if necessary), concessions constraining missile defenses and acquiescence to Kremlin efforts to assert Russia’s authority worldwide at America’s expense. He can show that while we have engaged in such restraint in the name of “resetting” relations, Russia is comprehensively modernizing its nuclear arsenal, conducting exercises simulating its use against us and undermining U.S. interests around the globe.
Mr. Romney also must show how Mr. Obama has failed to warn of, let alone effectively counter, the rising power of communist China. This is not simply a question of currency manipulation. The People’s Republic of China is also investing in a massive military buildup of highly threatening nuclear forces, including, for example, four new long-range missiles and 3,000 miles of tunnels known as the Underground Great Wall in which to hide them, anti-space capabilities and advanced conventional weaponry (notably two new stealth aircraft). At the same time, it is threatening war with our ally, Japan, and claiming sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea.
Mr. Obama’s response is a so-called “pivot” to Asia. The Republican challenger can point out that this is seen by Beijing for what it is: the unresourced — and therefore meaningless — machinations of a paper tiger. No matter how many times Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden say it, America’s military leaders are not in favor of the sorts of budget cuts that are validating such perceptions by eviscerating our defenses and especially our power-projection capabilities.
Mr. Romney already has taken Mr. Obama to task for declaring that he does not regard Venezuela’s rabidly anti-American dictator as a threat. Now that Hugo Chavez has engineered his re-election, we are likely to see even more evidence of how wrong Team Obama is in discounting the danger posed by a regime that has turned Venezuela into a despotically misruled and dangerous armed camp; forged alliances with Iran, China, Russia, Cuba, Hamas, Hezbollah and other foes of the United States and brought to power like-minded proxies throughout the region; and agreed to place in Venezuela Iranian missiles capable of reaching the United States.
In the course of the 2008 election, Mr. Obama famously declared that he was going to “fundamentally transform the United States” by, among other things, redistributing wealth. Since gaining the presidency, he has pursued another, less-recognized transformational agenda — redistribution of American power. A recent poll sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative suggests voters overwhelmingly reject such a practice. By focusing on these winning issues in the remaining days of this campaign, Mr. Romney can enlist — and deserve — their support.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of Secure Freedom Radio on WRC-AM (1260).