By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney drew much of the attention and heat for knocking President Obama for allegedly not talking and acting tough enough in response to the Cairo and Libyan embassy attacks. But Romney’s anti-Obama blast was only the tip of the GOP onslaught. A pack of GOP senators, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, and the usual suspect legion of cackling right wing bloggers, websites, and writers piled on and slammed Obama for allegedly giving tacit aid and comfort to the Cairo mob and our Libyan ambassador’s assassins by soft pedaling Islam and for his “failed” Mideast and foreign policy.
The GOP attack pack had the anti-Obama foreign policy script waiting to unveil the moment the first foreign policy crisis hit. There is no mystery why. Polls consistently show that Obama beats Romney handily in public approval for his handling of foreign policy and national security, and in polls he gets high marks for handling international affairs and in what has become his signature strength his handling of terrorism. Polls show that while Americans rate foreign policy far below the economy as their prime concern, they are not totally oblivious to it as a crucial issue of concern.
This puts the GOP in an even deeper bind and it had to stretch far to do what it failed to do four years ago when President Obama was then Democratic presidential candidate Obama. The GOP plan then was simple. Hammer him relentlessly as soft on the war on terrorism and the military, and tar him as a hopelessly greenhorn, novice on foreign policy matters.
A novice who would the first time a crisis arose jeopardize America’s security and put Americans in harm’s way. GOP presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and especially George W. Bush in 2004 in his reelection fight with Democratic presidential foe Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, used this ploy masterfully against their Democratic opponents.
The GOP strategists believed that the soft-on-terrorism, rank amateur on foreign policy smear would work even better on Obama. He was a liberal Democrat, untested in foreign policy matters, had made conciliatory remarks about Islam, was a staunch opponent of the Iraq War, and unstated, he was African-American. This supposedly made him vulnerable to the sneaky and borderline racial suspicions among many that question the patriotism of blacks.
The smear almost worked. Polls consistently showed that despite the mountain of political baggage GOP presidential contender John McCain and the GOP carried, and the sky-high voter disgust with Bush’s domestic and foreign policy bumbles, the terrorism fear issue still had enough resonance to keep McCain competitive.
But Obama knew the history of how the GOP used the soft-on-terrorism ploy to discredit Democrats. He moved quickly to counter the fable. He threatened preemptive strikes against Pakistan for harboring terrorists and vowed to wage relentless war in Afghanistan against terrorism and al Qaeda. During the campaign, he continued to assure that he’d launch preemptive strikes against terrorists wherever they were, and that included search and destroy missions to ferret out bin Laden. He even quipped that he’d put his own life on the line to stop another 9/11 attack.
He meant his words. He refused to soften any of the provisions of the Patriot Act, promptly issued a shoot-to-kill order against the Somali pirates to free American hostages, stepped up the drone attacks on the Taliban in Pakistan, and approved the massive expansion of troops, bases, and spending on the Afghan War. He issued tough and secret orders to the CIA to continue to do everything to destroy and disrupt al Qaeda and to take out the one man that Americans most wanted dead, and that was bin Laden.
This forced GOP leaders into pained silence. Here was a Democratic president that got results in the war against terrorism, and more galling consistently got high marks from European, Chinese and Russian leaders for his tact and diplomacy. But the GOP had not forgotten, nor forgave, his Cairo University speech in 2009 in which he extended the hand of cooperation and alliance to the Arab world.
They saw his cautious support of the Arab Spring as fraught with potential peril, and took every opportunity to hammer hard on his alleged hostility to Israel, and pro-Palestinian tilt, and for not taking a neo-Cold War line in dealing with the Russians. None of this marked Obama even remotely as a president whose foreign policy initiatives were adrift, and who was setting America up for a fall, since his foreign policy successes spoke for themselves and satisfied a majority of the public.
But with Romney’s presidential campaign bid slipping down slope, a mighty but desperate effort to tar Obama as a foreign policy disaster had to be dumped back on the campaign table. But so far, the only presidential candidate that’s looked and acted like a amateur and a bumbler on the Mid East crisis and all other foreign policy issues is Romney and by extension the party he carries the water for, the GOP.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He also hosts the Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com.
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