The Debate Obama Can't Afford
It's embarrassing when President Obama's risk-averse refusal to engage on foreign policy issues becomes so obvious that it's a laugh line for the president of Iran.
"I do believe that some conversations and key issues must be talked about again once we come out of the other end of the political election atmosphere in the United States," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said cheekily in an interview last Sunday. I hate to say it, but on this matter the often-annoying Iranian leader is right.
Then we can play rope-a-dope with the new guy, or continue with the old guy. In the mean time, I have six more weeks of excused delay.
Less than six weeks before the election, the Obama campaign's theme song might as well be the old country-music favorite "Make the World Go Away." This may be smart politics, but it's not good governing: The way this campaign is going, the president will have a foreign affairs mandate for . . . nothing.
It's ALL about politics, David. Such is life in the Big City of Chicago.
To be blunt: The administration has a lot invested in the public impression that al-Qaeda was vanquished when Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011. Obama would lose some of that luster if the public examined whether al-Qaeda is adopting a new, Zawahiri-led strategy of interweaving its operations with the unrest sweeping the Arab world. But this discussion is needed, and a responsible president should lead it, even during a presidential campaign.
This is David Ignatius, a guy who Frank previously expressed some distaste for, which I agreed with, at the time.
Perhaps the most disheartening example of a topic that has been deep-sixed during campaign season is the war in Afghanistan. This month marked the end of the surge that President Obama ordered in December 2009, and troops are back to the pre-surge level of about 68,000. How fast will that number decline over the next year? Here again, we probably won't know until after Election Day. Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. forces in Kabul, is preparing his recommendations, but officials say that this process of review will take . . . well, at least six weeks.
The president hasn't really made any bones about his wait-till-later approach. He put it frankly to Dmitry Medvedev, then president of Russia, back in March when he thought the microphone was off: "This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility."
This strategy of avoiding major foreign policy risks or decisions may help get Obama reelected. But he is robbing the country of a debate it needs to have -- and denying himself the public understanding and support he will need to be an effective foreign policy president in a second term, if the "rope-a-dope" campaign should prove successful.
Posted by: Bobby