Yesterday, two polls found that an increasing majority of Americans feel confident in the Obama administration's ability to keep America safe from terrorism. This trend has developed in the wake of the failed attack by the underwear bomber, as the Administration projected a measured, responsible and determined approach to dealing with the issue, rather than resorting to hysterics.
With General Stanley McChrystal and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry testifying before Congress on Afghanistan, and with Secretary Gates in Kabul on a surprise visit, it is worth remembering how the U.S. arrived at this juncture. An initial victory over the Taliban in 2001 was squandered, as the Bush administration, aided by the Rumsfeld Pentagon, drastically underestimated the commitment that would be needed to stabilize the country and lost al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora. Now that the Obama administration has set out with a strategy that addresses this deterioration, it is vital that it learn from past missteps. Going forward, it must maintain focus on its core objectives, with an eye toward accountability and continuous evaluation.
Last night, before an audience of cadets at West Point, President Obama brought months of deliberate review to a close by announcing a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He outlined America’s ultimate goal: “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.” More importantly, the administration must hold itself accountable, communicating its progress to Congress and the American people, and remaining true to the President’s pledge that “that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”
Dick Cheney returned to the airwaves on Sunday to provide a full-throated defense of torture. No senior conservative or nonpartisan national security figures have echoed Cheney’s concerns, exposing them for what they are – attempts to politicize national security by accusing the Administration of the same. Unfortunately, while the national security community has not taken up these fringe views, many conservatives have.
In an eventful foreign policy week, a bipartisan consensus has quietly emerged and held steady On Iran, there has been a near consensus among Iranian experts, serious foreign policy scholars and Republican political and policy leaders -- favoring measured statements that focus on demonstrators’ rights but emphasize Iran’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, the war supplemental funding bill passed 91-5 in the Senate, including groundbreaking new funding for the IMF’s response to the economic crisis, as well as payment of UN arrears and changes to the defense budget. Instead, it was clear that this group of conservatives was taking stands on sensitive international issues with only one thought in mind: too oppose Obama.
American conservatives are showing their true colors in their response to demonstrations in Iran. Despite the almost unanimous opinion of serious Iran experts that it would be very harmful to the demonstrators if the United States were seen as directly supporting them, conservative political leaders - such as Mike Pence, Eric Cantor, and John McCain - and thinkers – such as Robert Kagan – have insisted that the United States do just that. Ascertaining the motives of these conservatives is difficult – are they so blinded by ideology that they actually don’t recognize that U.S. meddling would play into Ahmadinejad’s hands and would potentially further endanger young Iranian demonstrators; or are they simply trying to score cheap political points by attacking Obama. Aggressive sounding talk, threats of force, and an over emphasis on the mere holding of elections served only to strengthen hardliners and undermine the United States.
Conventional wisdom views national security and foreign policy issues as conservative turf. But over the past few years, and especially in this presidential election, progressives have become more assertive in outlining their own vision of national security. Today progressives are speaking about national security with greater confidence than at any time in recent memory and have consistently demonstrated the inadequacy of the conservative world view.
There are few things more unnerving, even on Halloween, than Senator McCain’s positions on foreign policy. The area was supposed to be a major McCain strength, but over the course of this campaign it has become increasingly clear that McCain holds extremely neoconservative positions.