Political attitudes are beginning to catch up to a quiet sea change in American foreign policy: progressive policy success is earning public trust, while conservative overreach is facing a backlash from voters and our military leadership. As The Washington Post's David Ignatius notes, among other things, alliances are stronger, Iran is weaker and al Qaeda is on the run. Lacking a substantive counterattack, conservatives have resorted to undermining the ideal of civilian leadership enshrined in our Constitution -- attacks that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey calls "offensive." Former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke commented that conservative candidates' attacks "are telling voters in advance that there is an important part of the president's job that they are unwilling to perform."
With Congress heading home to their constituencies this weekend, conservatives are continuing their attacks on President Obama’s foreign policy. These attacks have followed a familiar pattern – conservatives reflexively attack Obama in every way possible in the hopes that one of their claims stick – even if the attacks contradict each other. For example, neoconservative Elliot Cohen argued yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that Obama’s foreign policy is the same as the Bush administration’s, even as former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, former State Department official Liz Cheney, assert that Obama is dismantling Bush-era policies that protect America. These arguments are incoherent and baseless.
Progressives’ disadvantage on national security issues has been a cliché of American political life for a generation. But new polling on national security now shows that the political gap on national security has been eliminated, with conservatives holding no advantage over progressives. The onus rests on progressives to flesh out public understanding and maintain support for progressive policies, particularly among younger voters who are likely setting preferences for life.