With the outbreak of turmoil in the Middle East, conservatives have found fresh reasons to attack President Obama on national security issues. Some Republicans, notably Sen. John McCain, want Obama to attack more forcefully in Libya.
Others, including conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, have developed a new meme: Obama “leads from behind,” a style Krauthammer blasts as “ad hoc, erratic and ineffective.”
UPDATE: Political Wire has unearthed a 2008 quote from the impetuous McCain, who said back then that he would not go into Pakistan after Osama bin Laden. McCain told Larry King, “Larry, I’m not going to go there and here’s why: because Pakistan is a sovereign nation.”
The death of Osama bin Laden, in a raid executed under Obama’s explicit leadership, ought to quell that sort of foolish talk permanently. But it won’t. In about a week, conservatives will find a way to suggest that Obama’s leadership on foreign policy is weak.
That’s due to several factors, one being the typical partisan sniping against a president of the other party. Another is the decades-long caricature of Democrats as weak on defense. But another is more troubling — a deep-seating longing in some quarters for American dominance highlighted by arrogance, unilateralism, bellicosity and belligerence. There are many foreign policy experts, politicians and average voters who prefer an American president with a swagger — a bully-boy style with a shoot-from-the-hip way.
Remember George W. Bush? The fact that his style created more enemies, lowered America’s standing in the world and solved nothing doesn’t seem to matter to Obama’s critics. The fact that he has actually killed more terrorists than Bush did doesn’t seem to matter to the president’s critics.
I appreciate Obama’s measured approach. Heaven knows, I want a president who thinks long and hard before he sends men and women into harm’s way. I want a president who appreciates the fact that bellicosity helps our enemies and frustrates our friends. I want a president who’s a three-dimensional chess player, as Obama is. I want a president who doesn’t mind “leading from behind” if it gets the job done.
Obama won’t capture every jihadist, of course. He’s unlikely to pacify Afghanistan. And his daring raid on bin Laden’s compound owed something to luck as well as good intelligence, good planning and damned good Special Forces.
The war against al-Qaida isn’t over. But bin Laden’s death should serve as a reminder to the John McCain’s and Dick Cheney’s of the value of walking softly and carrying a big stick.