The combination of foreign policy and electoral politics can be explosive. If a president is seen to be using weighty matters of war and peace for political gain he can get slapped down. This was the case when President Obama was criticized for spiking the ball on the commemoration of Osama bin Laden’s assassination. And this is what the administration was accused of doing in a series of image-burnishing security leaks. Conservatives also cried foul when he reset the Afghanistan troop withdrawal schedule to line up with the election calendar.
However, especially for the presidency, national security is a critical consideration. Incumbents should be held accountable for their national security experience, as they are on domestic matters.
Two stories put these concerns front and center.
From the New York Times we learn:
With the White House in campaign mode nearly 24/7, many of the administration’s biggest foreign policy initiatives have been pushed to the back burner until after the election. From Syria and Iran to nuclear arms reductions and peace talks with the Taliban, the administration is mostly playing for time, trying to avoid decisions that could land the president in trouble or be exploited by his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. . . .
The attempt to subordinate foreign policy to domestic politics is a quadrennial phenomenon, but “the lengthening of the political season, combined with the president’s understandable desire to be re-elected, has meant a longer distraction than in previous elections,” said Martin S. Indyk, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.
The White House’s policy, Mr. Indyk said, can be summed up as “no wars, no engagement in risky business abroad that can cost votes with key constituencies at home, no presidential involvement unless there’s an urgent requirement.”
In other words, delay acting and shirk our national security responsibilities so Obama can get four more years. Conservatives have long suspected this is the case, but it’s a bit jaw-dropping to read Obama’s own advisors talk about it. (“‘The president is, by definition, spending more time on the election,’ said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, who worked on the 2008 campaign. ‘But sometimes people paint with too broad a brush.’ ”) And some presidents have checked out, declining to do their day job. If it were a Republican, he’d be accused of putting himself above the safety and security of Americans and our allies.
As if to prove the point that the president has been asleep at the wheel (or sleeping n the campaign bus), Eli Lake reports that, “the Central Intelligence Agency is scrambling to get a handle on the locations of [Syria’s] chemical and biological weapons, while assessing the composition, loyalties, and background of the rebel groups poised to take power in the event President Bashar al-Assad falls.”
Why weren’t the CIA operatives in place weeks or months ago? The chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence is fuming:
Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, declined to provide details on what intelligence assets have been sent to Syria or to say whether the CIA has sent officers on the ground there. He said that the administration had recently deployed “the resources necessary to collect the information that we need to make a good decision on chemical and biological [weapons], opposition groups and leadership transition strategies.” But, he added, “We don’t know nearly what we need to know to be completely effective if the regime were to implode tomorrow.”
Well, passivity, lack of foresight, “leading from behind,” and preoccupation with politics are par for the course for the Obama team. The voters should take note.