Judging by last night’s GOP debate on national security, this is an issue on which President Obama looks unassailable.
Although the candidates periodically raised the issue of Obama’s “weak” leadership, they failed to land a punch on the incumbent whose presidential record has defied those who accuse him of undermining national security. Maybe because of this, the debate quickly moved onto other areas, including illegal immigration and the national deficit.
The president can claim public approval in particular for the assassination of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, not to mention the killing — more controversial among Democrats than Republicans — of the Yemen-based, U.S.-born Muslim extremist Anwar al-Awlaki. Even on Iran, there are few voices demanding military strikes to curb the Iranian nuclear program, and there is public support for the administration’s policy of tightening sanctions (coupled with other measures that have apparently succeeded in slowing Iranian progress). At the Brookings Institution yesterday, national security adviser Tom Donilon laid out the strategy that he said had resulted in the “deep isolation” of the regime since Obama succeeded George W. Bush in the Oval Office — in a speech delivered hours before the debate.
Only former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman stood out during the CNN debate as having any serious grasp of foreign affairs. Several minutes were wasted discussing a proposal from Texas Gov. Rick Perry for a “no fly” zone in Syria — apparently unaware of the fact that the Syrian regime has used tanks, not planes, to kill Syrian protesters. Perry was floundering when he tried to establish a broader link to Iran.
The French have an expression: in the kingdom of the blind, the guy with a squint is king. That’s my take on last night’s debate. Now let’s get back to the real issues that will decide the presidency — the jobless in America and dealing with the crippling debt. Unless there is an “October surprise” next year, that’s the territory on which Obama remains most vulnerable.