National Security Policy: Obama Moves to the Center By Gregory Hilton

So Far The Change in Foreign Policy is Not Significant

New York, NY — It is difficult to imagine President-elect Barack Obama’s primary or general election victory without the steadfast support of left wing and anti-war activists. Their enthusiasm was certainly justified during the campaign which emphasized Obama’s “right from the start” opposition to the war in Iraq.  On energy security, since last April he promised “a windfall profits tax on big oil to give families a thousand-dollar rebate.”  (This pledge has now been abandoned).

According to the authoritative “National Journal,” Obama was the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. In addition, the President-elect’s major promise during the primaries was to completely withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of his Inauguration. Thanks in large part to the surge strategy of the past two years, the Iraq outlook has now changed dramatically. Combat casualties have declined by over 90 percent and the withdrawal issue has been resolved by a new Status of Forces Agreement. This requires American combat troops to leave Iraqi cities and towns by June 30, and to withdraw completely by the end of 2011.

Obama always opposed the surge but he was able to deflect criticism by emphasizing his support for more troops and an increased counter insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. For the first time the violence in Afghanistan is now outpacing the fighting in Iraq. The President-elect has already promised two more combat brigades for Afghanistan, and with the approval of the Bush Defense Department, the deployment of four new brigades (20,000 soldiers) is on track.  The first new brigade will arrive in January with the fourth bridgade expected to arrive in the summer of 2009. This deployment will soon become known as the Obama surge.  There are currently 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 14,000 with the NATO-led coalition and 18,000 training the Afghan security forces and fighting insurgents.
Unfortunately, obstacles the U.S. military faces in confronting the Taliban are significant. For example, the Iraq National Army now includes over 500,000 soldiers while Afghanistan with a larger population (32 million) and a quarter more land area has only 70,000 troops. Troop levels will increase to132,000 soldiers over the next five years, but it is doubtful this expanded force will be sufficient for the challenge ahead.
The struggle in Afghanistan will be a long one, and the initial decisions of the President-elect have been correct. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has pledged GOP support for the Afghan policies of the new Commander-in-Chief. McConnell also noted that the Senate confirmation process for Bush appointees in the foreign policy arena took an average of 10 months. In contrast, the GOP is promising swift confirmation for the Obama nominees.
Primarily because of Iraq, President Bush always had to contend with vehement opposition on the home front. His popularity declined so significantly that Bush made few appearances in either the 2006 or 2008 campaigns.

The President always encountered vocal demonstrators chanting slogans such as “Bush lied, people died.” Now some analysts are wondering if these same activists will eventually turn against the next President.The 44th President still has the unified support of liberal and moderate Democrats. Both wings of his party are intensely opposed to the Bush Administration, but they will not have the Texan to kick around much longer. When Bush retreats to Dallas it will not be possible to blame him for every setback.

During the campaign Obama was able to avoid issues splitting his base, but now he has to make the difficult decisions. Many anti-war groups are co-sponsoring an Inaugural Peace Ball on January 20th and they are urging Obama to reverse his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan and to adopt Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-MA) proposal for a 25% reduction in Pentagon spending.  These groups may enjoy the Inaugural but so far Obama is not listening to them. In national security, he has clearly aligned himself with moderates, and the Obama appointees are not advocating any significant shift in defense spending or foreign policy.
This new team was officially announced on Monday, and Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT) spoke for many on the center-right by saying: “Everything President-elect Obama has done since election night has been just about perfect, both in terms of tone and substance.” I agree, and Obama was also wise to recommend Lieberman’s retention as Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
Obama’s National Security Council includes Vice President-elect Joe Biden and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, both of whom voted for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Biden deserves credit for being the leading Congressional proponent in the 1990’s of military action in Bosnia. Clinton’s husband made the right decision in 1999 regarding the bombing of Serbia in retaliation for its actions in Kosovo. He did so without the approval of Congress or the United Nations, and Barack Obama could well be confronted with a similar situation.
Other members of the next National Security Council are Bush’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who is remaining on the job, and Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ) as Secretary of Homeland Security. She supports all of Bush’s immigration policies including the failed guest worker program and efforts to bolster security on the borders.
Yesterday I wrote an article about General Jim Jones, the new National Security Adviser, and he certainly will not be popular with liberal elements of the Democratic Party. He wants to make energy security a high priority, but the programs he advocates are in direct opposition to the global warming lobby. The director of the Obama transition team for the Pentagon is former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), the most prominent hawk in the Democratic Party.
I believe the Obama honeymoon will last a long time, and so far there has not been significant buyer’s remorse from the left wing of his party. Will this last if Afghanistan becomes a quagmire, or if a new security challenge requiring a military response arises? The left is entitled to claim credit for Obama’s victory, but these activists were mobilized by an agenda far different from the policies of the new team.
Liberal activists were in the forefront of former Gov. Howard Dean’s (VT) campaign in 2004. Dean’s strident anti-war candidacy collapsed in the Iowa presidential precinct caucuses, but the left learned important lessons regarding grassroots mobilization from this failure. The result was a 100% increase in turnout by the time of the January 2008 Iowa caucuses.
A joint survey sponsored by all of the TV networks demonstrated that Obama defeated Hillary Clinton by a 57 to 11 percent margin among voters in the 18 to 29 age group. Vigorous opposition to the war in Iraq was a top concern for these activists, and almost 60% of the attendees had never previously participated in a caucus.
Despite a huge lead in the national polls, Hillary Clinton came in a disappointing third place in Iowa. The premiere liberal activist group, Moveon.org, later endorsed Obama over Clinton by a 70 to 30% vote. This was particularly surprising because Moveon.org was originally formed in1998 to defend the Clintons.
Moveon.org was the sponsor of the full page “General Betray Us” wordplay newspaper ads which appeared on the same day General David H. Petraeus testified on Capitol Hill about progress in Iraq. The ad accused Petraues of “cooking the books” for the White House, and later in an unprecedented action, the advertisement was condemned by the House of Representatives by a 341-79 vote.
The anti-war group said the Obama endorsement was made because “We need a President to end the war,” and Senator Clinton had “not adequately explained her vote to go into Iraq.” In accepting Moveon’s backing, Obama said Clinton’s explanation for her vote leading to the war was “disingenuous.”
Republicans should be grateful for Obama’s popularity. It is always useful for the Commander-in-Chief to have high approval ratings. This is especially significant because Obama’s popularity could prove to be very useful to George W. Bush’s legacy. His father, George H.W. Bush, was not able to enact programs such as NAFTA, but luckily Bill Clinton took up this cause and succeeded.
George W. Bush was not able to pass his immigration bill, several key trade bills, or the Civilian Reserve Corps which he advocated in his State of the Union Address. On Monday, President-elect Obama made enactment of a reconstituted Corps one of his legislative priorities. In national security and foreign policy we could well be looking at a third Bush term. As Obama continues to promote programs from Bush’s unfinished agenda, many are wondering if the left will still believe this is the significant change they were advocating last winter.

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