During the 2008 Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton hammering candidate Barack Obama with a biting “3 a.m. phone call” TV ad suggesting the foreign policy novice couldn’t be trusted to keep the country safe. And after he beat Clinton, Obama once again had to overcome public reservations about his his inexperience on national security as he ran against the war hero, Republican candidate John McCain.
How the tables have turned.
Hillary Clinton is now Obama’s Secretary of State. And at their convention in Charlotte this week, Democrats made foreign policy and military issues into one of their top themes.
The stage in Charlotte was thick with references to and appearances by military veterans. Speaker after speaker and video after video praised the measures that the Obama administration has put in to help military families – a cause championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden. (Biden’s son, Beau, was deployed to Iraq for a year not long after the 2008 convention.) They include increased medical and educational benefits for veterans, and tax credits for employers who hire veterans and those who have been wounded.
Then on Thursday night, another war hero, Senator John Kerry, gave a combative foreign policy speech in which ripped the Republican ticket as “the most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades.”
Kerry, who is touted as a potential Secretary of State if Obama is reelected, began with an implied comparison between Mitt Romney and George W. Bush:
“We’ve all learned Mitt Romney doesn’t know much about foreign policy. But he has all these ‘‘neocon advisors’’ who know all the wrong things about foreign policy. He would rely on them – after all, he’s the great outsourcer.”
Meanwhile, Kerry defended Obama as a resolute commander-in-chief:
“He promised to end the war in Iraq, and he has. And now our heroes are coming home.”
Among Obama’s accomplishments, Kerry invoked the NATO mission in Libya, which had been largely unmentioned at either convention:
“When a brutal dictator promised to kill his own people ‘‘like rats,’’ President Obama enlisted our allies, built the coalition and shared the burden, so that today – without a single American casualty – Moammar Gadhafi is gone and the people of Libya are free.”
Kerry then turned to attacking Romney over his past comments on the hunt for Osama bin Laden — whose demise at the hands of Navy SEALs was celebrated by speaker after speaker:
“And after more than 10 years without justice for thousands of Americans murdered on 9/11, after Mitt Romney said it would be ‘‘naive’’ to go into Pakistan to pursue the terrorists, it took President Obama, against the advice of many, to give that order to finally rid this earth of Osama bin Laden. Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago.”
Romney had criticized Obama’s public statements that he would go into Pakistan — noting that such declarations would hurt relations with Pakistan, and that leaders should keep their intentions “quiet.”
In Charlotte, speakers including Joe Biden also attacked Romney’s comment to the Associated Press in 2007 that, “it’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” But they left out the rest of the quote:
“I think, I wouldn’t want to over-concentrate on Bin Laden. He’s one of many, many people who are involved in this global Jihadist effort. He’s by no means the only leader. It’s a very diverse group – Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and of course different names throughout the world. It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person. It is worth fashioning and executing an effective strategy to defeat global, violent Jihad and I have a plan for doing that.”
Romney later said shifted and said dismissively that any president in Obama’s position would have ordered the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. Perhaps — but it has since emerged that Obama’s advisers were deeply divided over the raid — and that Obama issued the order in the face of ambiguous intelligence. Both the Vice President Joe Biden and the Secretary of Defense Bob Gates (opposed the raid. It’s no wonder that in his personal and emotional speech to the convention, Biden repeatedly called Obama “gutsy” and praised his “spine of steel.”
Kerry also slammed Romney for his shifting position on Afghanistan:
“It isn’t fair to say Mitt Romney doesn’t have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position. He was against setting a date for withdrawal – then he said it was right – and then he left the impression that maybe it was wrong to leave this soon. He said it was ‘tragic’ to leave Iraq, and then he said it was fine. He said we should’ve intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to duck reporters’ questions. Then he said the intervention was too aggressive. Then he said the world was a ‘‘better place’’ because the intervention succeeded. Talk about being for it before you were against it!
Mr. Romney – here’s a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself!”
Kerry also attacked as “preposterous” Romney’s comment that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe”:
“Folks: Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska; Mitt Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV.”
There were several jabs at Romney for Romney’s gaffe-filled foreign trip this summer. Even Obama himself joined in:
“You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.”
But the Romney campaign didn’t let the attacks go unanswered. Even before the president took to the convention stage, Romney campaign issued a memo Thursday evening entitled “The Foreign Policy and National Security Failure of President Barack Obama.” The number one failure, they argue, has been his inability to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
“Despite promising to “do everything in his power” to stop Iran, four years of President Obama’s irresolute policies have failed to slow the progress of Iran’s program. In fact, that progress has sped up,” the memo states.
The second failure on the list was “endangering” the mission in Afghanistan by publicly announcing a withdrawal date.
“President Obama has convinced all parties—both our partners and our enemies—that his objective is to leave Afghanistan by a date certain, regardless of the conditions on the ground. This message has led our Afghan and Pakistani partners to doubt our resolve and hedge their bets rather than fully co-operate with us. And this message has encouraged the Taliban to believe that they can wait us out.”
The memo also attacked Obama for his plan to cut military spending – something Obama defended in his convention speech:
“While my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I will use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work rebuilding roads and bridges and schools and runways, because after two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation building right here at home.”
The statement was repeatedly interrupted by some of the most enthusiastic applause of the night.