Muftic – Foreign policy may decide campaign outcome |

Muftic – Foreign policy may decide campaign outcome

Felicia Muftic / My View
Grand County, CO Colorado

The Republican debate about national security between GOP contenders for president last week reminded me of the 2008 Democratic primary between President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

While economy, jobs and health care issues had given Obama an early leg-up in the primaries, Clinton nearly took him down on her right-of-center stance on national security. Post-GOP debate pundit commentary raised Clinton’s iconic ad of the 3 a.m. call and the question: who was ready to be commander in chief on day one. Those measures of ability will still be present in 2012 to one extent or another.

There are three factors that will influence the impact of national security issues on the 2012 election outcome: In which candidate will the majority of voters have confidence that the 3 a.m. call will be answered with competence on day one; whether economic concerns will trump national security worries at the time of the election; and whose foreign policy aligns best with the views of the majority.

On point three, Obama wins hands down today. Polls conducted lately by Gallup, and nearly every other organization, found 63 percent of the Americans approved of Obama’s handling of terrorism. Gallup found in late October that 75 percent of Americans approved of our pulling out nearly all U.S. military forces from Iraq.

Aside from Ron Paul’s libertarian isolationism, GOP candidates either fell all over themselves trying to sound more neo-conservative or more experienced than the other. When all was said and done, other than tweaking time lines for troop withdrawals, amounts, or leadership style, there was not much fundamental difference with the administration.

That was most noticeable on the debate about what to do about Iran, which was a matter to what degree we should do more of the same of what the Obama administration was already doing … more embargoes, more international pressure, more saber-rattling, more covert action. Even Obama has taken no options, including military action, off the table.

Hitting the president for not doing enough covert action, when no one knows how much covert action we are doing now, was strange, to say the least. If we know about it, it is not covert, is it?

How about being ready on day one? Nearly all of the recent attacks on American security have happened in the first months of a presidency and the fitness and readiness factors should not be taken lightly. The Obama/Hillary contest was instructive. Clinton was obviously viewed as strongest on defense. Obama won anyway. Voters had enough confidence in his abilities, perspectives, and background to give him a pass. “Good enough, if not the best” was the litmus test then and could be again.

Here is where experience does count. Those with experience in the national and international arena – Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich – made the best impression. Gov. Perry sounded like he was still running for governor of Texas, a dangerous perspective. His fellow Texan George W. Bush was under the illusion that everyone abroad had the same aspirations as a Texan. It must have come as a shock to Bush that Iraqis did not rise up to embrace democracy when U.S. forces tore down Saddam’s statue, since any red blooded American would have done so.

The moral to that story: Provincial perspectives can lead to very bad judgment calls. Perry’s simplistic “yank the aid from Pakistan” correctly yielded a slap down from Bachmann for ignoring Pakistan’s nuclear power.

Herman Cain demonstrated he had read his briefing books this time. Romney played to the neo-con crowd, a mask of his lack of geo-political credentials. Santorum did not make much of a mark.

The extent to which national security will sway voters’ choices a year in advance is unknown. Much can happen that could bump it up in our list of worries. However, if the general election candidates bloody themselves to a draw on economic issues, it could be a tie-breaker.

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