Conservatives Peddle Myths on Obama Administration's National Security Policies

Conservative commentary on President Obama's national security agenda is in a sorry state these days. Lacking policy alternatives, the right has resorted to peddling distortions in an attempt to sabotage the Administration. But the facts say the opposite. Policies that have weakened terrorist organizations dramatically and restored momentum to global nonproliferation efforts in fact have earned the support of U.S. military leaders and the national security establishment, American citizens at home and global publics abroad. The right's strategy, which may have worked in the past, is clear evidence that the conservative movement is out of touch when it comes to today's national security challenges.

Myth: Administration's nonproliferation policies have failed to advance American security and undermine American standing abroad. A recent Politico article describes Victor Davis Hanson complaining in the National Review that the administration "has developed a bad habit of talking tough and bullying friendly constitutional states while reaching out to hostile and bad-acting dictatorships. In general, that is unwise foreign policy. In terms of nuclear politics, it is dangerous beyond belief." [Victor Davis Hanson, via Politico, 4/29/10]

Fact: The Obama administration is taking unprecedented action to protect America and its allies from the dual threats of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation - and gaining traction.

  • The Obama administration is taking successful steps to increase American security, as demonstrated through meaningful actions taken this spring. After years in which Washington opted to work alone, the US is getting global control of nuclear materials back on track by: signing a New START agreement that challenges other states to follow us in reducing nuclear weapons; clarifying our nuclear posture to support our security and heighten the consequences for proliferator states; bring effective pressure to bear on Iran and North Korea the bring them into compliance; and taking initiatives to curb the threat of nuclear terrorism and lock down all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide. Additionally, the U.S. will participate in the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference next month in New York, allowing the U.S. and the international community to sharpen its response to Iran and North Korea.
  • National security experts agree that, by putting nonproliferation issues on the international agenda at a level never seen before, the Obama administration has reasserted U.S. global leadership. As George Schultz, Secretary of State for the Reagan administration, stated, "[President Obama] is doing an excellent job. He has put the vision out there and keeps it out there. The nuclear posture review shows he is being careful about American national security at every step. The conference of world leaders on securing fissile material is the right thing to do. Who is going to disagree with that? So you get the whole world working on something and solving a problem. That is always a good step." Administration efforts to reassert U.S. leadership have had an impact. The U.S.-Global Leadership Project sponsored by Gallup and the Meridian International Center found that while approval for the U.S. remained low from 2005 to 2008, in 2009, a majority "approves of the job performance of U.S. leadership (51%) -- a first since Gallup began asking the question worldwide." [George Schultz, 4/14/10. Gallup, 2/14/10]

Conservative Myth: Obama's counterterrorism policies are naïve and dangerous.
Marco Rubio, the conservative Senatorial candidate in Florida, recently discussed President Obama's counterterrorism policy saying: "It's naive, short-sighted, quite frankly, misguided in terms of what he thinks he's going to accomplish." [Marco Rubio, via Red State, 4/20/10]

Fact: The results speak for themselves: Obama administration has stepped up counterterrorism efforts and the strategy has proven successful.

  • The administration has taken the fight to extremists overseas. Andy Johnson of Third Way writes that, "Since the day President Obama took office, the United States has stepped up the fight against terrorists, and it's working." Johnson points out that, under President Obama's leadership, the U.S. has killed and captured al Qaeda and Taliban Leaders Baitullah Mehsud: Leader of the Pakistani Taliban... Sadam Hussein Al Hussami: A top al Qaeda official, involved in planning the suicide attack against the CIA in Afghanistan...Saleh al Somali: al Qaeda's senior operations planner... Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar: Taliban Leader Mullah Omar's Deputy, he was believed to be in de facto control of the Taliban in recent years." As well as, "Taliban regional 'shadow governors.'" [Andy Johnson, 3/23/10]
  • Vigilance has thwarted terrorist attacks at home, including the most serious plot since 9/11. In addition, the administration has disrupted plots at home including the Bryant Neal Vinas case and the Najibullah Zazi, which the New York Times called "one of the most serious terrorism plots on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001." The U.S. has received actionable intelligence from these cases -- without using torture -- and others that have lead to further arrests of al Qaeda connected militants. [New York Daily News, 4/12/10. Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, 2/22/10]
  • Conservative Myth: Obama's policies convey weakness to countries like Iran. In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz accused the President of appeasing Iran.

    Reality: The Obama administration's diplomatic efforts have placed intense pressure on Iran. After Iran engagement with Iran, a policy that significantly bolstered the international standing of the United States, failed to bear fruit, the administration shifted in January to a more assertive pressure track. The president's methodical diplomatic approach, unlike the previous administration's, has won critical international support. As detailed by the Washington Independent, President Obama will soon be the one who "shepherds an economic sanctions package on the Iranian regime's key organs through the United Nations Security Council. After winning China's acquiescence; spending almost a year and a half rebuilding relations with Russia; and leveraging new and less patient leadership at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the administration has pieces in position to unite the international community against Iran's uranium enrichment." Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns observed that Iran's international isolation has increased because of Obama's engagement: "He [Obama] had to build up political capital...The reality is that Iran is more isolated today because of this strategy, and because of their own behavior, than they were a year ago." Even Iran hawk John McCain recognized the benefits of the administration's approach, saying, "I never thought a policy of engagement with Iran's rulers would succeed, but I understand why the president pursued it." [Washington Independent, 4/19/10. John McCain, via the NY Times, 4/15/10. R. Nicholas Burns, via NY Times, 2/11/10]

    Myth: Obama administration policies have hurt America's military. The Obama administration is facing off against military leadership, weakening the armed forces, and, in William Kristol's words, cutting the defense budget "to a level at which maintaining the dominant military we have become accustomed to since the end of the Cold War will almost certainly be a thing of the past." [Weekly Standard, 5/3/10]

    Reality: Military leadership and bipartisan national security leaders say they have the resources to complete their missions and prepare for future threats. There is wide support amongst experts that the Obama administration has taken principled and pragmatic position on a host of issues in order to keep America secure.

    • Budget. Despite Kristol's fuzzy math, defense spending remains at historically high levels. This year alone, between the "baseline" budget and the spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Department will shell out 741.2 billion. The Center for a New American Security notes that: "in inflation-adjusted dollars and including war costs, the fiscal year 2011 Pentagon budget request is 13 percent higher than the Korea War peak; 33 percent higher than the Vietnam War peak; 23 percent higher than the Reagan-era 1980s peak; 64 percent higher than the Cold War average; and 15 percent higher than the post-9/11 average." [CNAS, February 2010. Slate, 3/1/10]

  • Afghanistan-Pakistan. When testifying to Congress after President Obama announced his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, ISAF Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal told Congress that he had the resources and support he needed to carry out the mission there: "I agree with the president's decision. And I believe that it provides me the resources that we need to execute the strategy to accomplish the mission as outlined for us." [NPR, 12/8/2009]
  • Iran. Military leaders have lined up to support the Administration's policy on Iran. Chairman of the Joints Chiefs Adm. Michael Mullen said President Obama "has made it very clear that we certainly seek to ensure that Iran does not obtain that capability, and that's the policy... Clearly the priority right now is the engagement, dialogue, sanctions piece, which I fully support." [Admiral Michael Mullen via Bloomberg, 4/30/10]
  • "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." One day after Adm. Mullen expressed his "personal belief" that the discriminatory policy to ban gays in the military be repealed, Retired General Colin Powell expressed his support the President's policy. "If the chiefs and commanders are comfortable with moving to change the policy," Powell said, "then I support it." [Washington Post, 2/4/10]
  • Energy and climate. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said of the military's efforts on this subject that "The stakes could not be higher... energy reform will make us better fighters. In the end, it is a matter of energy independence and it is a matter of national security. Our dependence on foreign sources of petroleum makes us vulnerable in too many ways. The stakes are clear and the stakes are high. Our response has to be equal to that challenge." [Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate, 4/20/10. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, 4/20/10]
  • Conservative Myth: American public deeply concerned with president's national security policies. Conservatives have continually sought to suggest public disapproval for the Obama administration's national security policies.

    Reality: Americans have expressed strong confidence in the president's handling of the country's top national security issues.

    • Poll after poll finds the American people strongly supportive of the President's handling of national security issues. An ABC\Washington Post Poll released this week found the public approving of Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan 56% to 36%. The same poll shows Americans approving of his nonproliferation agenda 49% to 37%. A Democracy Corps survey done in February, and released in March had even more impressive numbers. On issues ranging from America's wars to leadership of the military to fighting terrorism, clear majorities of the American people approve of the President.
  • Support for Obama administration's national security policies also runs deep. As broadly as Americans support the Obama administration's foreign policy actions, there is growing evidence that such support has deep roots. Additionally, public anxiety over U.S. foreign policy has also eased since Obama took office. According to Public Agenda's Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index, the foreign policy anxiety indicator has dropped 10-points to 122, the lowest level recorded since Public Agenda introduced the indicator in 2006. [Washington Post\ABC, 4/28/10. Democracy Corps, March 2010. Public Agenda, Spring 2010]
  • This post was written with the assistance of the National Security Network's James Lamond, Jake Stokes, and Erica Mandell.