Friday Talking Points -- Foreign Policy Issues Reappear

It has been a big week on the foreign policy front, with the death of Libya's dictator and President Obama's announcement today that all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by the end of this year (leaving roughly 150 to guard the embassy). But before we get to all of that, I've got some domestic advice for the president's re-election team.

So, to the folks planning the "Obama 2012" effort: Spend some money. Please, please, spend some money right now. Buy an ad or three. By doing so, you can change the whole flavor of the political debate overnight.

This is, I will fully admit, fairly unconventional advice, so allow me to explain. Conventional thinking would be to carefully husband your financial resources right now, allow the Republicans to burn themselves out attacking each other, and then flood the airwaves with pro-Obama ads after the primary season is over (or even after the national conventions take place next year). This way, you'll have an enormous advantage over the Republican candidate in terms of money in the bank when the true campaign starts.

But Obama's team doesn't have to be bound by this conventional thinking, for a couple of reasons. The first is their target of one billion dollars in fundraising. If they meet (or even come close) to this massive amount of money, it will be far more than has ever been spent in a political race before -- and far more (most likely) that Obama's Republican challenger will be able to raise. So there's not going to be any reason for penny-pinching, in other words. Secondly, airing these ads doesn't have to cost a whole lot (relatively, of course). Steal a page from the late Steve Jobs' playbook (the famous "1984" Apple ad), and pay for only one airing of your ad... say, in the middle of the first quarter of a Sunday night football game. The media will take care of re-airing the ad many times, meaning a single ad buy is all that will be necessary -- which wouldn't cost all that much. Thirdly, the Obama campaign already has plenty of money in the bank, so paying for the ad right now won't be a problem, either. Alternatively, perhaps the Democratic National Committee could run the ad, if you wanted to funnel the election money in a different way.

President Obama has been doing a great job pushing his American Jobs Act, so far, but it's been mostly on a retail level. The wholesale approach of a national television ad would raise the public's awareness of the issue in a big way. Giving speeches to friendly audiences of committed Democrats (even in swing states), as Obama has been doing, is fine and good -- but it really doesn't get the message out far enough. Television news might show an eight-second clip of such a speech, meaning almost everything Obama says doesn't get reported. By running your own ad, however, you control the message yourself (for a whole 30 or even 60 seconds).

Obama's American Jobs Act was never going to be passed in the first place -- virtually everyone agrees that it is solely a political statement. Even if, by some miracle, it got past the 60-vote filibuster threat in the Senate and passed, the Republican House is never going to take it up. Harry Reid is actually doing a good job of scheduling a number of votes, to get the Republicans on the record over and over again voting against jobs. He isn't normally this good at playing this particular brand of politics, it should be mentioned, but in the last week or so he's been doing much better at it.

This political game is played by both parties on legislation they know is not going to pass. You can decry this as crass Machiavellianism if you wish, but that's the way life works in Washington. Obama made the opening move with his version of the American Jobs Act. The Senate Democrats changed the bill to pay for it solely with a tax on millionaires and billionaires. The whole package was brought up for a vote last week, and it failed. So Harry Reid is breaking the bill up into pieces. The first of these was voted on this week, and failed. The second is being teed up for a vote next week, and it will fail too. The point of the exercise is that Democrats can then campaign on: "Senator Jones voted against creating jobs!" But there are two ways which Democrats usually blow such opportunities, and both could be solved with a few Obama ads right now.

Democrats usually wait too long to make the argument. By the time next year's elections roll around, the public will have forgotten about the American Jobs Bill fight in the Senate. Democrats are essentially betting that if the economy is still bad next year, they'll be able to say: "We tried to fix unemployment, and the Republicans voted it down!" This message would be much better, however, if the argument was made at the beginning instead of the end -- now, in other words, instead of a year later. The other problem Democrats usually have is that they fail to coalesce around a truly national theme when making this case. By having Obama himself take the lead (with an ad, right now), this problem would be averted as well.

Writing such an ad for Obama is easy:

"Good evening, America. I'd like to take a moment of your time and update you on a very important issue. I'm trying to put Americans back to work with legislation in Congress right now, but it's a tough fight. This week, we tried to save the jobs of tens of thousands of teachers, firefighters, and police. It got voted down by every single Republican in the Senate. They still haven't explained how they can be against keeping teachers and front-line responders on the job. All across America, we've seen plenty of firefighters and police laid off in the past few years, by the thousands. We're trying to say 'enough is enough' and protect those jobs. To pay for this, the Senate proposed a half-cent tax on every dollar made above one million dollars. That is fifty cents on every 100 dollars made after your first million, and I do not believe that is too much to ask of the wealthiest Americans to keep tens of thousands of teachers, firefighters, and police on the job, bringing home a paycheck to their families. Republicans fought hard to protect someone making two million dollars a year from paying an extra one-fourth of one percent of their income in taxes -- and by doing so, they killed tens of thousands of jobs for police, firefighters and teachers. They chose, instead of saving these jobs, to do nothing. I'm trying to save these jobs, and I need your help. Call up your senator and let him or her know that you are standing on the side of saving jobs, rather than on the side of the millionaires. I am President Barack Obama, and I approved this message. Thank you, and let's get back to some football...."

Trusting that the media is going to get this message out is foolish. Waiting until next year to attempt to make this argument is also foolish. The "Obama 2012" team has enough money to run two or three of these ads (one per week, during the same football game). The ads pretty much write themselves -- just take any random two paragraphs out of one of those speeches Obama's been giving recently. The media would fall all over themselves reporting on such a bold campaign move -- and give the ad lots more airplay than what has actually been paid for.

The more I ponder this idea, the better it looks, in fact. Here's hoping someone in the political office of the White House will take note -- soon.

[Note: Didn't want to co-opt this idea, but did want to encourage everyone to check out Andy's Ostroy's excellent framing of this issue this week, as well: start referring to Republicans as "Jobs Bill Killers."]


President Obama certainly deserves a victory lap on the foreign policy front this week, but (again) we're going to cover that in the talking points section of our program today.

Likewise, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deserves at least an Honorable Mention for the excellent and serendipitous timing of her unannounced visit to Libya, mere hours before Gaddafi was captured and killed. But while this timing looks brilliant in hindsight, it really was nothing more than an extraordinary stroke of good luck (as evidenced by Clinton's "Wow!" response upon hearing the news, if nothing else).

But this week we're going to eschew the obvious and get a little wonkier instead. Senator Jim Webb has been pushing a bill for a while now to create a National Criminal Justice Commission, to study America's entire criminal justice system, and then make recommendations based upon this study. Such a study hasn't happened since 1965, and it is a good idea which is long overdue. America's prisons are crowded because we lock up more people than any other nation on the planet. Examining the system and figuring out how to fix it seems to be an uncontroversial idea.

Until you realize that the Drug War is a large part of the problem, that is. Republicans are apparently scared that any commission made up of sane, level-headed individuals might come up with suggestions that are not politically advantageous to them -- such as legalizing marijuana, for example.

While Webb's bill failed this week to overcome a Republican filibuster, he did manage to get the votes of all the Senate Democrats, and four Republicans as well (Lindsey Graham, who had co-sponsored the bill with Webb, Scott Brown, Orrin Hatch, and Olympia Snowe). These days, a 57-43 vote in the Senate is impressive enough.

Webb's idea is a good one, and it is shocking to realize this subject hasn't been studied by such a government group since before even Richard Nixon declared war on drugs (and long before Nancy Reagan's era). For pushing this idea, and for getting within three votes of seeing it pass the Senate, Senator Jim Webb is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. We can only hope that when he brings it up again, more Republicans will get on board.

[Congratulate Senator Jim Webb on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Of course, the big news in the Senate this week was over the failure of the first of the bills broken out from the American Jobs Act to pass. This vote was even worse: 50-50.

Which means that three Democrats voted with the Republicans on the side of millionaires not having to pay a half-cent tax on the dollars they make over their first million, each year -- and against the side of teachers, firefighters, and police.

Our first winner of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is not technically a Democrat any more, because Joe Lieberman got successfully "primaried" by a real Democrat, and had to run as an independent. We don't care, however, and will continue to hand him further MDDOTW awards, every time we see fit. The biggest joy of the 2012 election cycle is going to be seeing the last of Joe Lieberman, who is not running for re-election (because he knows his chances of winning are virtually non-existent in Connecticut). Don't let the door hit you on the way out, in other words, and here's your eighth MDDOTW award in the meantime, Joe.

The other two Democratic senators who voted with the Republicans were Ben Nelson of Nebraska (for whom this is the twelfth MDDOTW award), and Mark Pryor of Arkansas (only his fourth such MDDOTW award).

This wasn't a vote for or against the jobs bill, mind you. This was just a procedural vote to show party strength -- all three of these folks could have stood with the Democrats now, and then voted against it later. It is called "party unity" -- apparently a foreign concept to these three individuals.

[Contact Senator Joe Lieberman on his Senate contact page, Senator Ben Nelson on his Senate contact page, and Senator Mark Pryor on his Senate contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]


Volume 186 (10/21/11)

OK, with all that out of the way, let's turn to foreign affairs, shall we?

Barack Obama deserves not just one but two victory laps this week, in the foreign affairs realm. The successful conclusion of the rebellion in Libya, with both the rebels controlling the whole country and with the capture and death of Gaddafi, was a rousing end to America's military involvement in the country. It's really hard to put any of it in a negative light, although Republicans will no doubt try to do so in the next few days (they may already be doing so, I've been busy writing this and haven't had time to check, I admit).

The second victory lap due Obama is on his announcement today that all American troops will be out of Iraq in time for the holidays this year. Well, OK, around 150 will still be there guarding the embassy, but nobody can begrudge this considering there were over 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq the day Obama took office. Many -- especially on the Left -- never believed that this announcement would ever come from Obama, and that American troops would still be in Iraq for years to come. This could help Obama enormously with his base.

Obama should indeed talk about foreign policy, especially on his upcoming Tonight Show appearance next week, because it clearly shows the difference between him and just about every single one of his Republican opponents. Republicans haven't said much on foreign policy in their debates, other than the occasional swipe at China or to talk about the fence/wall/moat-full-of-alligators on the Mexican border. Obama should talk about foreign policy whenever he gets the chance, because it paints a stark difference in leadership style with the Republican field right now. And, with all the troops coming home from Iraq, this is a message America has been waiting a long time to hear.

So I'm offering up seven foreign policy talking points this week, for Obama's consideration. They can really be used by any Democrat, though, with a few shifts in pronouns. I should mention that some of these borrow heavily from Obama's own remarks on both ending the war in Iraq, and on the Libyan victory, so read both of these originals, if interested.


   Home for the holidays

The first one's easy. I was actually predicting the announcement of a full withdrawal from Iraq earlier this week, and while I was surprised it came so soon, I was glad to hear it stated in such concrete terms.

"When I campaigned for president, I promise I would responsibly end American military involvement in Iraq and bring all our troops back home. When I took office, there were almost 150,000 American troops in Iraq. When the new year dawns, there will be none -- other than a normal embassy guard, as we have in every other country around the globe we do business with. The war in Iraq is almost completely over. The troops -- all of them -- will be home for the holidays. That is a promise."


   This just in...

...Muammar Gaddafi is still dead.

OK, you really have to be an old-school Saturday Night Live fan to get that joke, but I simply couldn't resist it, sorry. This one is also pretty easy to write.

"The people of Libya have now won their revolution. They have gotten rid of one of the worst dictators in the region, and they have consolidated their control over their entire country. We stood with the rebels, because it was the right thing to do. I got some criticism from both sides when I made the decision to aid the rebels, but I think things have turned out pretty good, so far. Libya still has a long way to go to achieve the goal of democracy, but the United States will stand by and be ready to help them walk this path as friends. This friendship between our countries simply would not exist if we had not acted when we did, and I'm glad we're in the position we are now with the people of Libya. They should be proud of what they've accomplished, because this victory belongs to the people of Libya."


   Greeted as liberators

This is just too good a chance to pass up.

"When the fall of Tripoli took place a few weeks ago, the Libyan people joined in a spontaneous celebration of their victory. And in the midst of the crowds was a giant sign thanking France, Britain, and the United States of America. While they celebrated their liberation, they also thanked us for the help we gave them. Just think for a moment what an extraordinary thing that is, in that part of the world. That one moment was, for me, the best commentary on the Libyan revolution yet -- made by the Libyan people themselves."


   Libya may even pay us back

This one is even more extraordinary, because (like the previous item) it just draws a clear contrast to Iraq and Libya. This is a good contrast for Obama to draw, however subtly.

"The liberation of Libya cost America not one single life -- not one single American in uniform. No N.A.T.O. troops died, either. We also didn't -- as some were darkly predicting -- put any American boots on the ground in Libya. The war was over in a matter of months, not years. Our air power made a decisive difference. The total cost of us helping the Libyan rebels was less than we spent in one week in Iraq, or in Afghanistan. And the most amazing thing of all -- the Libyan government is now considering whether to completely reimburse all of America's costs in the conflict. The American taxpayers may wind up not paying one thin dime for doing what was clearly the right thing to do. That's a pretty good record, for an American military involvement, I have to say."


   More troops on their way home

This one is an excerpt from Obama's speech, because he framed this issue so well I simply couldn't improve on his phrasing one bit:

Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we're beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, where we've begun a transition to Afghan security in leadership. When I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in both these wars. And by the end of this year that number will be cut in half, and make no mistake: It will continue to go down.


   DADT is never coming back

Obama should use this one as a clear challenge to his Republican opponents, because so much of the public is behind the president, and so few remain opposed.

"While we're on the subject of American troops, I'd like to say once again that I support all of our troops -- whether they are gay or not. I challenge my Republican opponents to join me in this strong support for every single American who wears the uniform of their country. I will even make a bold prediction: no matter what the makeup of future Congresses or future White House administrations, I predict that the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy will never be reinstated in the American military. The public has spoken, the law has changed, and I just don't see America going backwards in this regard."


   You don't have to say "War on Terror" to be winning it

I'm still waiting for all those Republicans who tried to make this an issue to apologize to the president -- but I'm not holding my breath.

"Ever since I took office, some politicians have tried to make political hay over the fact that my administration stopped using the term 'war on terrorism,' as the previous administration did. But you know what? It doesn't matter what you call it, when you are out there winning the battle against Al Qaeda and its affiliates worldwide. I don't think Osama Bin Laden cared what term I was using when he was successfully taken out. We have been crippling Al Qaeda by targeting their top ranks throughout the world, and we have achieved a goodly amount of success by doing so. This is definitely one case where actions speak much louder than words."


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