Last year, as national finance chairman for John McCain's Presidential campaign, I strongly supported my friend Sen. McCain, but have kept an open-mind about President Obama's administration, which you can see in the "100 Days Scorecard" posted here back in April. Don't get me wrong, it was not a glowing assessment. In particular, I gave him a "D" on the Economy, and his recent decision to levy a tariff on Chinese tires makes me all the more certain this was fair. But I also gave him a "B+" on foreign policy, writing at the time:
"He’s had the good judgment to rely on our distinguished generals and not to withdraw prematurely from Iraq. The build-up in Afghanistan is badly needed, but probably not enough." Also, in that time frame he stated that Afghanistan was a war of necessity.
I would not rate his judgment so highly today.
While the President took a commendable approach to Afghanistan at the outset, his uncertain response to Gen. McChrystal’s request for additional troops is troubling. Gen. McChrystal has made it very clear that success in Afghanistan depends on a significant increase in forces, and yet the New York Times reports that the White House is divided against itself on this very issue.
Reportedly, the President is considering alternatives, among these an option raised by Joe Biden to withdraw from the country and concentrate on striking Taliban targets from the air only. Let us not forget that this is not far off John Murtha's plan for Iraq, which the President supported as senator. Further adding to the judgment question, then Sen. Obama opposed President Bush's successful surge policy in Iraq while Sen. McCain strongly supported it.
The President seems to be moving in questionable direction in other areas of foreign policy as well, including his decision to block a U.S. missile shield base in the Czech Republic and Poland, appeasing the undemocratic leadership in Russia. That this comes at the same time new revelations about Iran's very serious nuclear program raise ever more concern.
The President's decision to give Attorney General Eric Holder a free hand to pursue criminal investigations against CIA and other U.S. personnel who dealt with terrorists and other highly dangerous detainees is one more mistake in the making. His own CIA Director as well as seven former CIA directors serving under both Republican and Democrat administrations have publicly opposed this decision, and yet the President allows the investigation to proceed despite his earlier statements against such a move. Has it occurred to him that these people deserve our heartfelt gratitude for protecting us from another terror attack these past eight years?
My sense is that these decisions are driven in part by a Democratic base that is divided about what to do in Afghanistan, but adamant about holding the Bush administration responsible for Abu Ghraib and anything else they can. The same goes for the trade war with China. American car companies and tire manufacturers did not want it, but the United Auto Workers did. Labor is still a powerful force in Democrat circles, even if only there. Why else create these international headaches and penalize auto companies at such a dangerous time? The President's poll numbers have been falling as his health care plans have proved unpopular, and he is battening down the hatches ahead of a midterm election that could be very bad for his party. I fear President Obama is rejecting his sounder judgment in favor of domestic political considerations.
Perhaps you remember, last summer Sen. Barack Obama suggesting that his lack of executive experience was not a matter for concern in foreign policy because, he said, his judgment was much better than that of his opponents. In fact, he used both words in an interview with ABC News during the primary campaign. Specifically, the future President said: "One thing I'm very confident about is my judgment in foreign policy. ... The notion that somehow from Washington you get this vast foreign policy experience is illusory."
It was apparent to those of us who supported John McCain that Obama had no choice but to downplay the value of foreign policy experience, where no one doubted that Sen. McCain had the overwhelming advantage and where Sen. Obama simply elevated the judgment argument and asserted that his judgment was the better. To her credit, Hillary Clinton tried to make this very point in her "3 am call" ad. He guessed correctly that the mainstream media would not dwell greatly on whether this was actually true. If they had, they would realize that this was a question they could not answer, because Obama had very little experience where he could demonstrate it.
Those of us who questioned whether Senator Obama was ready to be President Obama are finding that our concerns were warranted. Putting the U.S. back on the right track will take an enormous effort. Hopefully the President will start showing some of that judgment he's told us about. If he doesn’t, independents will continue to desert him, and the American people may well decide he does not deserve a second term.