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President Barack Obama likes to paint Republicans as warmongers and portray himself as the diplomat-in-chief who ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though those conflicts continue and seem certain to outlast his time in office.
In a little-noticed White House video released last month, Obama insisted that he even knows exactly how many wars the United States would be in if he had listened to his hawkish GOP critics.
“Right now, if I was taking the advice of some of the members of Congress who holler all the time, we’d be in, like, seven wars right now,” he told a small group of veterans and Gold Star mothers of slain U.S. military personnel.
“I’m not exaggerating. I’ve been counting. We’d be in military actions in seven places around the world,” he emphasized.
The Sept. 10 meeting occurred behind closed doors in the White House Roosevelt Room, but the president’s comments were made public in a White House-produced video shared via social media.
Asked by Yahoo News to substantiate Obama’s remarks, a National Security Council spokesman first listed seven places to which the president has sent combat forces on a range of missions: Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Indeed, part of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal sales pitch hinged on his willingness to use deadly force overseas, intervening around the world far more aggressively than his critics say he’s willing to.
But that was plainly not what the president was talking about last month when he insisted that he was not exaggerating and had been counting how many additional conflicts Republicans wanted the U.S. to be engaged in.
“The point is that some of our critics think massive ground forces are the answer to any security challenge anywhere in the world for undefined ends,” NSC spokesman Ned Price told Yahoo News. “Our response has been to deploy boots on the ground for discrete missions when necessary for pre-defined and narrow purposes.”
He did not share Obama’s list of supposed GOP-sought conflicts.
That’s not to say that key Republicans are less hawkish than the president. Far from it: They’ve called for U.S. ground troops to carry out combat missions in Iraq, for more aggressive military action in Syria, for Washington to provide lethal aid to Ukraine’s military as it clashes with Russian-backed separatists and for Obama to send warships to the South China Sea as a counter to Beijing’s expansive territorial claims.
Nor is Obama alone in escalating the partisan rhetoric in Washington, D.C., and being dismissive of opponents. The verbal battle over the nuclear agreement between six world powers and Iran included GOP portrayals of Obama as the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism, or as an accomplice to a new Holocaust.
Still, Obama’s comments suggest that the president — who has never hesitated to clash verbally with his critics — is planning to stay in “rhymes-with-bucket list” mode, as he has described himself, for his last year and a half in the White House.