Obama Jumps Into National Security Void Left by Romney

Jill Lawrence
National Journal

A day after Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gave a convention acceptance speech that didn’t mention Iraq, U.S. troops or the decade-long war in Afghanistan, President Obama visited Fort Bliss in Texas. On Saturday, as Romney released a podcast on his five-point economic plan, Obama used his video address to highlight the Fort Bliss visit and his commander-in-chief role. Then he went to Iowa and hammered the point home some more.

Coincidentally or not, the video and campaign rally made a contrast with Romney by focusing on all three of the subjects the GOP nominee left out of his speech. Obama said in his video address that he met with Iraq war veterans Friday at Fort Bliss to mark the second anniversary of the end of major combat in Iraq. He said U.S. troops in Afghanistan have “broken the Taliban’s momentum” and begun the transition to full Afghan leadership of the war effort by 2014. And he heaped praise on U.S. troops as patriots who performed every task before them with "precision, commitment and skill."

At a rally in Urbandale, Iowa, Obama said he was bringing soldiers home from Afghanistan and specifically noted that Romney had not mentioned that war in his convention speech. As for Iraq and Osama bin Laden, "I said we’d end that war and we did. I said we’d take out bin Laden and we did," Obama said. This was after he'd been introduced by an Iraq veteran who went to college on the GI bill.

Romney last October called Obama’s phaseout of Iraq combat operations “naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude.” He has also criticized Obama for announcing a timetable to transition to Afghan leadership in Afghanistan. But he’s bucking public opinion on both counts.

Ending the Iraq war was a popular Obama campaign promise that he has kept. And the public has increasingly turned against the Afghanistan war, to the point where Clint Eastwood was applauded by delegates at the Republican convention when he criticized the war and asked why Obama didn’t just bring the troops home “tomorrow morning.”

Romney said Saturday at a rally in Cincinnati that "our men and women in uniform continue to defend freedom today. I love those people who serve our great nation."

The lines came after some conservatives, led by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, lamented Romney’s failure to mention the war or the 79,000 troops in Afghanistan in his convention speech. Kristol called it “a failure of civic responsibility” and wondered if a presidential nominee during wartime had ever before ignored “the war and our warriors” in that type of speech. “I doubt it,” he said.

The Associated Press went to the history books and found that war had been addressed in every Republican acceptance speech since 1956, in both wartime and peacetime.

Obama, who gets good marks from the public on his handling of terrorism and foreign policy, is already taking advantage of the opening left by Romney. Get ready to hear even more about his commander in chief credentials in the days leading up to the Democratic convention that starts Tuesday in Charlotte.

Beyond the Fort Bliss visit and Saturday’s video address, the Obama campaign said Saturday the president will finish his “road to Charlotte” tour Tuesday in Norfolk, Va. The city is home to NATO defense headquarters and the largest naval base in the world.

Democrats have already announced a national-security focus on the final night of their convention during the primetime hour carried by network television. Sen. John Kerry -- former presidential nominee, current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and possible future secretary of state -- will discuss Obama’s national security record Thursday night just before Vice President Biden and Obama himself address the convention and the nation.

In his video address, Obama said that “next month, the last of the troops I ordered as part of the surge against the Taliban will come home” from Afghanistan. That’s a development bound to be welcomed by a war-weary public, and one that Obama will no doubt showcase as a sign of progress toward the finish line of a long, tough slog.