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May 7, 2012

Role Reversal

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

There was a time, not so many years ago, that then-President George W. Bush was accused of carrying out a dangerously irresponsible expansionist foreign policy.


The neo-conservative advisors to the president had convinced him that modern American force projection could achieve the failed objectives of past nation-states, namely the conversion of fundamentalist Arabic regimes and the growth of freedom in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.


More than a thousand American soldiers have lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands of enemy combatants (and tens of thousands of civilians) have fallen victim to the ravages of modern military conflict in these countries.


Through it all, the media played a mixed-purpose role. As with other matters of policy, the conservative media (most of talk radio and the Fox News Channel) supported the Bush Administration's efforts to squash al Qaeda and limit the negative influence of the Taliban regime.


The more typically liberal-leaning pundits on CNN and MSNBC had nothing good to say about the "Bush Doctrine" and military involvement in Iraq. In fact, the frequent representation was that Iraq was a diversion from the real conflict, that being the presence of al Qaeda in potentially friendly nation-states like Afghanistan.


Notwithstanding the confused mission in Iraq, the fruitless pursuit of weapons of mass destruction that probably didn't exist in the first place, some of President Bush's best and worst moments are wrapped up in the conflicts that define his presidency.


In Afghanistan, the immediate effects of the post-9/11 attacks on al Qaeda training camps and Taliban strongholds had a seemingly positive impact. The terrorists were on the run, their infrastructure was dismantled and their communication mechanisms were compromised.


At that point, the focus shifted away from the complete elimination of any and all al Qaeda forces to the Hussein/WMD issues in Iraq. Using upside down logic linking Iraq to the 9/11 terror plot, and the U.S./U.N. long-held fears over chemical weapons, we went all "shock-and-awe" on the Iraqi regime.


That decision, fully supported by conservative media outlets and questioned by the more liberal commentators, would lead us into a decade-long slog through the deserts and small towns of Iraq. A few celebrations, like the Hussein statute coming down, the carrier landing "Mission Accomplished" party, and the discovery of the Iraq strongman huddling in a dusty spider hole, gave us reasons to harbor hope in the face of really long odds.


Keeping his campaign promise over the opposition of Sen. John McCain (his vanquished political rival), President Barack Obama essentially ended the major military operation in Iraq. The Afghan conflict continued; in fact, the number of troops was dramatically expanded in accordance with the wishes of the military commanders in the region.


American military power was being projected throughout this time, but not necessarily in the traditional boots on the ground role. Drones, special warfare and advisory relationships were all exploited in recognition of the evolving role of the fundamentalist terror movements changing its own shape.


Yemen, Somalia, and Southeast Asia supplanted the Middle East as the emerging hotbeds of Islamic terrorism, and these new terror groups adopted a loosely organized infrastructure. Libya became a temporary diversion, just long enough for the populist uprising to track down and murder its own dictator.


With his focus tightened on the remnants of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, President Obama was given the chance to do the one thing his predecessor had not been able to do. CIA sources, tracing suspected couriers, found a compound in Pakistan that looked promising.


When campaigning for president in 2008, Mr. Obama promised that if given actionable intelligence that bin Laden was in Pakistan, and the Pakistan government failed to act, he would take unilateral action.


He got that chance in 2011, and he took it.


Now, gearing up for a bruising political campaign where the economy looks to be his biggest hurdle, President Obama would prefer to remind voters of the heroic SEAL Team 6 operation to take out the father of 9/11.


You can't blame him, really. His own vice president and Secretary of Defense were not in favor of the raid and told him so. In spite of that, he did what presidents do, he made the tough call.


All of this would be a mere recitation of facts were it not for the Obama campaign team in Chicago. That bastion of quality campaigns, the home to decades of dead-voters, union muscle and ward control of local politics, Chicago politics and politicians love an ugly fight.


Emerging like a fog coming off Lakeshore Drive, a web-based political ad was released that questioned likely GOP nominee former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's willingness to do what the president did and order the assassination of Osama bin Laden.


As evidence, the Obama campaign cited a political speech in 2008 by Governor Romney attacking Mr. Obama for his unilateral action message. The Romney ad made it sound as though the Obama message was reckless and irresponsible. Funny, now it gets turned around on Governor Romney.


The truth in politics seems to be almost anything other than what the politicians say. Governor Romney said what he said in 2008, and now he looks incompetent, or like a chicken, for having said it. Team Obama would have us believe that only he, not Mr. Romney, possesses the iron will to make such a hard call.


Here's what is true. Any U.S. president, faced with credible information on the whereabouts of bin Laden, would have used the full force of the military to carry out that particular mission. Governor Romney, in an attempt at cute, said that even former President Jimmy Carter would have.


Lest Mitt forget, Jimmy Carter did make a difficult call. He sent Delta Force and Army Rangers on a dangerous mission to rescue the U.S. Embassy hostages in Iran in 1979. No doubt former President Carter is haunted by the failed operation and loss of life, in spite of the recommendation of his military advisors that the mission could succeed.


So, give President Obama his due; he made the right call even though history and caution would suggest otherwise. Let's also admit another obvious fact, which is that Mitt Romney would have done the same thing.


The final truth is the most painful. Let's acknowledge that conservatives in the media cannot give the president credit for anything that he does that has a positive effect on our interests. Similarly, liberal media bias is so obvious that it is a commonly accepted fact.


We select our news input today on which outlets most closely hue to our own beliefs. Is it any wonder that our political system seems completely incapable of problem-solving?


Our only hope is the ultimate role reversal, which is the American voter playing the role of corporate HR director, and issuing ballot box pink slips to incumbent politicians, and turning off the constant blather of biased media input that hardens our brains and cements our positions.


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