Unity Looks Progressive–National Security in 2012

November 7, 2012

Major news outlets have called the presidential election for President Barack Obama. After a long and divisive campaign it is time for all Americans – regardless of party – to come together to tackle the challenges we face as a country. This includes important issues in global politics and national security, of which there is no shortage.

National security issues played a strong secondary role in this election, as the decades-old “security gap” disappeared, both sides sought to portray national security leadership as a central component of political and economic leadership, and both candidates came to embrace several key positions, also consistently favored by the American public, that defined progressive goals on national security and foreign policy for much of the past decade.

The failed conservative ideology has been roundly dismissed by the American public, which supports a principled and pragmatic view of America’s role in the world. As Washington Post Columnist David Ignatius writes, “The country may be divided one many issues, but it’s united in not wanting another war… we are living in a changed world — where the combative ethos of George W. Bush is truly gone.”

The campaign’s closing weeks saw a coalescing on key national security issues, which could define a foundation for a bipartisan approach to the new challenges ahead, as the divisive legacy of the post 9/11 era is finally put to rest:

The Iraq war brought to an end. President Obama withdrew U.S. combat forces from Iraq last December–replacing a failed strategy with one that better serves core American interests. This was a principal campaign promise in 2008, and a cause for which progressives fought since the beginning of the war. The significant challenges that remain are simply not solvable by combat. Nine years after the war began, Governor Romney accepted the strategic blunder that was Iraq, admitting to President Obama, “with regards to Iraq, you and I agreed.”

Targeted, focused counter-terrorism that has decimated the organization that attacked America on 9/11. Replacing a counterterrorism strategy based on military occupation and the overuse of the proverbial hammer, the Obama administration led a counterterrorism strategy that utilized all elements of national power combining military, diplomatic, financial, intelligence and legal tools to go after al Qaeda. The result is that the organization that attacked New York, Washington and Pennsylvania eleven years ago and its leadership – including Osama bin Laden – have been decimated. Governor Romney has endorsed this approach to counterterrorism. About President Obama’s success against al Qaeda Gov. Romney said, “I support that and entirely, and feel the president was right.” Rejecting earlier foundations of conservative thinking on the matter, Romney admitted, “We don’t want another Iraq, we don’t want another Afghanistan. That’s not the right course for us.”

A world united behind U.S. leadership for a diplomatic solution with Iran. The Obama administration’s early diplomatic work and efforts to engage Iran helped persuade reluctant allies and partners to adopt unprecedented sanctions on trade and Iran’s energy sector. This strategy has proven effective, with Iran under unprecedented diplomatic and economic pressure. America’s ally, Israel recently announced it believes Iran has delayed ambitions to build a nuclear weapon. Despite earlier, more bellicose rhetoric, towards the end of the campaign season Governor Romney outlined his goals towards Iran as “dissuad[ing] Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means.” The governor outlined a strategy of combined economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation to pressure a negotiated solution – a framework that President Obama and progressives have long worked toward.

A path to end the war in Afghanistan and transfer responsibility for security to Afghans.  In 2003, the Bush administration placed the war in Afghanistan on hold while it turned America’s attention to Iraq. Nine years later, with successes against al Qaeda and the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama has realigned America’s commitment in Afghanistan and put in place a plan to remove all combat troops by 2014. In the end, Governor Romney accepted this framework, saying his plan is to “pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.”

A forward-looking national security strategy to secure U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific. In 2011, with the end in sight of over a decade of war in the Middle East, the Obama administration announced that it would rebalance American foreign policy to ensure adequate focus on the Asia-Pacific, as the region grows rapidly in economic and political significance. Romney’s campaign positions largely followed suit, with what experts have called a “pivot plus” –  adding a much larger and expensive military dimension to the foundations put in place by the Administration. Though Romney’s confrontational stance on China trade drew headlines, he seemed to abandon it when he said, “we don’t have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form” and “we can work with them.”

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