In the week since the last presidential debate, national security – supposedly something the American people don’t care about – has become Exhibit A in the case for a new president.
Why were reinforcements and air cover denied to our men in Benghazi under jihadist fire? The White House never misses a chance to trumpet the strength of Mr. Obama’s leadership in ordering the SEALS to get bin Laden. But it will not say who made the decision to leave unaided the doomed ambassador and the brave men who died with him. This Saturday, Powerline’s John Hinderacker posted a devastating compilation from public sources of what has been learned (http://tinyurl.com/8o864k7). The conclusion: “The final call [not to dispatch soldiers or air support] was by the POTUS.”
Just as with the failure of their economic policy, Team Obama points the finger of responsibility in this fiasco at someone else, hooping to escape public scrutiny. The problem is that the president is not abstractly responsible for national security. It turns out that a decision to deny a rescue in a situation like Benghazi would almost certainly have reached the Oval Office.
Yesterday in Findlay, Ohio, Mitt Romney delivered his basic campaign speech and showed what a very different president he would be. Nationally televised, the address was one of the best of its kind I have heard in years. And while its theme was the domestic economy, it pointed to the entirely different approach a Romney administration would take in global affairs compared to what we have now.
For as the speech made clear, Mr. Romney is already thinking strategically in a way that still escapes the Obama administration after four years in office. He is looking for routes not just to traverse the current crisis in the Middle East but to transcend it. The contrast became particularly clear when he talked about energy policy.
Consider first the Obama approach of energy. Sometime after the administration turned down the Keystone pipeline application, an unnamed presidential aide was quoted explaining that the decision had been a no-brainer. The labor unions favoring the project had nowhere politically to go. The environmental groups opposing it were problematic. The same kind of thinking appears to have gone into the decision to close the Gulf of Mexico to drilling for a year after the BP accident — and to refuse fracking permits on federal lands. This is precinct level political calculation on questions at the heart of national grand strategy and survival.
The Romney approach is big where Obama’s small. It is almost certainly influenced by a recent paper from the Manhattan Institute (http://tinyurl.com/7nhpdqz). That study concludes that the right policies in Washington “could lead to North America becoming the largest supplier of fuel to the world by 2030.” It adds, “[t]he main obstacles to developing a North American oil surplus are political rather than geological or technological.” Analysts of the same data have said in my presence, that, by the end of the coming presidential term, the United States could become entirely energy independent – but only if we end our anti-hydrocarbon policies.
Now, consider how altered the global scene would be today, how much safer our nation would be, if North America had no net need for Middle Eastern oil. Governor Romney’s agenda reflects an understanding of this truth. President Obama’s actions reflect none.
In his Findlay speech, Governor Romney also talked about further openings to global trade. Since taking office, Mr. Obama has not initiated a single free trade negotiation, while China has concluded nearly two dozen. The Governor focused in particular on China, repeating again that as president he would label that country a “currency manipulator.” Some see calling China to account on monetary matters as protectionist and contradicting what Mr. Romney has also said about building better relations with China.
They have missed, though Mr. Romney has been careful to note, that such a declaration would empower a President Romney to initiate U.S.-China trade talks (http://tinyurl.com/7jbhhf6 ) immediately. In other words, Mr. Romney is pledging to start the ball rolling in the first hours of his administration toward negotiations aimed at achieving an open and sustainable relationship with the world’s second largest economy and arguably the power on which long-term global peace most depends.
So here is what the last week has demonstrated: Governor Romney is addressing national security creatively, boldly and from many perspectives, showing a real grasp of how to reorder the most problematic issues of global affairs. Meanwhile, President Obama doesn’t have a clue.
This election really, really matters.