The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The Time Obama Made Political Attacks Hours After Islamist Violence


President Obama and his team would never seize upon the news of a deadly attack in the Muslim world to attack a political opponent, right?

Eh, let’s look back to December 2007, when Benazir Bhutto’s assassination became a big topic in the Democratic presidential primary, just days before the Iowa caucus: “Three hours after news of Bhutto’s slaying broke, Obama delivered a withering rebuke of Clinton’s experience, depicting her lengthy political resume as a hindrance to solving big problems, including crises abroad.”

Then there was the comment from David Axelrod:

Axelrod, a senior Obama strategist, was more direct, linking the Pakistani crisis to the different positions that Clinton and Obama took on the Iraq war in 2002, when Clinton voted to authorize it in the U.S. Senate, and Obama, then an Illinois state senator, spoke out against it.

“Obama opposed the war in Iraq explicitly because he feared it would divert our attention from al-Qaeda, Pakistan, the whole region,” Axelrod said. “It underscores the fact that you have to have a president who understands the world, who is going to analyze these events, and who will chart the right course, counter to the conventional thinking.”

Surely Obama would rebuke his longtime aide, arguing that the killing of an anti-Taliban Pakistan leader by extremists shouldn’t be used as a political cudgel, and that hours after such an atrocity is an inappropriate time to make such heated political charges, right? Of course not.

OBAMA: : He was asked — he was asked very specifically about the argument that the Clinton folks were making that somehow this was going to change the dynamic of politics in Iowa. First of all, that shouldn’t have been the question. The question should be, how is this going to impact the safety and security of the United States, not how is it going to affect a political campaign in Iowa. His response was simply to say that if we are going to talk politics, then the question has to be, who has exercised the kind of judgment that would be more likely to lead to better outcomes in the Middle East and better outcomes in Pakistan. His argument was simply that Iraq has fanned anti-American sentiment and it took our eye off the ball, to the extent that there are those who are claiming now that their experience somehow makes them superior to deal with these issues. I think it’s important for the Americans people to look at the judgments they made in the past. And the experienced hands in Washington have not made particularly good judgments when it comes to dealing with these problems. That’s part of the reason we’re in this circumstance.

Obama was actually right then, and the griping about Romney now is wrong. If you believe that different parties and different leaders will give you different policies, and that different policies will give you different results, then these sorts of things have to be discussed.

If a presidential candidate thinks that embassy statements “condemn[ing] the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” suggest weakness, or that the United States believes that we believe that outraged protesters have legitimate reasons for their rage, or imply that the U.S. government has some sort of legal or censoring authority in these matters, he should say so. If he thinks that a too-optimistic view of the “Arab Spring” has left the administration to underestimate anti-American attitudes and threats to Americans overseas, he should say so. If he thinks that roughly $1 billion per year in foreign aid, and a proposed additional $1 billion in debt forgiveness for Egypt are bad ideas, he should say so.

Who knows, maybe President Obama will discuss these issues at tonight’s fundraiser at a private residence in Washington, D.C., the one that is closed to the press.

Or maybe he’ll discuss his thoughts on the news that “Muslim Brotherhood secretary general Mahmoud Hussein called for protests ‘in front of the mosques of the whole country … to show the whole Egyptian people’s anger.’”

Tags: Barack Obama , David Axelrod , Hillary Clinton , Pakistan


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