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A Tale of Two Obamas

Christopher Ruddy By Thursday, 02 August 2012 12:46 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

If President Obama had embraced an approach to the economy similar to the one he has for foreign policy and national security, he would be cruising smoothly to re-election today.

Instead, his re-election seriously is in jeopardy because, in the early days of his administration, the president rejected a path of compromise and bipartisanship on domestic policy matters.

Now, he and the Democrats have to bear the brunt of the economic burdens the nation faces, though they alone did not create them.

It is true Obama inherited perhaps the worst financial mess in modern times and, so far, seems to have staved off a nightmarish depression. In 2008 and early in his presidency, he clearly promised more than he could deliver, at least when it came to the economy.

I find it intriguing that Obama has offered incredibly positive leadership on foreign affairs and the national security front.

Two years ago, I thought an Obama presidency would be a redux of the Jimmy Carter years. Remember them? The Soviets invaded Afghanistan  and cracked down on Poland. Armed communist guerillas were prevalant throughout Latin America and Africa. Iran fell into the hands of the ayatollahs.

But I was wrong. Obama has, in fact, offered an engaged foreign policy, backed up with a strong military hand.

I hear, from time to time — on talk radio, for instance — that Obama is weak on national security and that he's dismantling the U.S. military (I am being mild here about how Obama is described).

Recently, I was in Washington and talked privately with one of the nation's highest military officers, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I asked him for the Pentagon take on Obama. He told me bluntly that Pentagon officials that worked under Bush and Obama believe them "both to be very good" on national security matters.

He added that the Obama White House has been extremely supportive of the Pentagon and its initiatives. Rarely do they have disagreements, and when they do, Obama usually comes down on the side of the Pentagon brass.

In fact, the officer said Obama had been engaged and supportive in ways that had amazed many in the upper ranks. For example, last year when the Joint Chiefs put together a document known as the Strategic Review, a white paper outlining the nation's potential threats and setting the global military priorities of the Defense Department for the next decade, Obama played a key role.

The Joint Chiefs met six or seven times to hash out the details of the Strategic Review. Typically, presidents have little involvement in the review process.

Obama, the officer, told me, joined almost all the key meetings with the Joint Chiefs, some of which lasted several hours.

"He asked a lot of really good questions; he made a lot of good comments; he really bought into the plan," the officer related, saying that no one in the Pentagon could remember a president so supportive and involved.

This vignette about Obama is part of the larger, positive picture that emerges about him on the national security front, but it is also a story about how he has used his leadership skills to bring disparate parties together for common goals and shared interests.

We saw the first glimmer of this when he tapped his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, to be his secretary of state — though differences over foreign policy had been the major bone of contention between them during the primary.

He confirmed this approach as president, keeping on board solid Bush administration security officials, like his counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

We saw Obama’s idealistic vision tempered by realism during his speech in Oslo when he received the Nobel Prize. The speech did not receive much attention; though in my opinion, it is the best address of his presidency.

We have seen his multiple successes in the war on terror, highlighted by the killing of Osama bin Laden. I previously wrote about the president's "profile in courage" in the way he acted in this case.

In foreign policy matters, Obama seems to have grown and matured, adapting his policies and actions, based on facts and reality. We have seen this with Iran, for example, where the president's policy toward this rogue state has become far stronger over time.

My friend Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York, recently shared with me details of his private meeting in New York with the president.

Koch, a Democratic "hawk" on security matters who had been critical of Obama, came away strongly reassured the president was on the right track and was not going to allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, whatever it takes to stop them. I believe the Iranians also now realize that Obama will act.

I chalk up the president's deserved success on foreign policy and security on a willingness to listen, adapt, grow, and compromise with opposing viewpoints.

Had he taken a similar tack when dealing with Congress on domestic issues, the economy would be far stronger today.

Today, both sides are in gridlock and unwilling to compromise. But the breakdown in bipartisanship began when the president decided to sideline congressional Republicans when he pushed through his massive stimulus program.

I have little doubt the GOP would have signed on to the stimulus if it had been for less money, included broad-based tax cuts and offered more money for infrastructure. (I might add, desperately needed American infrastructure — not the taxpayer dollars we are spending to build roads, bridges, schools, and dams in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

I don't want to play the blame game here, but the economy is the most pressing issue affecting Americans and will be decisive come Election Day.

Right now, the Obama campaign is showering swing states with a massive barrage of negative ads against Mitt Romney. With his national security model of governing in mind, perhaps President Obama could, instead, outline just exactly how he plans to fix America’s economic woes if re-elected.

The American people want to know.

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Thursday, 02 August 2012 12:46 PM
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