Speaking to the graduating cadets at the United States Air Force Academy this week, President Obama took several not-so-veiled swipes at his predecessor, George W. Bush:
Four years ago, you arrived here at a time of great challenge for our nation… Al Qaeda, which had attacked us on 9/11, was entrenched in their safe-havens. Many of our alliances were strained, and our standing in the world had suffered…. Around the world and here at home, many questioned whether the United States still had the capacity for global leadership. Today, you step forward into a different world. You are the first class in nine years that will graduate into a world where there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in your lives—and thanks to Air Force personnel who did their part—Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to our country. We’ve put al Qaeda on the path to defeat. And you are the first graduates since 9/11 who can see clearly how we’ll end the war in Afghanistan.
While it’s nothing new for Obama—even three-and-a-half years into his term—to attack his predecessor in this way, it is a bit unseemly for the commander in chief to stand before men and women he is about to send to war, and lash out at a previous commander in chief like this.
It is certainly the president’s right to tout his perceived achievements. But his description of the world he inherited is fanciful at best. The fact is, al Qaeda was already on the “path to defeat” when Obama took office. From escalated drone strikes, to terrorist surveillance, indefinite detention, Guantanamo, and military commissions, Obama simply continued most of the counter-terrorism policies Bush put in place. As for killing bin Laden, that operation was made possible by intelligence from detainees in the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program which Obama shut down. Bush had gotten the ball to the 90 yard line—Obama carried it into the end zone and then spiked the football.
But imagine the hue and cry that would ensue if, four years from now, President Romney gave a speech like that at the Air Force Academy. He could certainly do it. Romney could say:
• When I took office, we had set in motion defense cuts so deep that we were on the path to no longer being a superpower—with the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in history.
• When I took office, Iran had made more progress toward a nuclear weapon in the four years before I took office than it had in the previous thirty years—with more centrifuges spinning, more stockpiles of high enriched uranium, and more hardened enrichment facilities in place than it had four years before.
• In Afghanistan, the Taliban were eagerly awaiting America’s pre-announced retreat, so they could retake the country and invite al Qaeda back—and the White House bragged about how they had cut the military out of military decisions because they could not understand or accept that our goal was not to defeat the Taliban.
• In Syria, the Assad regime was massacring innocent men, women, and children by the tens of thousands while America stood on the sidelines doing nothing.
• And America had put our global leadership at risk by racking up as much debt in the previous four years than every president from George Washington to George Bush combined.
Romney could say all that and more. But he’s a classy guy so he probably won’t.