WASHINGTON -- It’s been pilloried for decades as the party of doves, weak-kneed peaceniks who prefer to cut and run rather than stand and fight a foreign enemy or terrorist.
But the perception of the Democratic Party is shifting under President Barack Obama, whose national security and military policies are significantly chipping away at the image of the Republican Party as a better steward of military and national security issues.
Obama flexed his military muscle in his first term, launching a successful operation that killed Osama bin Laden, hunting down and killing al Qaida operatives and suspected terrorists with drone strikes, winding down an unpopular war in Iraq and drawing down troops in Afghanistan.
“It’s kind of a record that more than anything else says that Democrats are no different than Republicans in caring about national security,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In four years, the image of Obama has morphed from then-Democratic presidential challenger Hillary Clinton’s portrayal of a shaky neophyte who couldn’t handle an international crisis call at 3 a.m. to a commander in chief who’s “out-Bushed” former President George W. Bush – in the words of Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff – in employing the anti-terrorism USA PATRIOT Act, using drones and going after intelligence whistle blowers.
Obama’s approach appears to be paying off.
A decade ago, voters trusted Republicans over Democrats by 50-31 percent on the question of who’d do a better job of protecting the United States from international terrorism and military threats. By mid-2008, after Americans soured on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, they gave Republicans the edge by 49-42 percent.
Last month, they split 45-45 between the major parties, according to Gallup.
“It’s the first time in modern memory that you had a Democrat who had the field of national security tilted in their favor instead of tilted to the Republicans,” said Peter Feaver, who was a National Security Council staffer under Bush and President Bill Clinton. “The absence of a major foreign-policy disaster on Obama’s watch has helped. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars . . . the president’s handling of those wars was popular.”
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other Republicans aren’t surrendering what’s long been the party’s brand without a fight. He’s routinely panned Obama’s overall handling of intentional affairs and he’s attacking the administration on its handling of events last month in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three others at U.S. diplomatic facilities there.
“You look at the record of the last four years and say, is Iran closer to a bomb? Yes. Is the Middle East in tumult? Yes. Is al Qaida on the run, on its heels? No,” Romney said Monday in a foreign policy debate with the president. “We have not seen the progress we need to have, and I’m convinced that with strong leadership and an effort to build a strategy based on helping nations reject extremism, we can see the kind of peace and prosperity the work demands.”
Obama counters by repeatedly checking off his national security accomplishments.