Mitt Romney informs us that the raid that took out Osama bin Laden one year ago was no big deal, because "even Jimmy Carter would have given that order."
I'm not sure exactly how it came about. But Carter is the poster child for liberal ineffectiveness on foreign policy for conservatives. And it's not just about a perception regarding poor foreign policy decisions. It's about the manner in which those decisions were made, and also about how Reagan presented his policies. Basically, it's the belief that Reagan and his policies were strong, bold, and always draped in nationalism and thus were correct. While Carter's and every Democrat's since are weak, safe, and always draped in a self-hatred of the nation and thus wrong.
Carter is the conservative heuristic for bad foreign policy. That's part of why liberals feel the need to make hawkish (often stupid) foreign policy decisions and adopt conservative rhetoric. And it's why sometimes they come to Carter's defense, even though none of us really care about him. Thus we get this explanation of one of Carter's most important foreign policy decisions and how it relates to Obama:
2) Jimmy Carter did indeed make a gutsy go/no-go call. It turned out to be a tactical, strategic, and political disaster. You can read the blow-by-blow in Mark Bowden's retrospective of "The Desert One Debacle."
But here's the main point about Carter. Deciding to go ahead with that raid was a close call. Carter's own Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, had opposed the raid and handed in his resignation even before the results were known. And it was a daring call -- a choice in favor of a risky possible solution to a festering problem, knowing that if it went wrong there would be bad consequences all around, including for Carter himself. So if you say "even Jimmy Carter" to mean "even a wimp," as Romney clearly did, you're showing that you don't know the first thing about the choice he really made.
3) Precisely because of the consequences of Carter's failure, Obama was the more daring in making his go/no-go decision. That's the case I argued last year, and nothing I've learned since then changes my view. As a college student, Obama had seen a marginally popular Democratic president come to ruin because he approved a helicopter-based secret mission into hostile Middle Eastern terrain. Obama went ahead with a helicopter-based secret mission into nominally "allied" territory, also with huge potential for trouble if things had gone wrong.
Of course, this doesn't matter to Romney and Republicans. As I said, they have created their narrative. And if they do one thing well, it's stick to the narrative they've decided on. What this thing is with Romney trying to say even the horrible Jimmy Carter would have done what Obama did with bin Laden is a rebuttal to Obama's chest-thumping. One man has asserted his dominance. Now the other man, who is literally in a competition with him, has to try to assert his dominance right back or risk being seen as less of a man.
This is what our foreign policy discussion is, a pathetic and pseudo-masculine tit for tat that ignores the real issues. And it all goes back to this insecurity conservatives have about themselves and the nation and how they have been successful in making liberals insecure about themselves and the policies they should support. I was critical of Obama in yesterday's post because I want this to end. And I don't think it will if liberals adopt conservative tactics, both their rhetorical ones and their policies. We need to implement better policies and let the results speak for themselves, not do the rhetorical equivalent of putting a person's head on a spike in center of town square.