Steve Chapman

Ninety-six years ago, when President Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election, two notable things happened: 1) His campaign used the slogan "He kept us out of war," and 2) he won.

It has been a long time since any president could seek a second term while making that boast. Looking at recent history, you would conclude not that the Constitution allows the president to make war, but that it requires him to do so. Modern leaders don't brag about keeping us out of war but about getting us in.

Barack Obama reinforces that truth more than any president of our era. He owed his victory in the 2008 Democratic primaries partly to his record of opposing the invasion of Iraq -- which Hillary Clinton and John Edwards supported.

"We've had enough of a misguided war in Iraq that never should have been fought -- a war that needs to end," he said during the campaign. He proclaimed, "Now is the time to start bringing our troops out of Iraq -- immediately." His opponents, Democratic and Republican, portrayed him as gullible and weak. But the voters were willing to elect someone who might be slightly averse to war.

Or, rather, someone they thought might be slightly averse. Either Obama's supporters misread him or he misled them. In any case, he turned out to be very receptive to war. Instead of immediately withdrawing our troops from Iraq, he adhered to the very same departure timetable established by President George W. Bush. Not until the end of 2011 did the last American forces make their exit.

In Afghanistan, Obama actually increased our presence, while setting a distant deadline (2014) for ending our combat role. He has greatly increased the pace of drone missile attacks on targets in Pakistan, and he has made them in Yemen and Somalia.

He launched an air war against the government of Libya, which had neither attacked nor threatened us. If this is an antiwar candidate, what would a pro-war candidate do?

So far, Obama has held his fire on Iran and Syria. But that brings to mind the scene in the movie "City Slickers" when Billy Crystal asks Jack Palance, "Killed anyone today?" Responds Palance, "The day ain't over yet."

Still Republicans are determined to disparage him as a UN-loving, concession-granting, unilaterally disarming appeaser. At least since 1972, they have prospered by painting Democrats as soft on the threat of the day -- from communism to militant Islam.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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