To some conservatives, Benghazi is "worse than Watergate," the Affordable Care Act is akin to communism and slavery, and the president has a forged birth certificate. The VA crisis is Obama's responsibility, even though Dick Cheney still believes Iraq was "the right thing" and even freeing a U.S. Marine from the Taliban is considered a "dangerous precedent." To further the notion that Obama is to blame for all of the world's problems, ISIS in Iraq is the consequence of the "Obama doctrine" and the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls (by Boko Haram terrorists) was a distraction from Benghazi. As for Syria, Anne Coulter declared last year that Putin made "a monkey" of Obama and the president has recently been accused of abandoning Ukraine. The border crisis is of course Obama's fault (conservatives wanted a wall built before this president) and war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas correlates to a "failure of this presidency." Finally, articles in the Wall Street Journal like Obama to World: Drop Dead have propagated the myth that Obama is "the most feckless president since Carter" and "leading from behind." Scientists in February met to discuss the possibility of asteroids destroying the planet, but astonishingly Fox News has yet to make this phenomenon a nefarious plot of Obamacare supporters to increase sign ups.
Indeed, the Republican spin machine is formidable; effective enough to overshadow the reality that neither McCain nor Romney, nor future president Ted Cruz would have done anything differently from the "Socialist dictator" currently sitting in the Oval Office. The reality is that the ongoing war in Afghanistan (it hasn't ended yet folks) and the Iraq War, coupled with an economy still leery of the last financial collapse have weakened our ability to "lead from the front."
Former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain recently declared, "The president of the United States should be out there on national television pointing the finger where it belongs and telling the American people who's responsible." Aside from the fact Vladimir Putin could care less about tough rhetoric, there are two reasons the U.S. will never be able to directly prevent further Russian aggression. First, Russia supplies Europe with 70% of its oil, 50% of its natural gas, and 44% of its coal. Will all due respect to Sen. McCain, nothing we say will dissuade Putin more than Europe denying him of petrodollars, and that isn't likely to happen (in any meaningful manner) anytime soon. Second, the United States military is overstretched and the "war on terror" has substantially weakened the U.S. on the international stage. While the GOP bemoans Obama's lack of finger wagging and tough talk, the reality is that two decade-long counterinsurgency wars have taken a tremendous toll on our willingness to police other countries. As described in a recent Time article, Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger explains in his book Why We Lost a number of reasons why Iraq has altered America's global influence:
...Its assertion calls into question the wars' costs -- 6,800 U.S. troops, untold enemy and civilian dead, and a $2 trillion, and rising, bill for U.S. taxpayers.
"We committed ourselves to counterinsurgency without having a real discussion between the military and civilian leadership, and the American population --'Hey, are you good with this? Do you want to stay here for 30 or 40 years like the Korean peninsula, or are you going to run out of energy?' It's obvious: we ran out of energy."
There was a belief in some quarters of the U.S. government that Washington and its allies were going to remake that troubled part of the world. "Don't be so arrogant and think you're going to reshape the Middle East," Bolger says. "We've basically installed authoritarian dictators."
"They should have been limited incursions and [then] pull out -- basically like Desert Storm," he adds, referring to the 1991 Gulf War that forced Saddam Hussein's forces out of neighboring Kuwait after an air campaign and 100-hour ground war.
"Some say the Iraq surge of 2007 proved counterinsurgency tactics worked. Others point out that today's Iraq is a sectarian mess, undermining that belief. As for the Afghan surge of 2010-11, well, who knows? We cannot even say, or will not even say, who won these campaigns. It sure does not seem to be us," Bolger wrote in the February issue in Signals, the journal of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
It doesn't make for good GOP propaganda, but the reality is closer to Lt. Gen. Bolger's firsthand assessments than Ted Cruz's view that Obama is "weak" on foreign policy. When Iraq is a "sectarian mess" and "we cannot even say" who won both wars yet, the notion that President Obama could dissuade Assad or Putin through American might is ludicrous. President Romney would have had the same limitations as Obama and would have had to face the same VA crisis, ISIS catastrophe, and Syrian disaster since he would have inherited both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The U.S. is paying a terrible toll for our hubris in thinking we could reshape the globe (thanks neocons) and the rhetoric condemning Obama for not caring simply ignores reality. As for U.S. precedent pertaining to Russian aggression, George Bush did nothing to prevent Putin from invading Georgia in 2008. A New York Times article during Putin's first taste at reconquering lost nations highlights the fecklessness of conservatives when they had the White House:
It was the question of the day. As Russian forces massed Sunday on two fronts, Georgians were heading south with whatever they could carry. When they met Western journalists, they all said the same thing: Where is the United States? When is NATO coming?
Since the conflict began, Western leaders have worked frantically to broker a cease-fire. But for Georgians -- so boisterously pro-American that Tbilisi, the capital, has aGeorge W. Bush Street -- diplomacy fell far short of what they expected.
...Georgians around Gori spoke of America plaintively, uncertainly. They were beginning to feel betrayed.
"Tell your government," said a man named Truber, fresh from the side of the Tbilisi hospital bed where his son was being treated for combat injuries. "If you had said something stronger, we would not be in this."
He had not slept for three days, and he was angry -- at himself, at Georgia, but mainly at the United States. "If you want to help, you have to help the end," he said.
...One, who gave his name as Major Georgi, spoke with anger.
"Write exactly what I say," he said. "Over the past few years, I lived in a democratic society. I was happy. And now America and the European Union are spitting on us."
When Bush was in office, the Georgian outlook was "If you had said something stronger, we would not be in this" and they expressed anger towards U.S. fecklessness. We did nothing to stop Russia from invading South Ossetia and even Karl Rove's assertion that Bush was more forceful has been debunked as "mostly false."
Both GOP presidential candidates, had they won, would have been shackled by the wars and economic distress that Obama inherited and would never have invaded Syria or Ukraine. The VA crisis was a long time in the making and Paul Ryan's budget goals gutted veterans of funding. Bush was also accused of wanting to provide amnesty to illegal immigrants and 13 attacks on U.S. embassies took place during Bush's presidency. McCain, Romney, and George Bush can't be described as Tea Party conservatives, so it's not beyond reason that both McCain and Romney would have a similar outlook on policy issues. Republicans can try to paint President Obama as a weak and incompetent leader, but the reality is that he's presided over a nation constrained by wars, the specter of Wall Street's 2008 collapse, and world leaders who realize all too well that we're tired of policing them.