Hillary Clinton confirmed a day or two ago that the Obama administration will no longer refer to the “war on terror.” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; most conservatives were never very happy with that formula (although I, for one, wasn’t able to come up with a better one). The problem is that this looks like one more instance of the Obama administration putting too much emphasis on words rather than deeds, and being prone to wishful thinking–i.e., if we stop talking about the terrorist threat, maybe it will go away.
The Democrats are engaged in a delicate balancing act with respect to national security. Obama has trumpeted his break with the Bush administration’s anti-terror policies, most notably by vowing to close Guantanamo Bay. This was a top priority of Obama’s far-left base, but Obama no doubt understands that the idea that being mean to terrorists was the great fault of the Bush administration is distinctly a minority view.
Thus, Obama’s supporters have tried to straddle the line by arguing that Obama really hasn’t made very substantial changes in Bush’s anti-terror policies. This op-ed by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius is typical. They try to have their cake, even as they eat it, by asserting (always without evidence) that Bush’s aggressive defense against terrorism actually made us less safe. Those who pay attention to the facts know that isn’t true.
That is the uneasy position that the Obama administration now occupies with respect to the threat of Islamic terrorism. If there are no successful attacks here in the U.S. or against American interests abroad during the next four years, it will be a moot point. If such an attack occurs, however, Obama’s balancing act is unlikely to satisfy anyone.
This is the context for yesterday’s Rasmussen survey, which found that Americans’ confidence that we are winning the war against Islamic terrorists is ebbing. Currently, 46 percent say that the US and its allies are winning the war on terror (Rasmussen is willing to use the term, even if Obama isn’t). This is down from 55 percent at the end of the Bush administration and a high of 62 percent in February.
It’s not obvious why confidence is slipping. Maybe it’s because voters keep hearing about problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan; maybe it’s because voters are beginning to conclude that Obama is weak, rather than tough like President Bush. But this slippage, if it continues, can only be a serious concern to the administration. It sets the stage for a serious voter backlash if, God forbid, Islamic terrorists should strike again. And if such a strike is led by a terrorist who was released from Gitmo by Obama, he can forget about a second term.