No one was surprised to see that the military population heavily favored a Mitt Romney presidency. What was surprising is how thoroughly Barack Obama crushed Romney among voters who cared most about foreign policy — winning over nearly twice as many of these voters as Romney.
All of a sudden we have to ask if Obama — despite plenty of criticism — is some kind of foreign policy genius.
Let's go over the reasons why he won.
1. Obama's is actually pretty pro-military, which appeals to most American voters
He didn't "gut" the military, as was complained about during and after the Clinton administration. He didn't "cut and run," as was the popular phrase in the run up to the 2008 election. No, the military stayed pretty much intact (made technological leaps, actually), and Obama hurled 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan.
He increased the drone war (which, obviously, pretty much only Americans love) and he ended the war in Iraq.
Technically he was kicked out of Iraq because he couldn't settle contractor immunity issues under a new status of forces agreement, and technically the Afghan surge was a miserable failure — but again, most of these details are beyond your everyday voter.
For all intents and purposes, the appearance is that Obama had wrapped up one war, taken steps to resolving the other, and killed a whole lot of bad folks with flying pilotless technology.
2. The GOP's military policies are too one dimensional
Do what we say or we'll bomb you. Maybe we'll even invade.
That cannot be a foreign policy philosophy. More accurately, that cannot be a platform presented to a people generally weary of all the wars, which when initiated, were pitched as not lasting but a couple of months, maybe a couple of years at most.
Foreign policy in modern times requires significant nuance and subtle national body language. The U.S. can't be the guy who's always yelling and punching other guys in the face, which is pretty much the stance of the modern GOP.
3. Obama doubled down on how true conservatives wage war
Doesn't everybody remember all the operations Reagan waged in South America? No? Exactly.
Obama's use of Navy SEALs, special forces, drones and the intelligence community to root out, kill and capture international criminals (let's call them what they are), while simultaneously throwing the economic weight of the country around to gain diplomatic access to their governments (Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya) is exactly how a true conservative would wage war.
Obama's approach not only yielded the most wanted criminal on the globe ("and General Motors is alive!"), but, for better or worse, it launched the special operations community and America's special operations capability into international consciousness.
This PR move, deliberate or not, plays out in two ways; a gigantic deterrent to any criminal organization thinking of targeting the US; and it makes Obama look like a special operations genius, surgically removing terrorist threats without the use of 100,000 boots on the ground.
4. Meanwhile he appeared willing to compromise for both American AND Global good
Appeared is the operative word here, because most of what he's done internationally is still up for debate.
Obama's open-mic flub of telling the Russian president he'd "be more flexible" about missile defenses after the election had the Right Wing punditry screeching for a week after the fact. Although, in all their appeals for strength, they forgot that the vast majority of the country was desperate for some measure of compromise from either political party.
Compromise and flexibility are synonyms.
Plus, Americans don't feel like Russia plans to launch missiles any time soon. Here's the GOP posturing against threats in an empty room.
When the Arab Spring rolled through the Middle East, rather than rush in to suppress democracy in Egypt (a move wildly unpopular among Americans), he encouraged it without getting overtly involved (we did supply and fund the regime for three decades). When new president Morsi said some inflammatory things about the US, he was quickly threatened to cut off the money supply — to great effect.
No need for troops.
There are equal examples of democratic support and information suppression (if you haven't heard about it, then he's succeeded) all around the Middle East, from Libya (bombing Ghaddafi, keeping mum on potential weapons smuggling — no mention of riots in Bahrain) to Iran, where he, contrary to the GOP party line, clearly voiced his support for democracy, but reaffirmed that no military or even paramilitary intervention would occur.
In doing as much, Obama appeared to be both a steward of democracy, and of American national interests.
So it's not hard to see why he outscored Mitt Romney among voters.
It's also not hard to see why he out fundraised Mitt Romney among the military (by more than two to one) — though the support of troops in general was to Romney's advantage, the members with the money and political will to donate, namely senior personnel, leaned toward Obama.
Finally there was that presidential foreign policy debate that featured Romney agreeing non-stop with Obama. A while back we called that debate for Romney, but now it's clear it was the foundation of Obama's victory.
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