Obama's Critics - and Some Supporters - Ask 'What National Security Strategy?'

President Barack Obama meets with the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)Pete Souza / The White House

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At 1:00 pm ET today at the Brookings Institution, National Security Adviser Susan Rice will deliver remarks on the Obama administration’s national security strategy. This event will prompt many of the administration’s critics -- and even some of its supporters -- to ask: “Is there really a strategy?” After all, since winning re-election in 2012, Obama and his team have appeared more to respond from foreign-policy crisis to crisis without any larger vision governing them. Last week, for instance, it was ISIS. This week, it’s the rekindled hostilities in eastern Ukraine. And next week, it will be something else. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that more Americans approve of Obama’s handling of the economy (49%) than handling of foreign policy (37%), according to last month’s NBC/WSJ poll. (It wasn’t that long ago when those numbers were reversed.) To be sure, the administration has had one foreign-policy success, sort of -- getting Europe to economically isolate Russia, but it’s an incomplete success since the sanctions haven’t actually CHANGED Putin’s behavior. As a whole, the administration’s strategy looks more like crisis management than an actual strategy. A lot of that has to do with the Iraq war, of course. This administration and its advisers are incredibly gun-shy about getting dragged into quagmires.

Ignatius:With the wind at its back, the U.S. should act like a superpower

Given this crisis management, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius has this advice for Team Obama: act like a superpower, because right now the United States has a lot going for it (a growing economy, growing Muslim anger at ISIS). “Powerful countries such as the United States have the wind at their back. They don’t need to rush things in the clamor of partisan politics and 24-hour news cycles. That’s why I hope the Obama administration won’t make too many concessions to Iran in its eagerness to reach a nuclear deal. If the Iranians are truly ready to turn away from confrontation and verifiably unplug their nuclear program, fine. If not, let’s wait. In a world of low oil prices and an Iranian population desperate to end its isolation, time doesn’t favor the Iranian hard-liners.” More: “[I]f Putin foolishly spurns compromise and continues his proxy war in eastern Ukraine, the United States should provide limited arms to Kiev.” Ignatius concludes, “Fortune blesses strong nations, but only when they act with resolve. Squandering America’s real advantage to gain short-term diplomatic success would be a big mistake.”

Another stellar jobs report

And speaking of the wind at the United States’ back, here are the new monthly jobs numbers for January: the economy added 257,000 jobs and the unemployment rate rose from 5.6% to 5.7% -- though that’s because more Americans were looking for work. The AP: “U.S. employers hired at a stellar pace last month, wages rose by the most in six years, and Americans responded by streaming into the job market to find work… The unemployment rate rose to 5.7 percent from 5.6 percent. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. More Americans began looking for jobs, though not all found work. Their job hunting suggests they are more confident about their prospects.” Also, the job gains for November and December were revised upward. All in all, another stellar jobs report. And it comes as Obama heads to Indianapolis, IN to deliver remarks at 2:15 pm ET on the economy and the White House’s effort to provide free tuition to qualified community-college students.

What we learned in 2016 this week

One, Chris Christie and Rand Paul had a rough week and looked especially thin-skinned, and the hits keep coming for Christie (see here and here)… Two, Jeb Bush’s speech made it clear that he hopes his audience is tilted more to the general election than GOP primary voters (he also has a little work to do on his delivery)… Three, Scott Walker turned into a top-tier candidate this week; maybe we need to start calling him at least the co-frontrunner… Four, in evidence that the GOP field is already starting to get a bit crowded, both Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal tried to make splashes but really didn’t break through… And five, Mike Huckabee remains on his book tour and under the radar.

Why Hillary looks more like an incumbent president running for re-election

And here’s what we learned about Hillary Clinton this week: She looks more like an incumbent president running for re-election than your traditional presidential candidate. Think about it: She’s brought on key parts of President Obama’s 2012 team, and is now grabbing Obama’s White House communications director. And right now, it looks like she will face little to no real primary challenge. In his National Journal column, Charlie Cook writes that what Hillary Clinton is doing is pretty unprecedented. “History suggests that in open presidential nomination contests, front-runners rarely go from the starting line to the finish without losing a few primaries or caucuses along the way. Usually the leader stumbles, or a protest vote develops somewhere in the process, or another candidate catches a bit of luck or sparks a bit of interest.” And even in the case of Al Gore, who didn’t stumble in the 2000 primaries, he received a legitimate challenge from Bill Bradley. But here’s the deal about Hillary: It doesn’t look like she will receive a legitimate primary challenge, making her look more like an incumbent president running for president.

That has its advantages and disadvantages

And as we’ve seen in the past, an incumbent president running for re-election has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages: You get to focus solely on the general election; you get to avoid the intra-party fights and attacks (which tend to resurface in the general); and you get the party’s organization and leaders behind you from the get-go. The disadvantages: You don’t get to make the personal connections with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire (both of which are battlegrounds); you’re a bit rustier at debates (see Obama in 2012); and your fortunes are a bit more tied to the overall fundamentals (Is the economy growing? What is the president’s approval rating?).

Why Hillary’s Grunwald hire is your final sign that Warren isn’t running

One final point on Hillary: Yesterday, we learned that Clinton is bringing in ad-maker Mandy Grunwald to join her campaign’s emerging campaign’s advertising team. Why is this significant? Although Grunwald has a LONG association with the Clintons, she also served as Elizabeth Warren’s ad-maker in her 2012 race. Bottom line: It’s a final message to all the Warren supporters out there that Warren isn’t running. And if she wants to, she isn’t going to have her 2012 team around her.

How the Koch Brothers helped defeat Medicaid expansion in Tennessee

Finally, don’t miss the story by NBC’s Perry Bacon on how the Koch Brothers-led Americans for Prosperity helped defeat Medicaid expansion in Tennessee: “In December, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, got the deal he wanted from the Obama administration: Tennessee would accept more than $1 billion in federal funding to expand Medicaid, as allowed for in the Affordable Care Act, but Obama aides would allow Haslam to essentially write staunchly conservative ideas into the program's rules for the state. He dubbed the reformed Medicaid program ‘Insure Tennessee.’ But the state's chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the national conservative group whose foundation is chaired by controversial billionaire David Koch, argued Haslam was just trying to trick conservatives into implementing Obamacare in their state by giving it a new name. AFP campaigned aggressively Haslam's plans for the next six weeks, even running radio ads blasting GOP state legislators who said they might vote for it. On Wednesday, Haslam's bill died in a committee of the Tennessee state senate. The vote was one of the clearest illustrations of the increasing power of AFP and other conservative groups funded in part by the Koch brothers.”

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