Hillary Clinton's "3 a.m. phone call" ad could have been a devastating attack on Obama's competence and experience. It failed to have an impact on voters because it ran four years too soon.
Against the backdrop of a sleeping child, the ad's narrator says there's something going on in the world, and a phone is ringing in the White House. He asks, who do you want answering the phone? Someone who knows the military, world leaders, and is tested and ready to lead? Unfortunately for Clinton, almost no one was interested in competence or national security in the last presidential election. Voters chose someone they didn't know, who lacked any education or experience relevant to the presidency.
As Obama's third year in office ends, we know him and his aberrant worldview. But the question raised by Clinton's ad has to be asked again, this time about the eight contenders for the Republican nomination. Who among them is best qualified on national security and defense?
Iran is on the verge of producing nuclear weapons and, perhaps, the ability to deliver them by ballistic missiles with sufficient range to reach most of Europe. The "Eurozone" nations are panicked because their common currency is on the brink, banks now war-gaming how to deal with the euro's imminent collapse. When the euro goes so will some of the nations that belong to it. There will be social upheaval, the fall of nations, and redrawing of the European map.
And that's not the half of it. China's continuing military buildup, cyberwar, Pakistan's continued sponsorship of terrorism and -- in the probable aftermath of the Arab Spring -- more nations eager to sponsor Islamic terrorism against us and Israel are all problems that won't be remedied by the passage of time.
So who among the Republicans will be ready and able to deal with the existential threats to America and our interests abroad? Who, among the contenders, is the grownup? Who is prepared by experience, knowledge, and understanding to deter or defeat these threats?
Among the top three, we have two former CEOs and one former Speaker of the House. The problem with both CEOs is in their training and management experience. America is not a business. A commander in chief is not the arbiter in chief or the listener in chief. He can't be entirely dependent on the knowledge of experts. A president has to be someone who has his own expertise and a depth of historical knowledge to evaluate what his advisers say and to decide, sometimes, that all of them are wrong. Herman Cain obviously lacks that knowledge and understanding. And so, quite apparently, does Mitt Romney.
In an interview with him after his failed 2008 campaign, Romney convinced me of his good intentions, intelligence, and sincerity. But I could not avoid concluding that he didn't have an independent base of knowledge of national security and foreign affairs.
In last week's CNN national security debate, Newt Gingrich said many things that set him apart from the rest.
Defending the Patriot Act against a Paulist tirade, Gingrich said "I don't want a law that says after we lose a major American city, we're sure going to come and find you. I want a law that says, you try to take out an American city, we're going to stop you."
While Romney, Perry, and Cain fumbled around the wisdom of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan -- all embracing some form of nation-building -- Gingrich said we should be furious with Pakistan for harboring Osama bin Laden. He said that if we are to keep troops in Afghanistan we need to put the military in charge, and tell the Pakistanis to either cooperate or get out of the way.
Gingrich was also the only candidate clear on Iran. On sanctioning the Iran Central Bank, he said, "I think it's a good idea if you're serious about stopping them having nuclear -- I mean, I think replacing the regime before they get a nuclear weapon without a war beats replacing the regime with war, which beats allowing them to have a nuclear weapon. Those are your three choices."
Mitt Romney proposed indicting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for violating the Genocide Convention. Seriously? Is that the depth of Romney's thinking?
Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that the only grownup in the room is Newt Gingrich. He has lectured at the National War College for about twenty years. He is the only one of the eight contenders who won't require on-the-job training on defense and national security.
Gingrich is the only presidential contender who has addressed the issue of military spending in correct terms. In his new "21st Century Contract with America," Gingrich writes:
We need to be able to discuss the threats that face us in a clear and open manner. The courage to be free is only sustained by the moral capacity to distinguish between good and evil. If evil cannot be called by name, we will not be able to deter -- or even recognize -- threats to our nation. Likewise, if we cannot proclaim the righteousness of our values, then we won't be able to mobilize the spirit necessary to defend America.… We need a new strategy that is as decisive and comprehensive as our bold and unprecedented response to the rise of the Soviet threat after World War II. It will streamline our security, intelligence and diplomatic departments, and recapitalize our military infrastructure."
There are at least two important trains of thought in that. First, Gingrich sees the need to structure our military and intelligence communities based on the threats we face, not on some arbitrary budget number. As I've written repeatedly, that is the only sound foundation for defense and intelligence planning and budgeting.
Second, Gingrich apparently understands the most ignored point about the war we are fighting. It is as much an ideological war as a kinetic one. Gingrich captured the idea that we have to fight the ideological war, which George Bush refused to do and Barack Obama has preemptively surrendered.
Endorsing Gingrich this past weekend, the New Hampshire Union Leader writes:,
Newt Gingrich is by no means the perfect candidate. But Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running. In this incredibly important election, that candidate is Newt Gingrich. He has the experience, the leadership qualities and the vision to lead this country in these trying times.
Every president inherits a margin for error that is determined by factors such as the strength of our economy, the aggressiveness and capabilities of our enemies, and the speed of world events. Since Obama took office, that margin for error has shrunk to the thinness of a razor's edge.
So who do we want answering that 3 a.m. phone call to the White House? On defense and national security, Newt Gingrich is the candidate best prepared to do so.