Obama’s Safety Net Is… War?

Less than a week after signing into law one of the most contentious pieces of legislation in American history—government mandated insurance for all Americans—President Barack Obama quickly ran to political safety: Afghanistan.

It was a stroke of cunning to move the national dialogue away from endless news articles, speculative blog posts and partisan attacks on health care reform and toward a more primal nationalism. Afghanistan, Obama’s “good war,” which turned bad and is now better (so far), is an interesting haven for America’s holy-shit-he’s-liberal president to find some cover. It’s the kind of move that Democrats would deem as cynical when Bush II would do it not too long ago. “Shifting the debate away from the more important issues, x and y.”

Ever notice that once these presidents are out of office they don’t fly into war zones anymore?

Not that I’d blame them. Obama was only in the area for a few hours during an unannounced visit, though from all the photos released, the event was planned down to the minute. Before an Army address in the token bomber jacket of the Commander-in-Chief, Obama got into his better known svelte suit, sat down and chided Afghan President Hamid Karzai over issues like corruption, law enforcement and security. Karzai looked uncomfortable and defensive during a talk/press conference clearly meant to paint Obama as a taskmaster, and the recent gains in Afghanistan is the American leader’s non-partisan success this year.

Or is it? While Obama’s poll numbers on his handling of the war in Afghanistan are not bad, they’re not great. Fifty-three percent of Americans, according to a recent Washington Post poll, approve of his handling of Afghanistan, but only 37 percent of Republicans do, which kind of flies in the face of the whole “support your president in a time of war” line that was fed during the greater part of the 2000s during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, his Republican polling on other issues is much lower, including an 8 percent approval rating on his handling of national debt. Take that, Keynes.

But the fact that Obama’s strongest issue is war is something few expected in the wake of a campaign whose focus seemed largely domestic. Even the campaign-promised repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been watered down (in a similar “step-by-step” approach that saw health care reform go from ambitious to bureaucratic) to making it more difficult for the moment for gays serving in the military to be discharged. The idea is that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be phased out within a year, but an Army Lieutenant General was reprimanded sharply for publishing an open letter in support of the current system after Joint Chief Of Staff Admiral Mullen recommended integration. Same team, guys, same team.

Hell, women in the military only got the opportunity to serve on submarines a few months ago. Progress is never fast these days.

After this health care victory, it’s even money the White House’s focus will be divided among economic and military triumphs leading up to the November mid-term elections. And there will be economic triumphs in all likelihood, as the U.S. government is better at shifting their books around than Lehman Brothers was at the height of their thievery.

In addition, the U.S. may find an unlikely warming of relations from Russia after this week’s pair of suicide bombings in the Moscow metro—suspected to be by Islamic terrorists supporting the liberation of Chechnya. Eastern Europe’s largest city takes a lot of pride in its mass transit and subway system (as all socialist or former socialist countries do), and there may be a greater cooperation after this event that echoes many terrorist attacks in the West.

After all, it seems we’re still quite good at war.