At the end of the Texas/Ohio campaign last month, Hillary Clinton unleashed her now-infamous “3 A.M.” television ad, challenging Barack Obama’s foreign policy inexperience. Earlier this week, facing another must-win primary in Pennsylvania, Clinton used some brief footage of Osama bin Laden in another television ad. She also said she’s open to the idea of obliterating Iran. When her back is against the wall, Clinton invariably has played the hawk card.
A day before the PA primary, Obama’s campaign spokesman Bill Burton accused Clinton of using the “politics of fear” in her television ad that featured split-second video of bin Laden (watch Clinton’s ad here). Bin Laden is part of a montage including Franklin Roosevelt, the Berlin Wall, and 1970’s era footage of cars lined up during the gas shortages. The point of the ad, which is helpfully spelled out for the viewer, is that a potential POTUS needs to be “ready for anything.”
It’s not clear whether Clinton’s well-timed flourishes of hawkishness contributed to her substantial PA victory. Although an argument can be made that it did – CNN exit polls showed that Clinton won late deciders by an 18 point margin. Clinton also won the late decider vote in Texas and Ohio. At the very least, playing the hawk card hasn’t done any noticeable damage to Clinton’s futile campaign.
In any case, Clinton certainly seems to think the hawk card is a winner against Obama. And despite her PA win, Obama will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee facing John McCain in November. His campaign’s reaction to Clinton shows that Obama needs to come up with a better argument when faced with an opponent that can out-hawk him. “Politics of fear” may be a handy buzz-phrase to reassure a sizeable portion of the Democrat base, but surely Obama can’t be saying that Osama bin Laden and/or Iran are off the table for discussion.
When Obama’s campaign cries foul at a tiny image of bin Laden in an ad, it appears unnecessarily defensive. Bin Laden is the sworn enemy of the United States, responsible for one of the most vile acts of terrorism in history. One of the strongest arguments against Obama is that he isn’t prepared to deal with the threat that bin Laden and other Islamists terrorist groups represent. It’s a legitimate election issue, and if Obama appears unwilling to seriously confront terrorist organizations, he won’t defeat McCain.
Obama needs to be able to answer the following questions – If Iran uses a nuclear weapon against an ally, how will Obama respond? Under what circumstances would Obama consider using America’s nuclear arsenal? Does Obama plan to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty with impunity in order to capture bin Laden or Zawahiri? How aggressively will Obama pursue the current Bush administration policy of installing missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic? He can’t forever cry “politics of fear” when faced with difficult foreign policy questions.