Obama Seeks Commander-in-Chief Contrast With Bush

BY David Chalian  March 21, 2011 at 8:40 AM EST

President Obama; photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images

President Obama is briefed on the situation in Libya with Chief of Staff Bill Daley, left, and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon while in Brazil Sunday. Photo by Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Both in his statement of ultimatum to Moammar Gadhafi on Friday and again in his remarks Saturday in Brazil announcing the launch of military action against Libyan government forces, President Obama clearly appeared wary of leading a war weary nation onto a third battlefield in a Muslim nation.

At a time when the White House was hoping to cleanly lay the predicate for the early phase of the president’s re-election campaign by hammering away at the economically focused “Winning the Future” message coming out of the State of the Union, the uprisings across the Middle East, the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in Japan and now the launching of a new war in Libya threaten to prevent any of President Obama’s intended messaging to break through the news.

Politically, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning, anti-Iraq War candidate appears eager to draw a sharp commander-in-chief contrast with his predecessor.

Therefore, much of what we have heard coming out of the White House, Pentagon and State Department in the last few days has been centered on a two-prong message. First, this military action is the effort of a broad coalition, including from the Arab world, and one in which the United States will soon transition to merely a supporting role. The second — and far more perilous message coming from Team Obama at the moment — is that not a single American boot will be on the ground in Libya and that the military action is extraordinarily limited in its goal.

Those two main message points combined are the equivalent of a big “This Is Not Iraq” banner.

Of course, we know wars have a funny way of not always sticking to the talking points, which helps explain the cautious and largely quiet approach coming from the president’s political opposition in response to his decision to launch attacks on Libya.

The nation’s top Republican and third in line to the presidency, House Speaker John Boehner, issued his first statement on the military action Sunday afternoon in which he called on President Obama to better communicate the mission to the American people.

“The President is the commander-in-chief, but the Administration has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is, better explain what America’s role is in achieving that mission, and make clear how it will be accomplished,” he said. “Before any further military commitments are made, the Administration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved.”

The president’s 2008 rival, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., provided full-throated support for the mission from this point forward, but was quite critical of the president’s timing.

“He waited too long, there is no doubt in my mind about it. But now, it is what it is. And we need, now, to support him and the efforts that our military are going to make. And I regret that it didn’t — we didn’t act much more quickly, and we could have,” Sen. McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.

“But that’s not the point, now. The point now is, let’s get behind this effort, do everything we can to support it. And I say to my friends in the Congress who are nervous about another intervention, I’m confident we can prevail, and I’m confident that if we hadn’t have taken this action, that the consequences of failure would have reverberated for years.”

Should this military conflict not be concluded and wrapped up in a bow in the coming days, it is more likely than not that prospective 2012 candidates for the White House and more members of Congress will seek to utilize the military action in taking on President Obama politically.

As Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times writes, we are still in politically unpredictable territory:

“Even for a president whose term has been filled with unforeseen events, the commencement of a military action that held the risk of becoming a third war at a time of upheaval in the Middle East created a new dynamic whose consequences were especially hard to predict.”

CAMPAIGN CASH

The 2010 midterm elections are just a few months in the past, but Democrats and Republicans are wasting no time raising money for their next battle.

The Republican National Committee raised $5.2 million in February and spent $5.3 million, with $1 million of that going toward paying down the organization’s debt, which now stands at $21 million.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza reports that RNC officials said new committee chairman Reince Priebus has reduced spending on overhead and staff by 35 percent and “major donor giving has drastically improved.” Priebus inherited a committee with $23 million in debt, accumulated under former chairman Michael Steele.

The RNC ended February with a little over $2 million in the bank.

By comparison, the Democratic National Committee had $10.5 million cash on hand and nearly $18 million in debt.

The DNC raised $7.1 million in February and spent $5.7 million.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also out-raised its Republican counterpart last month, collecting $5.2 million, leaving it with $5.9 million in the bank. The National Republican Campaign Committee took in $4.9 million, with $4.3 cash on hand.

The NRCC holds one advantage: It has just $9.5 million in debt, while the DCCC had $17.3 at the end of February. The DCCC will need to continue besting its GOP rival if it’s going to close that gap. The money also should also come in handy next year when Democrats will need to pick up 25 seats to win a majority in the House of Representatives.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

Republicans found electoral success just about everywhere in 2010 — everywhere, that is, except California.

Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta of the Los Angeles Times report that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told California Republicans Saturday that their time would come.

“We didn’t win this year in California, but it isn’t because we didn’t have the right ideas. We just didn’t drive them home well enough,” Gov. Barbour said. “What works in the rest of America will work in California if y’all try hard enough.”

Gov. Barbour, who is considering a bid for president, said the party’s nominee in 2012 must make the economy the defining issue of the campaign.

“When campaigns are about issues, it’s good for Republicans,” he said. “When campaigns are about anything else it helps the Democrats.”

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