He continues to fight Al Qaeda in Pakistan and do covert battle with Iran. But in the political brawl to win the White House in 2012 the big blast on foreign policy came directly from the President last week in response to GOP charges that he is guilty of dealing with America’s enemies by “appeasement.
"Ask Usama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top Al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement," the president said last Thursday during a news conference at the White House. "Or whoever's left out there, ask them about that.”
The president’s defiant words – close to the brash attitude from President George W. Bush when he said he wanted Usama bin Laden “dead or alive”– comes as polls show foreign policy is a surprising strong point for the Democrat in the White House.
Gallup reported recently that when it comes to handling wars, terrorism and diplomacy the president gets “largely positive reviews,” from the American people.
The president has a 63 percent approval rating on his handling of terrorism. And that is as high as it was in the immediate aftermath of the president’s decision to approve the successful U.S. mission to kill bin Laden. That is far higher than President Obama’s overall approval rating which now averages 45.1 percent.
The president also benefits from the success of his support for the international effort that led to the death of Libyan dictator Khaddafi. In an October poll 75 percent of Americans approved of his decision to remove U.S. troops from Iraq and in the latest polls 52 percent approve of his overall handling of Iraq.
Similarly, 48 percent approve of his decisions on the war in Afghanistan.
Overall, Gallup finds 49 percent of Americans approve of the president’s handling of foreign affairs and 44 percent disapprove.
Even the Mr. Obama's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has high ratings with Americans, with more than 60 percent approving of her job performance.
Yet Republicans continue to launch harsh rhetorical attacks against this Democrat’s foreign policy record. The GOP field is acting as if the tradition Republican advantage with voters, as the party that is more hawkish and cunning it comes to protecting the U.S. and handling foreign affairs, is still in place. The polls show the exact opposite.
But the Republican candidates have not heard the news.
Gingrich’s fellow GOP frontrunner, Mitt Romney, also accused the president of an overall “appeasement strategy.” Romney said “appeasement betrays a lack of faith in America, in American strength and in America’s future.”
And Republican candidates keep repeating the unsubstantiated charge that the president keeps apologizing for America.
Obama’s tough, unequivocal dismissal of the charge of appeasement fits with his success in handling the GOP candidates’ criticism of his administration’s policy stand in dealing with Iran.
Romney continues to accuse Obama of being “timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear Iran.”
The president told reporters he views all GOP attacks on him for not being hard enough on Iran as “political noise out there,” adding that his administration has “systematically imposed the toughest sanctions.”
“When we came into office, the world was divided; Iran was unified and moving aggressively on its own agenda,” Obama noted. “Today Iran is isolated, and the world is unified and applying the toughest sanctions that Iran’s ever experienced, and it’s having an impact inside of Iran.”
Contrast Obama’s confident defense of his administration’s real foreign policy accomplishments with the extreme and erratic policy pronouncements of the latest GOP frontrunner, Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich flip-flopped on whether the U.S. should impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Gingrich also raised eyebrows this week when he disparaged the Palestinians as “an invented people” with no right to a sovereign state of their own.
Every U.S. President in modern history has endorsed the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. If he is elected, Newt would end this decades-long U.S. policy, further antagonizing the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.
As if that wasn’t provocative enough, Gingrich has also stated that he would move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on his first day as President. This position puts him to the right of Israeli hardliners who believe that Jerusalem is the rightful capital of Israel but do not insist on such a brazen, symbolic action from the U.S.
But as the cliché goes, all politics is local, and where there were almost 180,000 troops stationed in Iraq two years ago – fighting a war overwhelming opposed by most Americans -- there will be zero at the end of this month. In accomplishing this withdrawal, Obama has fulfilled a major campaign promise. That promise – to end the war in Iraq – plays well at the polls.
And it adds to an unusual 2012 political scenario in which Republicans will find a Democratic presidential incumbent vulnerable on the economy but strong on national security.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His latest book "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in July.