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Obama's "security gap" phrase echoes a JFK line

In the ongoing flow of rhetoric on the campaign trail, Barack Obama has come up with a new phrase: He’s taken to talking about a “security gap” in America.

In Wednesday's speech on Iraq, Obama defined the security gap as the difference between the claims of hawkish officials and the actual insecurity caused by their actions. “There is a security gap in this country,” Obama said in North Carolina. “A gap between the rhetoric of those who claim to be tough on national security and the reality of growing insecurity caused by their decisions.”

It’s the latest in a series of ways in which Obama and his campaign, intentionally or not (and it seems mostly to be intentional), have reached back to the legacy of John Kennedy. (One of the main keepers of the assassinated president's flame also has been eager to help.)

It was Kennedy who made a lot of headway in 1960 by campaigning across the country warning of a “missile gap” -- the difference between the missiles in the arsenal of the Soviet Union and those in the American arsenal. Kennedy promised to close that gap, which supposedly favored the Soviets, if he became president.

For Kennedy, warning of a missile gap served the political purpose of showing him to be a tough cold warrior despite his youth, inexperience and membership in the Democratic Party. Kennedy was only 42 when elected to the White House, and he was running against the super-experienced Richard Nixon, who’d served as a congressman, senator and vice president.

The only problem was, the missile gap was a fiction. It’s widely accepted that ...

when Kennedy did reach the White House, he was informed that the Soviet advantage with which he’d been lambasting the Republicans was non-existent.

By then, of course, it had served its political purpose.

That’s not to say that Obama’s claims of a security gap are false. And he’s really making a different point—about the allegedly inflated claims of hard-line Republicans and the reality that they have made the country less secure by, for example, focusing on Iraq instead of Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, it’s an interesting historical echo for Obama to choose.

-- Naftali Bendavid

Bendavid writes for the Swamp of the Chicago Tribune's Washington Bureau.

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Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is well-known among world leaders and she has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an organization for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that policymakers in the United States and other countries can better understand world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments. As an avid reader of this prestigious panoply of policy making, one can attest that Foreign Affairs covers nearly every aspect of present geopolitical problem-solving. She is no ingénue when it comes to world affairs.

Is America ready for a black man to be President? Obama will do well in foreign policies but I doubt he will be any more effective in domestic policies than past presidents. The powerful white corporations and the silent white power brokers will frustrate his domestic agenda. One only needs to examine how Bill Clinton was systematically destroyed and frustrated. Politics is about compromise, but there are good compromises and bad compromises. I see Obama having to give concessions in domestic policies thereby diluting his effectiveness. In the end, the expectations of the blacks will not be met and he will end up being a very frustrated if not impotent President. America is too racist to accept a black man particularly an exceptionally intelligent one as President. It would rather have a white fool and an idiot to "govern" than an intelligent color man in the WH. Nothing is more unacceptable to the white power brokers than a thinking and brilliant color President who is an independent thinker. The country's corrupt political culture simply won't accept it! It would indeed be historical if Obama is President but I like to see him as more than just President by name but also by accomplishments and stature. Obama could end up as one of America's greatest Presidents. Itt would be humiliating to both the open and the closet white supremacists. I like Obama to win but I also fear for his safety and for obvious valid reasons. Change in America is either through corruption or the barrel of a gun or both. One is comparativelyeasier to deal with, the other is of Shakespearian tragedy.

JFK was masterful in finding the weakness in the perceived strength of the opposition party. Barak Obama would be well advised to do the same with regard to both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. For the key here is "perceived" strength. When one digs a bit below the surface bluster, neither McCain nor Clinton is as strong on our national security as they pretend to be. Barak Obama is beginning to drill below the surface appearances.

Enceef, that was a rather insightful comment. I agree, many whites don't care if the local village idiot runs the country so long as it's not an african american guy. People blame the government for divisiveness, but it is the ordinary people who give BS excuses like that who pull this country apart.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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