The Worst-Ever Attempt at Swiftboating

The “swift boat” attacks in the 2004 presidential election were effective, in part, because they played on real public anxiety: “We’re fighting two wars, is now a good time to change leaders?” For a critical number of Americans, the answer was no, and John Kerry couldn’t overcome the sense that we shouldn't change horses in midstream (to use a cliché).

Dishonorable Disclosures” is a 22-minute video from a group of former special operations and C.I.A. officers that attempts to do the same to President Obama. The group, called Special Operations Education Fund (OPSEC), bills itself as a nonpartisan group—it calls on supporters to “stop the politicians, President Obama and others”— whose main goal is to inform the public. More specifically, it's registered as a 501(c)4, or "dark money" group, which doesn't have to reveal its donors to the public. 

Its message is straightforward: The Obama administration is leaking sensitive national security information for the sake of political gain. In particular, the ad accuses Obama of bragging about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, and using its success as a weapon against his political opponents.

Of course, it’s hard to take this seriously as “educational” when key members of the group have ties to the Republican Party. Scott Taylor, the president of OPSEC, ran as a Republican in Virginia’s second congressional district (he lost the primary). The spokesperson, Chad Kolton, worked in the Bush administration, at the Republican National Committee, and in the office of John Boehner. OPSEC also shares an address with two GOP consulting firms—the Trailblazer Group and TelOpinion. I’d be surprised if that were a coincidence.

The video itself throws doubt on the group’s intentions. It’s saturated with anti-Obama content, and goes so far as to doctor a quote—from his address announcing the death of bin Laden—to portray the president as ungrateful to the troops. In that announcement, Obama thanked the “tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals." OPSEC removes the line from its excerpt.

Of the GOP attacks to emerge over the last six months, this one makes the least sense. Obama has a commanding lead on national security; according to Gallup, 58 percent of Americans approve of how Obama has handled terrorism. The numbers on foreign affairs are lower—48 percent—but still solid. Moreover, even if there were doubts about Obama’s performance, the GOP doesn’t have a presidential ticket that could capitalize on them; neither Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan has anything close to meaningful foreign policy experience. Romney, in particular, has developed a reputation for saying outlandish things about our position in the world, i.e., “Russia is our number one geopolitical foe.” The less Romney talks about national security, the better.

My guess is that this is part of a kitchen-sink strategy—throw as much as you can at the opponent and see what sticks. But after one failed war and another unnecessary one, Americans are deeply skeptical of anything conservatives have to say about defense. If anything, this attack might help Obama, by reminding the public of just what happened the last time you let a Republican sit as commander-in-chief.