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new balance sizing a delicate new balance on national security WASHINGTON One moment he boasts about taking out America's No. 1 enemy, and the next he vows to bring home troops from an unpopular war. For President Barack Obama, the days leading up to his reelection kickoff have been spent straddling the precarious line between hawk and dove, and possibly redefining his party for years to come. For four decades, Democrats have been confounded by a deeply ingrained softonsecurity image that has hurt them at the ballot box. But in a country now tired of war yet still seeking to project strength, Obama is trying to reposition his party on national security, much as Bill Clinton did on economic and domestic policy in the 1990s, triangulating between two poles. The blend, captured by an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday that ended in a nationally televised address, has annoyed critics on both left and right. Many in his party's liberal base have grown disenchanted with Obama for tripling troop levels in Afghanistan, carrying over many of President George W. Bush's counterterrorism policies and in some ways even expanding them. Many conservatives, on the other hand, argue that behind the raid that killed Osama bin Laden lies a fundamentally weak approach to rivals and rogue states like Iran, North Korea and Russia. If it seems to some like the doctrine of having it both ways, it has scored well with a broad crosssection of the country as measured by polls and focus groups. And Obama's advisers have made clear in recent days that they believe he can play offense on national security as no other Democratic presidential candidate has since the Vietnam War. "The post9/11 paradigm that existed for several years, where you were either all in with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or you were not sufficiently hawkish, I think no longer applies," said Benjamin Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to the president. "He's demonstrated that you can end those wars while actually more effectively targeting our enemy." Republicans see it as more calculation than conviction, more about winning an election than making America safe. "He's in an odd position, sort of betwixt and between, and he can't really figure out which way he wants to go," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican member of the Armed Services Committee and chairman of his party's Senate campaign committee. Of course, the innovations of drone warfare make it easier for a president to be tough at little cost to Americans, or to his political standing. citizen from the skies. "It looks kind of superficial to me," he said, "and looks expedient." Obama has long expressed a complicated view of national security that did not neatly fit into old boxes, but it was initially obscured by his strong opposition to the Iraq War. As a candidate in 2007 and 2008, he cited that stance as his central argument against his rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Less widely noticed was his attempt to balance that with vows to send more troops to Afghanistan and unilaterally strike inside Pakistan, if necessary, to capture or kill bin Laden. At the time, many analysts thought those positions were more about avoiding the historic trap that past antiwar Democrats had fallen into. But four years later, Obama has presided over a national security policy that has married elements of both parties. "What you're seeing is carrying out a very well thoughtout and very effective foreign policy more than anything it's pragmatic and practical," said Rep. Adam Smith, of Washington, a Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. "He has done exactly what he said he was going to do." A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last month showed that Obama had neutralized the traditional Republican advantage on national security. Fiftynine percent expressed confidence in Obama's ability to be an effective commander in chief, slightly more than the 56 percent who had confidence in that area in Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and the putative Republican nominee.