They offer "the Republican who leads the GOP ticket" (i.e., Mitt Romney) a playbook detailing Obama's supposed foreign policy missteps and how to best capitalize upon them. Unfortunately for Rove and Gillespie, however, their how-to guide isn't quite up to snuff.
First, Rove and Gillespie advise the Republican candidate to
adopt a confident, nationalist tone emphasizing American exceptionalism, expressing pride in the United States as a force for good in the world, and advocating for an America that is once again respected (and, in some quarters, feared) as the preeminent global power.
I don't know how this slipped by the Rove-Gillespie radar, but Americans aren't nationalistic. We're a "patriotic" people. Sarcasm aside, I don't recall Obama ever lamenting the United States' hegemonic status or failing to express sufficient "pride in the United States as a force for good in the world." Don't worry, Rove and Gillespie have a truncated and misleading quote to back up their position—a phenomenon that occurs more than once in their piece.
Obama acts as if he sees the United States as a flawed giant, a mistake that voters already perceive. After all, this is the president who said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
It’s true, Obama did say that. But, as has been pointed out elsewhere, this isn't the whole story. Here's the rest of what the President had to say:
I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I'm enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don't think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.
And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.
Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we've got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we're not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.
And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can't solve these problems alone.
The second recommendation Rove and Gillespie give is to "use the president's own words and actions to portray him as naive and weak on foreign affairs." They offer two examples of such naiveté, the first taking place during the fourth Democratic debate during the 2008 presidential campaign. CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked the presidential hopefuls whether they would be willing to meet "without precondition ... with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries," and Obama responded that he would. The Republican duo claims, "Nothing came of that except a serious blow to the image of the United States as a reliable ally." What I think they meant to write, though, is that "Nothing came of that." Regardless of what one thinks of the wisdom of meeting with the leaders of unsavory regimes, Obama did not meet separately, without preconditions with any of them. And whither the evidence that our allies' image of the US changed even a bit?
Rove and Gillespie offer a second instance of what they maintain exemplifies Obama's naive and dangerous view of the world:
During the 2008 campaign, he also argued that Iran was a 'tiny' country that didn't “pose a serious threat.” How foolish that now seems.
Well, it would indeed appear foolish had Rove and Gillespie not, once again, taken the quote completely out of context. After all, Obama was putting the threat to the United States posed by Iran in perspective by contrasting it with the threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War:
I mean think about it--Iran, Cuba, Venezuela--these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us, and yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union.
How foolish (duplicitous?) Rove and Gillespie now seem.
To the chagrin of many liberals, the basis of Rove and Gillespie's third suggestion is probably well-founded. They write,
At the same time, the Republican candidate should not hesitate to point out where Obama has left his Republican predecessor's policies largely intact. He will be uncomfortable if the nominee congratulates him for applying President George W. Bush's surge strategy to Afghanistan, carrying through on the expanded use of drones, reversing course on the handling of terrorist detainees, and renewing the Patriot Act after previously condemning it as a “shoddy and dangerous law.”
They also point out that "Obama recognizes that he's seen as 'cold and aloof,' and the Republican nominee should hammer this point home." Given that the Republican nominee in question—Romney—doesn't exactly come off as the most convivial and charming guy in the world (search for "Romney robot" and Google comes back with about 5,330,000 results), this is a rather weak line of attack.
There's plenty more to rebut and criticize in the Rove-Gillespie piece, but I'll finish with some polling data. The two Republicans quote a November 2011 survey by Resurgent Republic, a conservative group "dedicated to shaping the debate over the proper role of government." (I'd never heard of them either.) The results of the poll show 50% of voters believe America's standing in the world is worse under Obama. You would think these results would bode well for Romney, but they don't necessarily translate into support for Romney's foreign policy positions. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in early April, 53% of respondents preferred Obama's handling of international affairs. Clearly Obama has plenty of room for improvement, but when only 36% of respondents would prefer Romney, it seems that it’s the Republican candidate for whom foreign policy is a weakness, not a strength.By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media columnist