Upon taking the oath of office, President Obama urgently began righting the wrongs of the Bush administration, uplifting the American spirit and our reputation abroad. As commander-in-chief, Obama has made the steely decision to take out Osama bin Laden, eliminated a record number of terrorists, strived to reestablish America’s global stature, responsibly ended the Iraq war, launched drones to kill Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, dared to propose restructuring an outdated, bloated military apparatus, instigated intense sanctions against Iran, maintained peace on the Korean peninsula, kept American soldiers safe while aiding the removal of Gaddafi, and broke the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan while drawing down troops towards securing an effective transition.
Despite these successes, former George W. Bush deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and counselor to President Bush Ed Gillespie, contend in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy magazine, that President Obama has demonstrated weakness in foreign policy. This is archetypal Rove: palpable cynicism marked by fallacious illogic. Contrarily, the decisive foreign policy successes of the Obama administration confirm a robust foreign policy.
First, Rove/Gillespie and the Bush team lack credibility on the subject. They concocted a failed foreign policy, embroiling the U.S. in a war of choice, causing bloodshed and the wounding of thousands of America’s brave men and women in uniform, contributing to the killing of countless innocent Iraqi’s and Afghans, blighting our reputation abroad, and decimating our economy into a financial calamity not witnessed since the Great Depression.
Second, they have a skewed vision of American exceptionalism, one that myopically focuses on military power. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt encapsulated his foreign policy credo in an African proverb, “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick.” Echoes of Roosevelt emanate through the diplomacy-first, fight if necessary maxim employed by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Rove talks of American exceptionalism as though military prowess is the sole criterion for such prestige. His is an ‘exceptionalism” that bullies and instills fear, morally bankrupting our influence.
The exceptionalism of America is embodied in its character, personified in the virtues of prudent diplomacy, respect for law, promise of freedom, and determined protection of human dignity. The Obama administration’s foreign policy promotes that American exceptionalism. The Republican primary candidates reverberate Rove/Gillespie, speaking loudly, while wielding a twig. President Obama speaks softly when essential, while maintaining our capacity to brandish the big stick when required.
Third, they misread the opinions of the American people. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this month showed 83% supporting the president’s use of unmanned drones against terror suspects and 78% supporting Obama’s plan to draw down troops in Afghanistan. The most telling numbers revealed a greater trust on international affairs than the Republican candidates, with President Obama at 56% approval versus 37%. Asked who they trusted more to combat terrorism, Obama bested Mitt Romney by a twenty point margin. With measurable voter confidence in President Obama’s foreign policy leadership and a record of excellence protecting America’s vital national security interests at home and abroad, the empty bravado and failed ideology of Rove/Gillespie will fail to resonate, as the American people reject their demagoguery.
Ronald Reagan famously asked the American people, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Come November, they will again consider that question. Surely, with the progress that has been made since 2008 (killing bin Laden, ending Iraq, drawing down Afghanistan, seeing new democracies arise, an economy continually on the upswing), the conclusion shall be a resounding affirmative. American exceptionalism thrives, as President Obama’s thoughtful leadership has kept Americans safer, brought our allies closer, and ensured that American ethos remain aspirational in global affairs.
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