In the opening sentence of their recent article in Foreign Policy on how to beat Barack Obama, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie make a rather audacious claim about the president's standing on foreign policy, "In an American election focused on a lousy economy and high unemployment, conventional wisdom holds that foreign policy is one of Barack Obama's few strong suits. But the president is strikingly vulnerable in this area."
Really? Whatever one might think of President Obama's foreign policy performance -- if you think he has been feckless and weak; if you think he's been a militarist and neocon-lite; even if you can't find Europe on a map -- you'd have a pretty hard time making the case that foreign policy is an area of vulnerability for President Obama. In fact, it's one of the few places where the electorate gives Obama strong marks.
According to a recent AP/Gfk poll the president scores a negative or barely positive rating on a host of domestic issues: the economy, health care, the budget deficit, gas prices, unemployment, and taxes. But check out the foreign policy side of the ledger and it tells a very different story: handling of Iraq, 57 percent approve; Afghanistan, 54 percent; relationships with other counties, 57 percent; and finally terrorism, 63 percent. Other polls suggest that Americans see Obama as a strong leader and someone who will keep the country safe.
According to Rove and Gillespie, voters see Obama as "out of touch and in over his head" on foreign policy and national security, but there is literally not a single significant data point in public opinion polling that supports this assertion.
If anything, Obama's foreign policy advantage -- rather than being vulnerability -- may very well be one of the keys to his re-election.
Indeed, the only people who appear to be out-of-touch are Rove and Gillespie -- and not just with the current polling on Obama, but with the overall mood of the electorate on foreign policy. At a time when Republicans desperately need to find a new way to talk about national security that more accurately reflects the electorate's views on America's role in the world, Rove and Gillespie are calling on GOP presidential candidates to spin the party's greatest hits rather than writing some new material.
Three points illustrate Rove and Gillespie's confusion. First, they claim that the most important national security today is "the struggle that will define this century's arc: radical Islamic terrorism." Rove and Gillespie's argument presupposes that Americans are still living in the wake of 9/11 and are concerned about terrorism as a serious national issue. They're not. Rather, voters express little to no interest in hearing the candidates' views on terrorism. Beyond that, as Rove and Gillespie's own polling indicates, they think Obama has done a bang-up job in fighting terror.