Oh, hey, look, I talked about this with Rachel Maddow last night, which my Brussels-jetlagged body thought was 3:30 a.m. And you know who, surprisingly, kind of shares the critique on display here? Peter Feaver of Shadow Government, who’s got some laughably bad advice for Mitt Romney.
OK, sure, it’s born out of frustration. Check out Peter’s headdesking over the GOP field’s lack of credible foreign policy offerings. After pointing out Obama’s foreseeable ability to dispatch with the field’s existing knocks on his record, these are Peter’s suggestions for the Republican nominee to parry with:
1. Obama’s foreign policy successes have come when he has followed Bush policies; his failures have come when he has struck out on his own. I have made this point before, but it bears reemphasis. Republicans need not fear giving Obama credit for his successes because to a remarkable extent they have come where he has governed like a Republican not like candidate Obama.
2. Obama has made relatively effective use of the tools and instruments of power that he inherited from his predecessor — it raises the question, what new tools and instruments of power is Obama bequeathing to his successor? The SOF capabilities that produced the successful hunt for Bin Laden were honed on his predecessor’s watch, especially by General McChrystal in Iraq. Likewise with tactics, techniques, and procedures associated with drone strikes. The financial levers that are squeezing Iran today were perfected by the Bush team. The key elements of Obama’s Asia strategy — the ones that have the best chance of yielding positive results — were built under Bush and expanded under Obama. (Of course, in each of these areas, the Bush team took capabilities that were at an even more embryonic stage under Clinton’s watch, so there is plenty of credit to be shared on both sides of the aisle. By the way, this is precisely how things transpired during the first Cold War, as the history of key programs like stealth technology demonstrate.) In some of these cases, Obama wisely kept many of the same architects who did the innovative work under Bush and expanded their influence and authority. So, the Republican nominee should ask, in what ways will Obama’s successor have a larger and more powerful toolbox than the one Obama got to use?
Wait, really? So the GOP field should concede Obama’s foreign-policy strengths — but say they’re really just Bush’s foreign-policy strengths? How does that work? Why doesn’t Obama just say, “Well, then why did I have to follow on his record, if he had done such a great job handling the world?”
It’s like Obama’s opened up a really stubborn ketchup or pickle jar after Bush gave up on it. Peter would have the GOP nominee say, “Yeah, OK, but we loosened it up for you.” And then they’re supposed to say, “But he’s leaving the next lids on even tighter!” It won’t escape notice that only one of these three guys actually opened the jar.
Also, on an even more basic level: how does it help Romney to keep talking about Bush?
(Sorry, one last thing. When Peter asks, “in what ways will Obama’s successor have a larger and more powerful toolbox,” Obama can always answer: The Air Force’s next generation, optionally-manned [!] long-range bomber; the Navy’s next-generation jammer for defeating anti-access-area-denial weapons; an expanded and operationally tested special operations force; a somewhat bigger Navy [at least on paper, dunno if I find this credible]; ominous new wide-range aerial surveillance technologies; and a vastly expanded fleet of deadly, all-seeing drones. So, Peter, what’s Romney’s comeback?)