OTR Interviews

Rove: 'Chickens are coming home to roost' on Obama's 'hands-off' foreign policy

Former Bush senior advisor: President and US world stature paying for his 'hands off' foreign policy, US giving up Internet control seen as weak, Putin 'played Obama for a sucker'


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 25, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: is President Obama giving away the nation's power and influence by giving away the Internet? Free? Why would he do that? Is there any possible way surrendering control in America's best interest?

We spoke to Karl Rove.


VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, the president is talking about turning over ICANN, which is the Internet domain names, to a global organization. There is a lot of controversy. Your thoughts, sir?

KARL ROVE, FOX POLITICAL ANALYST/FORMER BUSH SENIOR ADVISOR: I think this is a mistake. We are about ready to give up control of the Internet to an international body that will include some of the most fervent opponents of the kind of freedom that the Internet represents. This is an ill-considered move. Part of the president's further retreat from international responsibilities. Big mistake.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, even President Bill Clinton doesn't like this. And his complaint is, United States, best protectors of free speech. And if it gets turned over to other countries with influence -- we've seen what's happened in other countries. China has shut down websites. Last week, Turkey, ally of ours, shut down Twitter. I'm trying to understand, what is the possible gain? Can you jump inside President Obama's head to see what he sees as the gain to this?

ROVE: Well, that's hard. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. ICANN is not broke. What the president is attempting to do here is ingratiate himself to the international community by saying the United States is giving up further responsibilities. The United States is receding more from the international stage and turning this over to an international body, as yet undetermined, really unclear how it's going to operate, but with a lot of bad actors playing in it. I think this is an ill-considered move on the part of the administration designed to curry international favor, much as they did with the so-called reset with Russia. If we play nice and say nice things and we tell you that we want you to act good and we will act good and everybody can hold hands and sing Kumbaya and it will all turn out right. And it did not turn out right at all with Russia. They took it as a sign of weakness. Others on the international scene will take this, in a much smaller way, as a sign weakness as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any foreign involvement in the creation of this company to begin with or the Internet? Is this just all ours, so that any sort of turning it over is really a surrender of an asset? A surrender of American ingenuity?

ROVE: Yes. ICANN has had American representation on it since the beginning. A friend of mine was on the ICANN board from Sweden. This is not a question of this is an exclusively American body that is only responsive to America. But being under the guidance of or being under the umbrella, if you will, of the United States, guaranteed that its emphasis would be on freedom and access. If you turn it over to an international body where it's not similarly protected and under that umbrella, you know, we don't know where it's going to go? This is -- again, why change? What is so broken about the current process that requires the president of the United States to take something that has worked well for close to going on two decades and turn it into something else?

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, the thing that sort of strikes me is that, you know, that he can do this with just a pen. This is not something that this isn't like a treaty, like the Panama Canal, where we get the Senate to debate it. Once this goes, we can't get this back, right?

ROVE: That's correct, yeah. This is an international body that has - - that is quasi-public but mostly private. And he is basically saying the United States is going to wash our hands of being responsible for this and turn it over to an international agency that will. And, again, why? It's not broken. If something is working, why do you have to, particularly, place it in a situation where nations that are clearly opposed to the kind of freedom and opportunity and openness that the Internet represents, that they have a bigger say about its future operations. Just doesn't make any sense.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I don't like the idea. Since we have been so good on free speech compared to other nations, that if the president insists on using his pen, at least he ought to sell it and get rid of some of our debt around the world. Instead, we're giving it away. It's like giving away Mount Rushmore a little bit. I don't get this one.

Anyway, let me ask you about something else, Karl.

Last night, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was here to go ON THE RECORD after Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai snubbed President Obama again. Karzai voicing his support for Russia's annexation of Crimea, like Syria and Venezuela.

Here is what Secretary Rumsfeld told us.


DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE (Via Phone): Our relationship with Karzai and with Afghanistan was absolutely first rate in the Bush administration. It has gone down hill like a toboggan ever since the Obama administration came.


VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, your response?

ROVE: Well, look, it was not the easiest of relationships. It required constant management by the personal involvement of the president of the United States and by top officials in his government. President Bush talked to Karzai frequently, was in a secure video conference with him almost every couple of weeks, was talking to him constantly on the telephone. That's how you make a relationship, one that is positive, by managing the relationship.

I have to admit, when you heard news reports that President Obama went a year without talking to Karzai, I was taken aback, because this is an individual in a country that, if you don't pay attention to it, can go in problematic ways. Particularly if they think you are leaving them, they will find ways to accommodate themselves with the bad actors in the region and in the world that they have to deal with.

And I took Karzai's parting shot at Obama by saying I approve of the annexation of Crimea, we are going to recognize that, as his attempt to sort of ingratiate himself with the Russians, afraid that Obama is going to leave the Afghanistan people to their own devices.

The president has done this around the world. I cannot think a serious, a significant world leader with whom the president has a serious personal relationship that gives them confidence. Look at how he has boggled Libya. Look how he was boggled Syria. Can you imagine the Israelis looking at what he has done and Iran wisely stepping up the sanctions and then reducing them, in return for what? Nothing from the Iranians. So, you know, and then Russia, look at where we are today because the Russians got the message, Obama was the supplement, Obama weak, what can we do to placate them? When you show weakness to Vladimir Putin, he takes advantage of it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jonathan Karl, of ABC, earlier today in The Hague where the president is at a summit, asked a very pointed question of the president. He said, "In China, in Syria, and in Egypt and now in Russia, we have seen you make strong statements. You have issued warnings that have been ignored. Are you concerned that America's influence in the world, your influence in the world is on the decline? And in light of recent developments, do you think Mitt Romney had a point when he said that Russia is America's biggest geopolitical foe. If not Russia, who"? And the president didn't answer it directly, but when you have a question like that being lobbed at you, that bites.

ROVE: Well, Jonathan Karl has been one of the few in the White House press corps to ask pointed questions, but it's a good one. I mean, think about this. Our relationships all around the world have deteriorated. America is in a less secure posture. Our influence has diminished. The world is a less safe place. The kind of things -- you know, and it boils down to credibility. If the president of the United States says, as the president said almost three years ago, that Assad must go in Syria, then Assad better go. And when America does something like brings down Gadhafi in Libya, then America has a responsibility to try to make the situation in the aftermath better not worse. And the president, to his discredit, has sort of had a hands-off attitude towards these things.

And again, the chickens are coming home to roost. The president, in one of his earliest decisions, was to signal weakness to the Russians by unilaterally canceling our missile defense facilities agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic without even talking to our allies in order to placate Russia. The Russians looked at it and said, we got something in return for nothing. In the process, the president damaged his relationship with two of his own allies. Let's look for more opportunities like that. And we saw that last week with the annexation of Crimea.

Think about this: Just over three weeks ago, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, told the president of the United States Russia has no territorial ambitions whatsoever in the Crimea, we will never annex it. And three weeks later, we have a gigantic ceremony celebrating it. Vladimir Putin played Barack Obama for a sucker, and the president of the United States has done very little in return.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's interesting. Let me look back though. We discussed this thing about the Internet. And now we discussed the situation with a very harsh question from a reporter overseas and everything that's going on with Afghanistan and Russia. If you go back to 2008, to candidate Barack Obama, he said, when visiting Berlin, "We've made our share of mistakes and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intention."

Should that have not been an indication to his foreign policy? More of a sort of global get-along type foreign policy, which certainly -- obviously, we see what happened in Crimea last week and a month ago. But, you know, didn't we know?

ROVE: Yeah. Look, that was a warning. As was his subsequent speech in June of 2009 in Cairo. You know, sort of the, "Blame America first, "America hasn't lived up to our great ideals, America needs to withdraw from the world stage." I mean, the president has been very explicit about this. It's just that it is amazing that he has been so impervious to the realities of the modern world, and also been so disengaged from the real responsibility of a president to be actively involved.

I mean, look, he says things and then doesn't take the actions necessary to live up to his own statements. Assad must go, and then he has a complete hands-off policy with regard to Syria. There was a moment where Assad was teetering earlier on after the president's statement. If the president had taken actions in defense of his own policy, it would have resulted in Assad being brought down. The president gave lip service to the necessity of having a strong government, democratic Western oriented government in Libya. He didn't live up to that.

I have two disagreements with the president. One is with the nature of some of his policies, but also I have a very serious disagreement with his failure to do the things as a leader necessary to implement and execute the policies that he declares himself in favor of.