Tonight’s debate offers the candidates the opportunity to demonstrate more than their basic command of the facts, which is necessary but not sufficient for carrying out the president’s constitutional responsibilities, both as commander-in-chief and as head of the branch primarily responsible for foreign policy. Despite time constraints, many questions will offer the candidates the opportunity to demonstrate that they’ve actually thought through foreign-policy issues in the context of core convictions they can articulate about America’s role in the world. Nothing would be more welcome — or more instructive for voters — than some plain speaking about how these convictions inform the candidates’ specific policy positions, expressed in ways that acknowledge that the American people are grown-ups who can handle the truth.
— John F. Cullinan formerly served as a senior foreign-policy adviser for the U.S. Catholic bishops.Fred Fleitz
Foreign policy should be an important component of the 2012 presidential campaign not only because the president’s primary responsibility is protecting the security of the American people, but because America’s power and prestige have been seriously eroded by the short-sighted and naïve policies of the Obama administration.
The Obama administration came to office claiming that it would reverse confrontational Bush policies that it claims made America unpopular in the world. It would conduct more multilateral negotiations, make more use of the U.N., and close Guantanamo Bay. The results? Iran greatly accelerated its missile and nuclear-weapons programs, and the administration’s fear of offending the Iranian leadership kept the U.S. from speaking out against the regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters. North Korea tested a nuclear bomb, shelled a South Korean island, and sank a South Korean navy ship. Guantanamo is still open.
Not to mention President Obama’s “apology tour” speeches in Istanbul and Cairo to Muslim audiences, the administration’s refusal to condemn radical Islam, its sophomoric attempt to rename “terrorism” as “man-caused disasters,” and its attempts to treat terrorism as a law-enforcement problem.
America’s reputation was hardly helped by the Obama administration’s confusing and inconsistent response to the Arab Spring. The administration’s support for Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak seemed to shift with the wind when protests broke out in Egypt early this year. It wasn’t that long ago that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as “a reformer.” The administration’s decision to “lead from behind” in Libya extended the bloodshed in the Libyan uprising for several months and undermined America’s reputation as defender of freedom.
The next Republican president will have a lot of work to do to rebuild American leadership on the world stage. We don’t need the U.N.’s permission to protect our interests. We must accept that, as the world’s sole remaining superpower, we will not always be popular or loved. We need to stand by our friends — such as the U.K. and Israel — and hold rogue states — such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria — accountable for their behavior.
Fixing our foreign policy will take principled leadership. The next GOP president must nominate strong officials to key foreign-policy posts. To obtain new foreign-policy ideas and better management practices, some of these officials should come from outside of government.
Foreign-policy agencies need to be reformed to make them more efficient and better able to deal with current security threats. This is especially true of the intelligence community, which has become crippled by additional bureaucracy since 9/11. Since government careerists squeal like pigs whenever presidential appointees threaten to reform their government fiefdoms, a new Republican president must be prepared to stand by his foreign-policy officials to carry out major restructuring.
The Republican presidential candidates must demonstrate that they understand the plight America is in. They must explain how they will reclaim America’s role as a superpower to protect our security and economic interests and promote a secure and peaceful world.
— Fred Fleitz is managing editor of LIGNET.com, a new Washington, D.C.–based global forecasting and analysis service. He worked on U.S. national-security issues for 25 years with the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, and House Intelligence Committee staff.