Tonight’s GOP debate, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and CNN, will focus on foreign policy. NRO asked the experts what viewers should look for from the candidates.
Foreign policy and national security have gotten pretty short shrift so far in the Republican presidential-candidate debates.While domestic issues are pressing, it’s downright dangerous not to have those who would be commander-in-chief talk of international affairs.
Since the U.S.’s rise to global power, American presidents have faced their share of world problems: Wilson had World War I; FDR had World War II; Ike had Korea; JFK had Cuba; LBJ had Vietnam; Bush had 9/11.
In a dangerous and uncertain world, American interests are under constant threat. There are the troubles of terrorism, the mess in Mexico, the problems of Pakistan, North Korean nukes, atomic Ayatollahs, the vagaries of Venezuela, the China challenge, global economic emergencies, and a resurgent Russia, among others.
Plus, America still has some 100,000 brave young men and women in harm’s way in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan — not to mention all those in uniform ready to answer the next call from the commander-in-chief.
We ignore world trends and events at our peril. What happens abroad will affect us here. Presidential fitness for addressing these challenges is critically important.
Thankfully, Tuesday night’s debate will focus on how the Republican presidential candidates would sail our ship of state in stormy international waters.
Let’s hope it ignites a serious, thoughtful national conversation on keeping America safe and strong in this decade — and beyond.
— Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
John F. Cullinan
Dismal debate performances alone have already eliminated two otherwise plausible candidates, Tim Pawlenty and (most likely) Rick Perry. And for all the urgency to get our own house in order, the remaining candidates cannot afford to ignore foreign policy.
The setting for tonight’s debate — the imposing neo-classical vastness of Constitution Hall, just a stone’s throw from the White House complex — poses its own particular risks and opportunities. Demonstrable ignorance and lack of preparation (such as Herman Cain’s utter befuddlement with all things Libyan last week) will make a candidate appear small on a very big stage. So too will pretending that pressing international challenges can simply be set to one side while we focus exclusively on matters closer to home.
If the candidates can avoid these unforced errors, Constitution Hall offers an appropriately spacious and resonant backdrop for a serious exploration of how American exceptionalism translates into specific policy objectives and outcomes. For example, how exactly does the U.S., with its interests and values in mind, set and pursue goals regarding Egypt’s deepening political crisis? What should the U.S. be saying, both publicly and privately, to the Egyptian military junta, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other actors? What exactly are the specific red lines in this unsettled relationship that cannot be crossed with impunity — and what are the precise consequences for doing so? For instance, should these red lines demarcate acceptable treatment of religious minorities such as Coptic Christians, who constitute some 10 percent of Egypt’s population? If not, why not?
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.
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.
David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman
“Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be first.” So wrote John Jay in Federalist No. 3. Yet in this election cycle, the means of providing for that safety — what we broadly label “foreign policy” — actually seems to be last on the mind of many candidates and voters. This simply reflects how far we’ve drifted from constitutional government.
Nearly all of the objects that occupy our attention, except for foreign relations and the national defense, fall far outside the federal government’s limited powers, as originally understood. Under the Articles of Confederation, the national army was dependent on the states for troops, materiel, and money, which were only grudgingly given, if at all, leaving the nation unable even to secure its own territories from the British and the Spanish. Foreign relations were in chaos, with each state able to veto any treaty’s ratification and all states at war with one another for foreign trade. More than anything, the Constitution aimed to remedy these defects by fortifying federal power over foreign affairs and placing chief responsibility for external relations in the hands of the president; on the domestic side, by contrast, the Constitution little altered the states’ primacy.
With oceans providing little isolation these days, America faces more and greater threats than it did in 1789, balanced against the also greater benefits of interconnectedness. As the current president learned within his first days in office, defending the nation against transnational terrorism is itself a full-time job, requiring vigilance, resolve, and sound judgment. Then there is the growing military might of China and India; Iran’s nuclear ambitions; the nuclear-armed asylum of North Korea; and growing instability in Mexico. Beyond those direct threats to security are risks to our vital interests, from the anxiety and uncertainty of the Arab Fall and Russia’s aggressive energy politics to the plight of the tottering eurozone. Not least is America’s aspiration to be the beacon of light and hope to the world’s repressed and a consistent force for freedom and against tyranny.
To a constitutionalist, the president is foremost America’s commander-in-chief and head diplomat, and so he is principally responsible for all of these things. One need only consider America’s declining standing in the world these past three years to understand fully why foreign policy matters in a president.
— David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman are lawyers at the Washington, D.C., office of Baker Hostetler LLP. Mr. Rivkin served at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s office in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations.
Washington can ignore the world for only so long before the world comes knocking on its door. And while getting America’s fiscal house in order has to be the priority for any new president elected in 2012, his or her administration will be faced with a growing list of foreign-policy issues hardly any less important.
Iran: Given Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Obama administration’s reluctance to do anything about them, a new president will need to take military action, be prepared to deal militarily with an Iranian reaction to Israel’s having struck Iran’s program, or put in place the kind of stringent sanctions that may well produce a military response from Iran in any case.
Afghanistan: President Obama has ignored the advice of U.S. commanders in Afghanistan on both the numbers required for “the surge” of troops there and how soon to end their deployment. Those decisions, combined with rumors about another announcement of cuts coming this spring at the NATO summit in Chicago, have left a general impression that the U.S. is cutting and running. If a new president doesn’t want to see a country unraveling and a victory handed to Islamist radicals, he or she will have to have a game plan for reversing Obama’s policies.
Asia: For all the recent rhetoric that the United States is not leaving Asia, the administration has been slow in matching that rhetoric with concrete decisions. It has been slow, in particular, in moving forward with policies that take account of the two “currencies” in Asia that matter most, trade and hard military power. As a consequence, a new administration will be dealing with a region facing great uncertainty about American leadership and the unfolding balance of power. A new president will need to be aggressive in pushing new trade agreements and providing the resources necessary to allow the U.S. military to counter the now two-decade-old expansion of Chinese military power.
Europe: From giving the bust of Churchill back to the British prime minister to deciding to revamp the missile-defense program for protecting Europe without consulting the affected allies, the president has made it clear that our European partners are not his first priority. But in less than a decade and a half, the U.S. has gone to war as part of NATO three separate times: Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya. For all the problems that reduced defense spending by Europe and Canada present, NATO remains the most active and important multilateral alliance the United States has. If a new president wants that cooperation to continue, time, effort, and persistence will be required to keep the alliance in decent working order.
Arab Spring: If one looked only at the attention given by the White House to the past year’s events in the Middle East and North Africa, a person would never know that what is unfolding there is as revolutionary a transformation as any we have seen since the collapse of the Soviet empire. Yet, like most revolutions, these too will either result in a substantial advancement of decent rule or spin off into their own idiosyncratic tyrannies. Any new administration will be left to play catch-up as a result of the Obama team’s general reluctance to shape how these revolutions unfold.
— Gary Schmitt is director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Program on Advanced Strategic Studies.
As the U.S. heads toward the 2012 presidential elections, the country remains bogged down in a prolonged period of unemployment. Yet if Iran succeeds in its quest to obtain nuclear weapons, it will only compound America’s economic woes.
Iran’s nuclear program is the single greatest foreign-policy threat to America’s security. Its rulers seek a Middle East dominated by revolutionary Islam, as advocated by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose followers first declared war on America in 1979. The storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran more than three decades ago was merely the opening salvo in a wave of terror attacks against U.S. interests from Afghanistan to Iraq to Lebanon.
Last month, Iranian perfidy very nearly struck in Washington itself, in a foiled attempt to murder Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States in an attack that could have killed scores of Americans at a Georgetown restaurant.
Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle East will continue to hurt U.S. interests and destabilize the world’s energy markets. All of which helps to explain why the Republican candidate for president will need to redouble America’s efforts to prevent the Islamic Republic from becoming a nuclear power, and to breathe new life into Iran’s struggling pro-democracy movement.
The next administration will need to combat Iran’s proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. The Republican contenders should call for Washington to impose real sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran to starve the regime of funding for its nuclear and terrorist activities.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
America should pursue a non-apologetic, resolute, fiscally responsible foreign policy. Absent a martial crisis, the foreign-policy debate will center around the EU’s economic mess a year from now. A Persian Gulf crisis centered around Iran would also roil markets. Other than that, foreign policy will not draw much attention.
Barring a crisis, President Obama will benefit from any extended focus on foreign policy, both because he is the commander-in-chief and because he will enjoy an uptick with the release in October of the movie that depicts the White House orchestrating the demise of Osama bin Laden. More important, every second that the public is distracted from the parlous state of the U.S. economy increases Obama’s chances for reelection.
— Bing West’s latest book is The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan.