The Corner

Quick Thoughts for Tonight’s Debate

When it comes to many foreign-policy issues, the Obama administration has tried to throw critics on defense by asking, “What would you have done differently?” Here are some suggestions:

Syria. While the risks of intervention in Syria are greater than those of intervening in Libya, the potential payoff is infinitely greater. Syria is a key terror sponsor and enemy of the U.S., and the bridge that Iran uses to destabilize Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. The fall of Assad would be an enormous benefit. On the downside, the risk that a post-Assad regime might be dominated by the same Sunni extremist elements we spent years fighting in Iraq suggests the need for a vital U.S. role. We should have decided long ago to stand up, organize, and arm the free Syrian militia forces under the control of a shadow government allied to the West. If we let others arm them, we let others control them. 

Iran. Vice President Biden’s statement (during the VP debate) that we don’t know whether Iran can complete the final stage of enriching uranium, or that it can make a nuclear warhead, is simply preposterous. Iran has assembled all of what it needs for a quick “breakout” to production of nukes. And its production of far more medium-enriched uranium than it needs for civilian purposes (i.e., the Tehran Research Reactor) should be considered a diversion for weapons use. In other words, Iran is already making a nuclear weapon, just as we were during World War II. Furthermore, we must do everything possible to dissuade Iran from its current course — not wait until diplomacy fails before increasing military pressure.

Egypt. From the outset of the crisis in Egypt, the Obama administration failed to take any position on the key constitutional question: Was Mubarak’s rule illegitimate because he had violated Egypt’s constitution, or because the constitution itself was illegitimate? Almost two years later, the administration still has no position on what the constitution and institutions of Egypt should look like if Egypt is ever to emerge as a free, prosperous, and modern nation allied with the West. Egypt cannot even guarantee the safety of Western embassies, and still the U.S. and IMF are extending enormous assistance packages. The U.S. should have taken the lead in forging basic conditions for assistance to Egypt and all the Arab Spring countries, on the basis of constitutional criteria, and in coordination with our principal partners and multilateral institutions.  

Iraq. Perhaps the single most farcical and foolish talking point of this administration is that Obama “ended the war in Iraq.” Of course he did no such thing. The war ended in the fall of 2007 when the fighting stopped. (Otherwise, why didn’t we end World War II by withdrawing our forces from Germany and Japan?) What the administration ended was our position of leverage and influence in Iraq, when it neglected the country and stood by as we got kicked out. That has put at risk all that we fought so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve, and created a huge opening for Iran. 

Afghanistan. At the start of the administration, Obama announced both a surge and the withdrawal deadline, suggesting that the outcome of the surge would not matter. How can you ask Americans to die for something that doesn’t matter? The withdrawal goal of 2014 is great, so long as the sacrifices of our soldiers are secured in a lasting peace and a Kabul government that can be a partner in the War on Terror. It would be a terrible thing if the administration throws those sacrifices away the way it has in Iraq.  

Israeli-Palestinian peace process. By endorsing Palestinian grievances (on settlements, for example) and by earning the distrust of Israelis, the Obama administration has made the U.S. irrelevant to the peace process. The administration does not understand America’s indispensable role. Anyone can arbitrate. But only America can mediate – by delivering Israeli concessions — and it can only do that when it can underwrite the risks of the “transaction” for Israel. The peace process can only move forward when Israelis become convinced that America will keep them safe, and when the Arabs become convinced that they can only get what they want from Israel by going through the Americans. The Obama administration has accomplished the opposite. 

Mario Loyola — Mr. Loyola is a research associate professor and the director of the Environmental Finance and Risk Management Program at Florida International University and a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. From 2017 to 2019 he was the associate director for regulatory reform at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.


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