State of the Union: 10 Things Bush Needs to Say on Foreign Policy
Posted by Suzanne Nossel
Word is that the President's State of the Union Address this week will focus on domestic issues. Given the firestorm over the wiretaps, the carnage in Iraq, the frightening results of the Palestinian election, the latest tape from Osama, the war talk out of Tehran, and the mounting chaos on the Afghan-Pakistan border, it's hard to blame Bush for trying to divert attention from foreign policy. But the truth is that American security is growing more precarious, partly because of Bush's own policies. Here are 10 things the president ought to say this week. I'll check back in afterward to evaluate whether he has.
1. No More Illegal Wiretaps - Illegal wiretaps have trammeled civil liberties, undermined the rule of law, eroded Americans' trust in their government, and wasted thousands of hours of analysts' time reviewing useless transcripts. The law is clear that to wiretap, a president needs a court order. There's no evidence that this requirement has stood in the way of the intelligence agencies getting information they need. While the debates and lawsuits on past practice will rage on, Bush should pledge no more wiretaps without a judge's approval.
2. No Tolerance for Torture - Bush has never spoken out forcefully on torture. He should disavow torture by any arm or official of the U.S. government and renounce the practice of extraordinary rendition of suspects to countries that practice torture. It's painful to recognize that this even needs to be said by our president, but it does.
3. No Permanent Bases in Iraq - Regardless of what you think about the Iraq war effort, permanent bases are a bad idea. Analysts of the war on terror are focusing on the role that U.S. troops on Mideast (and Saudi in particular) sand and soil have had in inflaming anti-Americanism. Though we can debate when to leave Iraq, few doubt that at some point we will go. But Bush has never said this and it's something both Americans and Mideast need to hear.
4. No Questioning of Patriotism for Critics of the War - It is McCarthyistic to suggest that it's un-American to question the Iraq war effort. In the coming year, more than a dozen Iraq war veterans will run for Congress. Along with John Murtha, John Kerry, and anyone else who has something to say, they sure as hell are going to talk about the war. For Bush to unequivocally defend the right of all Americans to debate our foreign policy would bespeak a level of self-assurance this president hasn't shown since right after 9/11.
5. U.S. to Mount Direct, Sustained Engagement in the Middle East Peace Process - While many factors helped foster Hamas' landslide victory in the Palestinian elections last week, the Bush Administration's Mideast policies - its sporadic engagement in the peace process after Arafat's death, its war in Iraq - are among them. Bush has dispatched Rice to build consensus in Europe on how to deal with Hamas. But this cannot be another short-lived blitz. The administration has strong influence on both sides of the conflict. Now is the time to use it.
6. U.S. Military and Homeland Security Capacity to Be Increased - A debate is surging over whether the U.S. military is nearing its breaking point. That this is even an arguable point makes clear that something must be done. It won't happen overnight, but the US military needs greater capacity to shoulder overseas wars and peacekeeping obligations without leaving us under-resourced to respond to crises at home. The Center for American Progress has issued a detailed report on what to beef up and - as importantly - what to cut so we can pay for it.
7. U.S. Will Work Through Allies in Dealing with Iran and North Korea - Four years after the "axis of evil" speech, North Korea is as menacing as ever, and Iran is more so now than it was then. So far, the administration is doing a decent job trying to get others on board in responding to mischief from Tehran. Circumstances could force us to act alone in a crisis. Until then, however, sending a message to the world that we are committed to collaboration will help heal the diplomatic wounds inflicted en route to Iraq. A credible cooperative effort will also afford us greater legitimacy in the unfortunate event that we do need to face one of these regimes down ourselves.
8. U.S. to Step Up Support and Resources for Scientific Innovation - One factor influencing the U.S.'s economy and long-term influence will be maintaining our position as a world leader in science and technology. That status has eroded sharply over the last few years. This may not be a security issue now but if left unaddressed it will surely become one. Corporate America is worried. A group of Senators has proposed legislation to boost America's competitiveness; Bush should back those efforts.
9. A reference to China and Russia as Key Interlocutors - It almost matters less what Bush says about China and Russia than that he simply acknowledge the rapidly growing importance of these two players as creditors, markets, energy suppliers, UN Security Council members and holders of influence over key countries and conflicts. Beijing and Moscow will be listening for their names, and Americans ought to be reminded of how much these countries matter (I won't make this number 11, but Bush ought to mention Latin America too, for all the reasons Adam Isacson's been writing about on democracyarsenal.org).
10. U.S. to Continue Support for Democracy Abroad - Hamas' victory in last week's elections has provoked concerns that Islamicist and other unfriendly governments may rise throughout the Middle East if democracy takes hold. Amid this speculation, people may expect Bush to pull back on his push for democracy in the region. While Bush's tactics for U.S. engagement and democracy promotion are fatally flawed (partly but not only because of their emphasis on elections to the exclusion of other indispensable democratic building blocks), that doesn't mean the mission is wrong. Nor can the US can afford to be seen as rethinking the wisdom of democracy for Arabs.