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January 29, 2006

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.

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Comments

Two reservations from what is otherwise a very solid list:

6. U.S. Military and Homeland Security Capacity to Be Increased

No. It is true that that the military is near the breaking point and something must be done. It is also true that the disaster on the Gulf coast revealed the inadequate state of homeland preparedness, and the devastating drain on guard forces wrought by the war. What is needed is a clear statement from the President that the age of the American empire and big military is over; and that a new day is dawning for the American republic and for a historic return to the ideals of a more disciplined and modest defensive mission for the American armed forces. Our forces are stretched too thin, not because our military is too small, but because our commitments are too vast and immodest. Let us learn from history, and resist the temptations of costly, depleting and ultimately unsustainable military overcommitments. Let us also heed the historic lessons about the threats to liberty and republican government that are tied to the existence of a perpetual national security state, in a permanent state of military mobilization.

7. U.S. Will Work Through Allies in Dealing with Iran and North Korea

Yes, but. The time has come for the US to negotiate directly with the Iranian regime. The two countries must work to re-establish diplomatic relations, and begin talks on a grand bargain that will establish a durable foundation for security in the region.

Ha, Ha. Bush will sooner turn over in his grave than say any of this. Its almost comical.

11. Every American is entitled to his or her own personal unicorn and/or leprechaun.

I wonder if he'll mention or allude to Chavez during the speech.

1. Negotiate directly with a government whose motto seems to be "Death to America" and who seems bent on denying the Holocaust and calling for the destruction of Israel? That makes a lot of sense...

2. Sure, America can redeploy its armed forces to serve a defensive purpose. Don't worry, American isolationism was extremely effective at preventing deadly intra-state conflicts in Europe and Asia in the earlier half of the 20th century. There is no need for an external guarantor of security in these regions. Nope. Off to the Republic indeed.

Ranking Democrats were actually opposed to Rumsfeld's "lighter military plan", which sounds a lot like what you're proposing - rapid-deployment, flexible units instead of large standing "strategic" forces based on heavy armored divisions and carrier battle groups. Then again, they might've had a point there.

1. Negotiate directly with a government whose motto seems to be "Death to America" and who seems bent on denying the Holocaust and calling for the destruction of Israel? That makes a lot of sense...

The governments with which we have the greatest tensions are precisely those with which we have the greatest need to negotiate. Negotiation doesn't require dealing. If as a result of negotiations, we can't get a deal that makes sense for us, then we don't make a deal. But it is always good to sit down, talk and explore the possibilities. Something good may come of it. This practice of foregoing diplomatic relations, and leaving it to others to do the talking and listening for us is not the best way to protect our interests.

2. Sure, America can redeploy its armed forces to serve a defensive purpose. Don't worry, American isolationism was extremely effective at preventing deadly intra-state conflicts in Europe and Asia in the earlier half of the 20th century. There is no need for an external guarantor of security in these regions. Nope. Off to the Republic indeed.

I don't know why this approach should be called "isolationism". I am not advocating that Americans withdraw from the world, forego commerce with other countries, refuse to travel to other lands, shut down immigration and shut ourselves off. I am simply advocation a more modest approach in the projection and application of military force. That makes us no more isolated that most of the other countries in this globalized world.

I think you underestimate the need for America's power projection around the world. Many of today's security relationships are based on the assumption that the U.S. will intervene forcefully in case one of its regional allies is attacked. I don't see, for example, how China could be deterred from invading Taiwan were it not for the presence of U.S. forces in Japan, South Korea and Guam.

Likewise, the U.S. has effectively paid for the defence of Europe for the last 60 years. The European security structure, for all the talk about Euro rapid-reaction forces and the like, still needs the power of the American armed forces to be effective - Kosovo comes quickly to mind.

I for one would love that America wasn't burdened with this "club bouncer" role, but I don't believe that the world would be a safer place if it weren't for the presence of an external guarantor of security in the form of readily deployable U.S. troops, ships and aircraft. Pre World War II history was full of middle-sized powers competing for dominance, with disastrous results. Let's not repeat that mistake just yet.

"Likewise, the U.S. has effectively paid for the defence of Europe for the last 60 years. The European security structure, for all the talk about Euro rapid-reaction forces and the like, still needs the power of the American armed forces to be effective - Kosovo comes quickly to mind."

Europe has the same size GDP as the US, and access to virtually the same technology. The main reason Europe has less capable security forces is that it has chosen to. It has been free riding on US military expenditures (and investing the benefits in social welfare programs.)

Downscaling US forces in Europe would not emperil the EU (what real threats does it face?). It would however pave the way for a Europe with greater defense and force projection capacity. I would argue that's a good thing, though some might disagree...

Robichaud, I don't know whether europe would get bigger force projection. They might feel confident to be safe in europe, until something happens to make them feel less safe.

But if they did develop bigger forces, wouldn't it be to counter us? We are the main threat to world peace at the moment. Surely it would be bad for us if europe had the forces to oppose us.

I think it might be a good thing for us to move bases out of the expensive parts of europe and move them to cheaper places -- provided we could get supplies to them cheap.

We need to keep NATO going. When we do NATO exercises and planning and we treat all the other NATO nations like little kids who might amount to something after they get out of their diapers, we thoroughly intimidate them. If europe had less contact with our military they might be less intimidated and more of a problem.

On the other hand, maybe we could just back off considerably. Let those medium-size powers that bluehelmet mentions see just how expensive it is to supply oil for an offensive army. Most of them will decide to settle for the army they can afford. And if *we* settle for the army we can afford....

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