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November 22, 2011

The Republican Foreign Policy Debate, by the Issues
Posted by The Editors

Debating RepublicansAs the GOP presidential hopefuls prepare to take stage in the second and final debate on national security and foreign policy, they will no doubt go on the attack against the Obama administration. Many of these issues were outlined by Senator Lindsey Graham in a recent article for the National Review. Others have been outlined by candidates in their few speeches and discussions on foreign policy. What you will likely not hear however, is what the experts are saying on the most important issues facing the country and the world:

Iran: Pentagon chiefs continue to warn against the consequences of a military response, say an attack would delay Iran’s program at best. Reuters recenty reported that: “Military action against Iran could have ‘unintended consequences’ in the region, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday, hours after Tehran warned that an attack against its nuclear sites would be met by ‘iron fists.’ Panetta, who took over the Pentagon's top job in July, said he agreed with an assessment of his predecessor, Robert Gates, that a strike on Iran would only delay its nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at making an atomic bomb. Gates also warned it could unite the country and deepen its resolve toward pursuing nuclear weapons. ‘You've got to be careful of unintended consequences here,’ Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon, when asked about his concerns about a military strike. He acknowledged military action might fail to deter Iran ‘from what they want to do.’ ‘But more importantly, it could have a serious impact in the region, and it could have a serious impact on U.S. forces in the region,’ he said. ‘And I think all of those things, you know, need to be carefully considered.’” [Reuters, 11/10/11]

Libya: “Low-cost and high-reward.” The removal of Muammar Qaddafi – who Ronald Reagan called the “Mad Dog of the Middle East,” by the Libyan people with American support came a very low-cost to the American people. Many conservatives have criticized the President’s handling of the Libya as “leading from behind,” but as David Rothkopf explains, “‘Leading from behind’ is an important element of this [Obama] doctrine. It is no insult to lead but let others feel they too are architects of a plan, to lead without making others feel you are bullying, to lead but do so in a way in which risks and other burdens are shared. Libya is a test case for this approach … Outcomes matter most and the outcome here has been low-cost and high-reward. More importantly, perhaps, it solidifies an Obama approach to meeting international threats that seems better suited to America's current capabilities, comparative advantages, political mood and the preferences of our allies everywhere than prior approaches which were created in and tailored to far different times.”  [David Rothkopf, Foreign Policy, 10/20/11

Arab Spring: Balancing America’s interests and values, not embracing simplistic rhetoric, on the Arab Spring. The uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa mark the most complicated and significant geopolitical shake-up since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the situation in each country remains unique and there is no simple solution. Robert Danin, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, advises that, “The United States should not try to come up with a one-size-fits-all policy for the region. Our interests are too diverse and our influence too uneven.”  Duke Professor and former State Department official Bruce Jentleson, further explains how simplistic and uninformed rhetoric can be harmful to our interests: "Blithe generalizations, binary thinking, and fear-mongering distort both the political dialogue and the analytic capacity needed to pursue policies differentiated according to the particular political dynamics of the various countries of the Arab world and the strategic challenges facing the United States." [Robert Danin, 7/27/11. Bruce Jentleson, Washington Quarterly, 7/11]

Russia: Russian reset has provided concrete security benefits for America. Since the "reset" policy began, Russia has helped the U.S. and our allies to isolate Iran, by both voting for strong sanctions and canceling its long-planned sale of an S-300 air defense system to Iran.  Russia has also provided overflight privileges for our troops and supplies headed to Afghanistan and been a more reliable partner at the UN and on the global economy. While critics point to every bump in the relationship as as evidence of the policy’s failure, Russia specialist at the Center for American Progress Sam Charap puts the policy in a full perspective: “Some of the reset-bashers seem so blinded by their rage that they simply refuse to acknowledge its successes and have conveniently forgotten how disastrous the alternative -- an antagonistic U.S.-Russia relationship -- is for U.S. national interests and Russia's own development Let's first be clear about what the reset is not. It is not a secret weapon to vaporize all those in the Russian security establishment who deeply distrust U.S. intentions and at times act on that mistrust. It is also not a reset of Russia's political system, some sort of magic wand for effecting instantaneous democratization. What it was, and remains, is an effort to work with Russia on key national security priorities where U.S. and Russian interests overlap, while not hesitating to push back on disagreements with the Kremlin at the same time. The idea is that engagement, by opening up channels of communication and diminishing antagonism, should -- over time -- allow Washington to at least influence problematic Russian behavior and open up more space in Russia's tightly orchestrated domestic politics.”  [Samuel Charap, 11/12/11

Nuclear Weapons: Reducing the nuclear threat. Since April 2009, when President Obama convened the first-ever nuclear security summit and pledged to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years, the U.S. has secured 3,085 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, enough nuclear material to make more than 120 nuclear weapons. The U.S. has helped six countries in getting rid of  all of their HEU. Nearly 190 countries agreed to strengthen the global rules against spreading nuclear weapons and technology. And the New START treaty will reduce the strategic nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia and reinstate a stringent verification regime to ensure strategic stability between the two countries that hold more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. [NSN, 1/4/11] 

Defense budget: Reducing the rate of growth in military spending in accordance with our national security strategy, with the understanding that economic strength is the foundation for America’s power. Lawrence Korb and Alex Rothman of the Center for American Progress explain: "Given the long-term threat that the federal deficit poses to American security, power, and interests… Sensible reductions in the defense budget must be part of the solution [to America’s fiscal problems]. In the decade since 9/11, defense spending has grown by a staggering 56 percent, reaching levels not seen since the end of World War II. Last year, we spent $250 billion more in real terms than what we spent on average during the Cold War. This level of spending is dramatically out of proportion with the threats. Wasteful defense spending does not make our nation safer. It diverts resources away from other key investments in the American economy, the real foundation of U.S. power." [Lawrence Korb and Alex Rothman,10/13/11] 

China: Increasing America’s ability to compete with China, working with China where fruitful and pushing back when China’s actions cross the line. As Nina Hachigian of the Center for American Progress explains, “While the U.S.-China relationship is never easy, the administration has avoided major crises and managed to sell Taiwan the largest arm sales packages in any two-year period over the past 30 years without a major breach of relations with Beijing.” Although the policy encourages responsible action by China, it’s not containment. Hachigian notes: “No Asian country would ever sign up to an anti-China alliance—each, in fact, wants to strengthen its relationship with Beijing. But at the same time, they want America to stick close by. Even if containment were possible, America benefits more from a strong, prosperous China than a weak and resentful one.” [Nina Hachigian, 11/9/11] 

Iraq: Rebalancing America’s role in the world and fulfilling a Bush-era security agreement. As George Washington University Professor Marc Lynch explained when the decision was announced, “President Barack Obama's announcement today of a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 should be cause for real celebration. This is the right decision, at the right time. It may have been forced upon the administration by Iraqi political realities. But the end result will be a mutually agreed upon and orderly American withdrawal from Iraq on the timetable which both Bush and Obama promised but which few believed would ever really happen... Iraq still faces many difficult challenges and won't be fully secure or politically stable for a long time. But the U.S. military presence is now largely irrelevant to those problems. Nor would the remaining troops have greatly troubled Iran. Iraqi politics and security institutions have long since adapted to the reduced American role and its impending departure. Disaster did not follow when U.S. troops stopped patrolling, or when 100,000 troops left over the course of a year. Instead, Iraqi Security Forces took over the lead role in internal security under the new conditions, and adapted effectively enough.  Even if an agreement had been reached to keep some U.S. troops after 2011, they would have been almost exclusively involved in training and support. The ongoing terrorist attacks and unresolved instability along the Arab-Kurdish border pose real challenges, but the U.S. troops which might conceivably have stayed behind in 2012 weren't going to be dealing with them.” [Marc Lynch, 10/21/11

Israel: The U.S. alliance with Israel is fundamental; security ties are closer than they have ever been. Since 2009, President Obama has met with Prime Minister Netanyahu more than any other world leader, and the U.S. and Israel held their largest-ever joint military exercise. Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, also notes "an unprecedented increase in U.S. security assistance, stepped up security consultations, support for Israel's new Iron Dome Defensive System, and other initiatives." Following a raid on the Israeli embassy in Egypt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognized the strong leadership of the United States, saying, "I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I asked for his help. This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, 'I will do everything I can.' And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude. This attests to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States. This alliance between Israel and the United States is especially important in these times of political storms and upheavals in the Middle East." [Andrew Shapiro, 7/16/10. Benjamin Netanyahu, 9/10/11] 

Afghanistan: Right-sizing our presence matches our commitment with our interests, encourages Afghans to take the lead. As the Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Stephen Biddle writes, the main goal of the Afghan war has been achieved, and it’s time to right-size our presence to match our commitment with our interests. "Ten years later, Osama bin Laden is dead and his organization is reeling. The prospects of mass casualty attacks on the 9/11 scale are receding as al-Qaeda central weakens, and it may be increasingly possible to contain bin Laden's successors with low-key espionage and standoff attacks by drones or commandos." By insisting that President Obama consider only the most resource-intensive option given to him by his commanders, Sen. Graham misunderstands the role of commander-in-chief, which requires balancing competing priorities to achieve the national interest. As General David Petraeus said last summer when the redeployment was announced, “There are broader considerations beyond those just of a military commander… The commander in chief has decided, and it is then the responsibility, needless to say, of those in uniform to salute smartly and to do everything humanly possible to execute it.” [Stephen Biddle, 8/26/11. David Petraeus via the NYT, 6/23/11

Guantanamo Bay: U.S. prisons have safely held terrorists for years. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained his experience imprisoning terrorists from his CIA days in the Reagan administration: “This started 20 years ago when I was at CIA, and we captured a Hezbollah terrorist who had been involved in killing an American sailor on an aircraft that had been taken hostage in Beirut. We brought him to the United States, put him on trial and put him in prison.” In fact, our prison system has held some of the most notorious terrorists for decades, including, the East Africa Embassy bombing perpetrators; Ramzi Yousef, for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber; Najibullah Zazi, who plotted the attack on the New York City subway; Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, before his execution; and most recently Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber.”  [Robert Gates, 5/22/09] 

Interrogation Policies: Traditional practices have been more effective, without damaging America’s credibility. In his article, Senator Graham complains that, “Our well-trained, professional CIA interrogators are now virtually out of the interrogation business. We now rely on the Army Field Manual, which is online for our enemies to review, as the exclusive resource for interrogation.” In fact, senior terrorism suspects are interrogated by the High-value Interrogation Group (HIG) which is made up of intelligence professionals from the CIA, the FBI and the Pentagon, and is run by the National Security Council. But more importantly, as Matthew Alexander, the Air Force interrogator who led the team that found Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, through the use of traditional interrogation techniques, recently explained, transparency is on our side: “The Army Field Manual on interrogations should be made public for several reasons. It dispels any rumors that we are using torture. Transparency is our friend in this regard—it prevents our enemies from spinning ‘secretive’ techniques and reassures our allies that we are not using torture.” [Matthew Alexander, 2/4/11

Bringing Terrorists to Justice: Civilian courts are more effective than military commissions at delivering justice. In his article, Graham advocates for the use of military commissions to prosecute the 9/11 perpetrators, arguing that they are tougher on terrorists. However, Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell in the George W. Bush administration explains, the “purported reason for funneling more suspects into the military system is, of course, to be tougher on terrorism. Terrorist attacks are acts of war, the thinking goes, and therefore should be handled solely by the U.S. military. But the respective records of federal courts and military tribunals undermine this rationale. Through domestic law enforcement, most notably the FBI and Department of Justice, the U.S. has successfully prosecuted more than 400 terrorism cases. Military tribunals have convicted only six people in 10 years.” Graham specifically cites Ahmed Ghailani to prove his point because Ghailani was acquitted of all but one charge in the East Africa Embassy Bombings. Yet Ghailani, who was prosecuted in a civilian court, is currently serving out a life sentence. [Lawrence Wilkerson, 10/2/11]

Photo: CBS News

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