The next U.S. president must get foreign policy right above all else

    The next U.S. president may be elected on domestic policy, but he or she will need to deal with foreign policy immediately. He or she will require better policies than the isolation of the libertarian right and the confusing signals of the left that leave us with red-line flip-flops and Benghazi excuses. 

    Three serious international issues will require the next administration’s attention. The first is Sino-American relations in the context of a volatile North Korea. The second is Iran, which has proven to be a center of trouble in the Middle East. The third continues to be Al-Qaeda and other jihadists.

    China has begun an assertive foreign policy. From developing a space program to acting provocatively over the Senkaku Islands, China is attempting leadership at the expense of the United States. There appears to be the beginnings of a new Cold War between China and the U.S. and its allies. To worsen matters, the flash point of North Korea creates the risk of a Cold War turning hot. An attack by North Korea on South Korea or Japan, nuclear or otherwise, would not only create unthinkable horror but also send the global economy into a tailspin. What would happen next? As the U.S. fights to honor treaty commitments, would China help broker a peace? (And what would this peace look like?) Or would China take advantage of the situation and move against Taiwan or against other U.S. interests?

    Iran also threatens U.S. interests. Iran supports terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, attempts to intimidate Israel as well as our Muslim allies, helps bad actors such as Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, destabilizes Iraq, and is pursuing nuclear weapons. While each action can become catastrophic for the U.S., Iranian actions also are fueling a Sunni-Shiite civil war throughout the Middle East. Sunni nations, including allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia seek to counter Iran. Unfortunately, one tactic for these nations is supporting jihadists to defend Sunni interests as perceived U.S. influence recedes. The result is increased violence and the sustainment of groups opposed the United States.

    As for Al-Qaeda, their affiliates and other jihadist groups, no one needs to be reminded of what they are capable of. However, now they have footholds in Mali, Nigeria, Syria and Iraq. Besides their destabilizing effect, these groups can build an infrastructure to attack the U.S.

    Strong armed forces

    To address these threats, the U.S. must adopt a proactive foreign policy. First, we need a large and capable military with the capability to fight two simultaneous wars. While President Obama mocked Mitt Romney for advocating a 350-ship Navy, the former governor had the right idea. Our military must have the capability to fight at all levels of warfare from air campaigns to conventional force-on-force conflicts to counter-terrorism and cyber-warfare. Nor should manned space exploration be ceded to other nations. Just as importantly, our forces must be forward-deployed throughout the world, not necessarily for combat but to serve as a deterrence and reassure our allies that the U.S. is the guarantor of security.

    The military must have a strong enough reserve force to ensure it has the capacity to meet obligations without overburdening soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. The U.S. should explore the possibility of mandatory service of a few years in the National Guard for all citizens. Such a move would build our defenses, strengthen homeland security and disaster response, and assure caution in foreign policy decisions.

    Continued action and surveillance

    Second, the U.S. must act against threats. The president was correct in pursuing shadow campaigns of drones, special operations and ,when needed, air strikes against terrorist cells. This policy should continue and be expanded along with aid to a vetted opposition ultimately to bring regime change without invasion in North Korea and Iran.

    The president also was correct in calling for balance between NSA surveillance and the privacy of U.S. citizens. Such a balance must be found and implemented.

    Good international relations

    Third, good will towards the U.S. is imperative. A policy of what Benjamin Valentino calls humble humanitarianism, such as the PEPFAR program under the Bush administration, would improve the quality of life in poorer countries. Encouraging a slow and balanced movement towards sustainable democracy, as the Obama administration did with Myanmar, also could bring participatory governance without anti-Western sentiment.

    On the diplomatic front, the U.S. needs to reset the reset of relations with Russia. While Vladimir Putin may not share all of our values, he has proved himself a force on the international scene. Realistically, the U.S. needs to work with him to deal with China, North Korea and Iran. And addressing issues such as drug cartels in Latin America, the stability of Afghanistan, and the Arab-Israeli peace process requires diplomacy, assistance and economic incentives.

    Domestic policy

    Finally, the U.S. must strengthen itself domestically to minimize our dependence on hostile nations and, thereby, provide us with more freedom of action. Reducing the debt and budget deficits, expanding manufacturing, and assuring energy independence are critical policy objectives. 

    Undoubtedly, these policies will require sacrifice from American society, but complacency only invites danger. Our freedom has been hard-earned, and to maintain it, every citizen must be vigilant. Ultimately, citizens must be ready for the next president to lead the United States on the global stage.

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