We are now feeling the effects of the decision of the United States to withdrawal from the world stage on issues ranging from Ukraine to Syria, Venezuela to the South China Sea. The president can determine whether the U.S. acts a global leader or continues to descend into irrelevance.
We are now feeling the effects of the decision of the United States to withdrawal from the world stage on issues ranging from Ukraine to Syria, Venezuela to the South China Sea. Ironically, in our age of hyber-partisanship, this retreat has bipartisan origins. On the one side we have the “blame-America-first” Left, who believe that America’s strength and presence abroad are the problem. On the other side we have the “not-our-problem” libertarian Right, who think that what happens in other countries does not affect us and therefore does not warrant our attention. While these groups have existed for a long time, President Obama’s mixed signals amplify their influence.
The president is the chief steward of foreign policy with an implicit responsibility to lead public opinion in that area. Yet we have seen the following: resets and re-resets of Russian relations while denying Eastern European allies missile defense; drawing and erasing red lines in Syria; withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan without status-of-forces agreements or residual troops; failure to react to the death of an ambassador or the storming of embassies; a “pivot” to Asia in terms of policy without any action; and a slashing of the military budget to pre-World War II levels. It should be no wonder that our allies do not trust us, our enemies are emboldened, and the public is following the siren song of isolationism.
The president must reset foreign policy, not through speeches, but with action. First, increase the defense budget. Our military must be prepared as it was during the Cold War to fight two major conflicts along with one regional conflict. Our military must be prepared to respond to the entire spectrum of contingencies from counter-terrorism to force-on-force battles. This will require a large, well-equipped and forward-deployed Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. Our military readiness must include cyber security and a re-commitment to space.
Second, we need to stand up to aggression. First and foremost is Russia and its allies. Vladimir Putin will respond only to strength. Russia must be isolated from the global economy. Russian assets must be frozen, and the West should implement harsh sanctions. Our missile shield must expand to Eastern Europe, and economic assistance must flow. NATO must be reinvigorated.
However, Russia’s reach stretches far beyond Eastern Europe. Our goal in Syria must be the removal of the Assad regime and a post-conflict settlement free from extremist elements. These demands must be backed by no-fly zones, military assistance and refugee support. There also should be negative consequences if Iran fails to comply with the recent nuclear settlement. In our own hemisphere, we must support the protesters in Venezuela against the pro-Russian government, and there must be zero tolerance for Russian submarines near Cuba.
Third, we must reassure our allies. We must resume full assistance to the Egyptian government and increase consultations with Saudi Arabia on security issues in the region. The U.S. also must increase its efforts in the Asia-Pacific region with increased military presence and a diplomatic effort to de-escalate tensions over the Senkaku Islands. We need our allies such as Japan, South Korea and the Philippines to know that we stand with them, and China must know that responsible behavior is expected of any great power.
Finally, we cannot project strength abroad when we pursue policies that weaken our own economy. It is time to end the class-warfare rhetoric and pursue a pro-growth agenda. This starts with approving the Keystone pipeline, expanding oil and gas drilling and developing an infrastructure and framework for transportation and export of these resources. We also must simplify the tax code to encourage the creation and expansion of businesses, especially in manufacturing. Obamacare along with its expense and regulatory burden must come to an end.
The president still has just under three years left in his term. His actions moving forward will determine whether the United States fulfills it global leadership role. He must rally the public along with both parties to build confidence in a strong U.S. foreign policy. If he chooses the easier path, we will continue a slow descent into American irrelevance.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this essay contained a misspelling of the word Senkaku.