Dear Mitt Romney, About that WSJ piece. Part 2.

Dear Mitt Romney,

More on that WSJ piece. You can’t beat something with nothing, and your op-ed this morning was way too light on substance and vision. Allow me to be useful.

•The Middle East is on fire, in part because Barack Obama has turned his back on a part of the world that is vital to the United States politically, economically and militarily.

•Sure the so-called Arab Spring isn’t about America, but it affects our interests, our allies and our future. Maybe the Muslim Brotherhood and their ilk will persuade us that they are ready for the burdens of leadership, but while they’re thinking about it, we should be letting them know publicly that protecting minorities, women, Christians, free enterprise and American interests is the sine qua non of a relationship with the United States. Pumping cash to the Muslim Brotherhood when they demonstrate no respect for our values or our citizens is the opposite of leadership.

•An American President should never leave his allies in doubt about where he stands. As a result of Barack Obama’s indifference to the growing Iranian nuclear threat, his repudiation of what once was viewed as America’s most important ally in the Middle East and his uninterest in the future of Egypt, Syria and Iraq, we are disliked and mistrusted by both the leaders and the people of the region.

•We need a new strategy in the Middle East that makes clear we are paying attention; that if countries choose a path away from freedom, away from tolerance, away from markets, away from peace – they can do that, but they won’t be doing it with the backing of the American president or the American taxpayer. The new generation of Arab leaders needs clear choices. We may not be able to steer the future, but we don’t have to subsidize it either.

•Strong leaders don’t lie to their people. A serious president wouldn’t lie about a terrorist attack, and then rig the system to back that lie. Islamist extremists want to kill Americans, and no film is to blame for that. It’s not enough to kill terrorist leaders; we need to ensure that the environment in which they live is as inhospitable as possible. And that where we can’t root them out, Americans will be protected.

•How do we restore our credibility with Iran? Declare the “ongoing” negotiations with the EU and Iran a failure. Announce new sanctions. Direct the SecDef and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to stand down and stop warning Israel not to attack Iran. Provide Israel with more refueling capability and any support it needs to back a military strike if needed. Set red lines. Not because Netanyahu wants them, but because when they come from a serious American president, they can do more to persuade the Supreme Leader than any number of videos and letters and blandishments.

•How do we use the “full spectrum of our power to encourage liberty and opportunity” in the region? By doing more for the Syrian opposition, including beginning the process of recognizing a government, supporting safe zones, calling attention to Assad’s atrocities, condemning Russia and China’s intransigence, and encouraging the Arab League to do the same. By doing more in Egypt (see above). By paying attention to Turkey and Iraq, two countries that have forged a path away from America at our peril. By standing up for American values and not with Islamists against free speech. By rethinking aid strategies every time a government changes in the region. By recognizing our allies in Jordan are at risk, and working to ensure a steadier path in Amman. By recognizing that the Gulf is in turmoil, standing up for rights for the Shia, for political reform in Kuwait… I could go on.

•What is American strength? It is in its loyalty to its allies, its willingness to fight for our values using all the tools available, it’s in standing firm when others waiver, it’s in recognizing the quest for freedom and not pretending it’s “a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

•America needs a president with a  vision for our place in the world, and a willingness to devote resources to that vision. We are not indispensable because we are Americans; we are indispensable because we stand with those who share our values and our hopes for the world, and we stand against those who seek to steer us away from the liberal international order. That means moving aid, moving trade, moving carriers, moving people. It means standing up every day, not just after the French president tells us to, or because polls insist.

•There’s a start.

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About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.

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