What Obama’s foreign policy priorities should be

White House/Pete Souza

President Obama talks with Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for South Asia, left, and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon in the Oval Office, Nov. 13, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • What should President Obama’s foreign policy priorities be? @AmbJohnBolton

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  • Though foreign policy issues were largely absent from 2012 debates, global risks and challenges haven’t disappeared.

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  • A strong US international posture is critical to maintaining even a minimal level of international security.

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Although foreign policy issues were noticeable largely by their absence from the 2012 political debates, global risks and challenges to America have not disappeared.  In fact, with Barack Obama now safely past his last encounter with voters, it is entirely predictable that the scope and pace of national security threats to the United States are likely to increase substantially.

Our global adversaries long ago sized up Obama as weak and inattentive, addressing foreign and defense issues only when he had no alternative.  Unlike the long line of presidents, Republican and Democratic, since Pearl Harbor, whose highest priority was protecting the United States against external dangers, Obama’s agenda was always domestic.  And not only were national-security issues low-priority, Obama never saw the world as dangerous for the United States and its friends and allies.

Obama’s strategy was summed up in the  famous “open microphone” conversation with Russia’s then-President Medvedev, when Obama asked Russia to give him “space” until after Nov. 6, when he could be “more flexible” on national missile defense.  Our adversaries fully understood that Obama’s plea was not limited to Russia and not limited to missile defense.  Unfortunately for the United States, our foes correctly concluded that a re-elected Obama would continue his first-term policies, to their advantage and America’s disadvantage.

And it has already begun.  Although he will not be re-inaugurated until Jan. 20, Obama’s second term actually started two months ago on Sept. 11 in Benghazi.  The murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others by terrorists attacking our consulate demonstrated conclusively that Obama’s entire worldview of global terrorism was badly flawed.  Contrary to Obama’s ideology and his campaign rhetoric, the war on terrorism is not over, al Qaeda has not been defeated, and the Arab Spring has not resulted in pro-Western, democratic regimes in the Middle East.  In fact, al Qaeda is stronger than before and America’s strategic position in the region has steadily deteriorated.

As the Medvedev conversation demonstrated, Obama was simply trying to get past the November election.  In just days afterward, we saw not only more evidence that the Benghazi murders were unrelated to the White House’s fantasy explanation, based on an offensive Internet video about Mohammed, but that on Nov. 1 Iran had fired on a U.S. drone flying over international waters, and that Attorney General Eric Holder knew in late summer of CIA Director David Petraeus’s affair with his biographer.  Conveniently for Obama’s political strategy, none of this became public pre-Nov. 6.  One can only guess about what else remains hidden from public view.

Properly understood, Obama’s approach to the Benghazi attack embodies the essence of his deeply flawed ideology.  He has been inattentive to the risks of international terrorism and the revival of al Qaeda; he has utterly failed to impede Iran’s steady progress toward its long-sought objective of deliverable nuclear weapons; and, with rare (if welcome) exceptions, he seems incapable of using U.S. military force.  There has been no retaliation to date, for example, in response to the Benghazi murders, which tells terrorists and other enemies that we have lapsed back into the mentality before the first September 11 attacks in 2001.

Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and the inevitable, follow-on nuclear proliferation to other Middle Eastern regimes, the ongoing global war on terrorism, and the need to protect U.S. interests against assertive, sometimes belligerent positions taken by China, Russia and others has not disappeared.  Unfortunately, Obama’s every inclination is to do almost exactly the opposite of what is actually required to protect us.  Even after massive defense-related budget cuts in his first term, for example, Obama seems indifferent to further devastating cuts under the looming sequestration mechanism.  Moreover, his advisers have worked quietly on plans for dramatic, unilateral cuts in our nuclear weapons capabilities, whether the Russians agree or not, and without regard to America’s unique global responsibilities.

Because conservatives did not demand that their political leaders speak up on these critical national-security issues over the last four years, Obama could well implement his damaging policies, which are all too evident, without effective opposition in the next four.  A strong U.S. international posture is critical to maintaining even a minimal level of international security, and Obama’s policies of decline will reduce what little stability that now exists to our continuing detriment.  The real issue is whether conservatives will continue their passivity from Obama’s first term, and allow him to proceed unimpeded.  That was a mistake previously, and it will be an even bigger mistake if we repeat it over the next four years.

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