The Wall Street Journal reported on the reestablishment of military, authoritarian rule in Egypt last week:
For months, the White House and State Department have hailed successive steps toward democratic rule in Egypt, even setting aside concern over the overwhelmingly Islamist tilt of the country’s new leaders.
After months of military rule and uncertainty following President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow, the developments offered the prospect of a crowning achievement of the Arab Spring. . ..
Any collapse of Egyptian democracy now, combined with mounting anti-dissident violence in Syria and the newfound uncertainty of international efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program, likely would hand Mr. Obama’s Republican foes a potent campaign weapon.
You will recall that the Obama administration, despite plenty of signs of regression on human rights, released all aid to Egypt this year. Might have been better to keep a few purse strings, no?
The disarray in our Middle East policy (do we have one?) and the administration’s seeming paralysis to act unless Russia and China go along do not enhance our credibility as the P5+1 countries head into talks in Moscow with the Iranians this week. Indeed our lack of coherent policies, rising conflict in the Middle East and our inability to control national security leaking suggest a vacuum of leadership on national security.
After the Moscow talks would be an opportune time for Mitt Romney to give a major foreign policy address. No, national security most likely won’t be decisive considerations in the 2012 presidential race, but leadership and Obama’s lack thereof certainly are.
Romney would be smart to get away from criticizing President Obama’s lukewarm embrace of American exceptionalism. It’s vague and not entirely accurate charge at this point. Rather, Romney would do well to make several points that parallel his criticisms of Obama on domestic policy.
Obama on foreign policy, as on domestic policy, is AWOL. Crises arise, build and intensify until — once in a while — Obama is forced to act, often with so many caveats and requirements (Libya, Afghanistan) that we undermine our goals and prolong conflict. Obama appears intent on ending our participation in military operations regardless of the conflicts’ outcome and on signaling to friends and foes that we want to “nation build at home.” Obama’s passivity and foolish reliance on multi-lateral institutions are a failure of will and interest on his part.
Romney has sketched out his domestic agenda for “day one,” and he’d be wise to do the same on national security, perhaps with a “year one” list of critical tasks. If Romney’s domestic policy revolves around reviving the private sector, then national security can be similarly focused on a tired and true principle: Stick by our friends and stand up to foes.
First and foremost, Romney needs a clear policy to make good on his pledge that Iran won’t get a nuclear capability, assuming Israel hasn’t been forced to take matter into its own hands before January. If sanctions have not forced a halt to uranium enrichment, Romney should be emphatic that he will use the military option. (The only hope to avoid using it may be a more credible threat of military force from a more credible commander in chief.) If Iran’s closest ally, Bashar al-Assad, is still in power, Romney should pledge provision of aid to the Syrian opposition. (In an interview in February, Romney told me he supported such action.)
He should recap other items he has mentioned in the campaign: ensuring adequate funding for our Defense Department (reversing sequestration cuts); repairing relations with Israel (putting Israel on the itinerary for his first foreign trip); and pursuing additional free-trade deals.
Other items for his “year one” could include reevaluating aid to Egypt and Pakistan so as to provide a proper balance of carrots and sticks; reestablishing robust intelligence and defense cooperation with Eastern Europe (which was damaged when Obama yanked missile sites out of Poland and the Czech Republic); reimposing full sanctions on Cuba; and tangibly moving to elevate human rights in our dealings with other countries and the United Nations.
Romney needs to be both forceful and calm. He can’t afford to come across as rash, but neither should be shy about explaining that unlike the president he will use the full array of national security tools to protect American interests. The message on national security is therefore part of his overall narrative that Obama is in over his head, filled with wrongheaded ideas and all too willing to accept a diminished role for the United States. It is an important message, and now seems the ideal time to deliver it.