The Syria debacle and now the Obama administration tip-toe toward a phony deal with Iran should be instructive on a number of counts for Republicans contemplating a 2016 run.
Let’s start with two basic questions: Who is going to be our Sergey Lavrov and what is going to be the substance of a matured conservative foreign policy?Who will clean up Obama’s foreign policy mess?
The Russians have the wily and effective foreign minister Lavrov, who runs circles around the hapless Americans without breaking a sweat. He and his boss, Vladimir Putin, see the world strategically — advancing their country’s interests, seizing on an errant word by our secretary of state, aiding the vital allies (i.e. dictators), and manipulating Western media. Who is our strategic thinker to be?
Richard Nixon had Henry Kissinger. Ronald Reagan had Jeane Kirkpatrick. So then, the first challenge for GOP presidential contenders is to find a trusted adviser or group of advisers which can help analyze events, assess interests and formulate a set of policies that can guide our national security apparatus. (Goodness knows operating without clear policies has not be a successful endeavor in the Obama administration.)
At this particular time it’s hard to identify who the top adviser or advisers might be. They cannot be prisoners of a past administration’s vision; the world has changed. So there is the problem of who will aid the candidate.
Then there plainly is a need for a matured conservative policy tempered by the experience of the Arab Spring, Iraq and the disastrous Obama years.
It would be unwise to pretend events unfolded during the Bush administration as originally envisioned; the utopianism of Bush’s second inaugural address (“The ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world”) cannot be the model for our foreign policy. By the same token, “leading from behind,” pretending the United States has no interests in key Middle East countries, making the United States a partner with Putin — or worse with the mullahs in Iran and Bashar al-Assad in Syria — is as dangerous as it is immoral. Whatever we want to call it (practical internationalism?), it should not adopt everything nor should it reject everything from the Bush years. Save what worked, reject or modify what didn’t.
The next president and his team will face huge challenges. President Obama’s successor must rebuild U.S. credibility, construct a muscular but clear-eyed approach to the Middle East and develop a sustainable framework for helping free peoples achieve greater liberty. And, by the way, he will have to do all that, while regaining the trust of Congress and world leaders.
The 2016 potential GOP presidential candidates should be surveying the field of foreign policy talent and looking for strategists who’ve spent time looking at the world. The candidates should start early, especially if they’ve not spent years thinking about these issues. Unless the candidate, like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, spent his whole adult life thinking about these issues and engaging the American people and foreign adversaries to formulate a defined world view and accumulate a lot of information, he will need time to become proficient in national security, not only to appear credible in a campaign but also to be ready to govern. That means consulting, thinking, writing and speaking on national security matters.
The potential candidates should embrace the other lessons of Syria and Iran including:
We cannot have an “uncertain trumpet” as commander in chief.
We cannot let rhetoric diverge from action.
We must understand our conduct in one region or one country in one region influences how distant nations perceive us.
We are the world’s policeman but policemen prioritize their crime fighting and recognize they can’t be everywhere at once nor can they anticipate and prevent all misdeeds. The need to act with discretion.
And we must end the air of despair that foreign government express when they ask plaintively, ‘Where are the Americans?’
This may seem daunting, as it should be. We’ve gone through two presidential elections in which the eventual winner’s views, values and judgment were not fully vetted. We can’t do that again. We’ve had years of disarray, moral confusion and nonexistent leadership. That has to end.