While some in the GOP might seek to mimic (or even surpass!) President Obama’s reticence to assert U.S. power, most on the right recognize that we are going down a slippery slope. It’s instructive to see what a coherent alternative to the Obama-Hillary Clinton-John Kerry foreign policy might look like.
First, it would get the values and the rhetoric right. While Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) objects to tweaking a brutal aggressor such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was taking swings at the despots in our hemisphere. On the Senate floor he declared, “This is the moment to point out that Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro’s abuse of his fellow citizens is intolerable to the United States. If he wants better relations with us, he should start by listening to the demands of his own people. He should lift the cloud of censorship that he is using to isolate Venezuelans from each other and from the rest of the world. And the United States should do all it can to help the people of Venezuela as they choose a different path, a path of freedom and prosperity, that will return this one-time enemy to its traditional role of our partner and friend. It would benefit them, it would benefit us, and it would benefit the world.” It is entirely apt that we make clear that good relations with the United States requires respect for basic human rights. (Cruz also called specifically for the release of opposition leader Leopoldo López, elucidated the noxious connection with Iran — and hence the need to proceed with sanctions — and made a clever proposal to deprive Venezuela of oil revenue. This is a model of cold-eyed realism and fidelity to American values.)
Second, a not-Obama foreign policy would not savage our military budget. The Foreign Policy Initiative outlines the array of threats we face and argues:
In the face of these threats, the United States is preparing to enter a third year of forced cuts that will reduce the Defense Department’s budget by almost a trillion dollars this decade. At $496 billion, the proposed sequestration-level defense budget for fiscal year 2015 is $45 billion below what President Obama had previously recommended for FY 2015 in April 2013 — and a whopping $95 billion below what Obama had recommended for FY 2015 in February 2011. As a result, the Pentagon’s base budget will fall from nearly 3.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) when President Obama entered office in 2009 to just 2.8 percent — roughly the same GDP percentage level prior to al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks.
Even with partial sequester relief, real damage will be done to readiness, force structure and modernization. FPI cautions: “Even if the Pentagon avoids the worst budgetary outcome, Secretary [Chuck] Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that the cuts that they’re now proposing mean that ‘our future force will assume additional risks in certain areas.’ In fact, they used the word ‘risk’ some 23 times over the course of their briefing on Monday.” In short, in a world that even the administration concedes is riskier than ever, we need a military budget that anticipates and can deter or, if need be, defeat those threats.
And, third, sober commanders in chief must abandon the notion that their own personal charm, earnestness or background is the key to resolving conflicts. We’ve seen time and again how Kerry foolishly anticipates “diplomacy” will work — in Syria, Iran or in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — if only pursued with diligence, as if no one who preceded him has ever tried to sway the Iranians, implored the Russians or cajoled the Palestinian Authority. It’s an egocentric and naive leader who would invest so much importance in personality. As Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies puts it: “President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convinced themselves that it was Mr. Bush’s cowboy swagger — not conflicting geopolitical interests — that were the root cause of Russo-American tensions. Their solution: ‘Reset’ relations with the Kremlin. That this was a misguided policy became evident when Mrs. Clinton, with elaborate fanfare, presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a button inscribed with the Russian word ‘peregruzka.’ She believed it meant ‘reset.’ In fact, it means ‘overcharge.'”
These then must be the components of a foreign policy that seeks to undo the damage wrought by the Obama years — a sound articulation of moral principles and the insistence on conditioning good relations with the United States on respect for basic human rights, a robust military properly funded to meet the threats we can reasonably anticipate (and some we can’t) and a soberness about our foes and their motives.
UPDATE: A spokesman for Cruz sends this clarification of his Venezuela oil proposal: “1. Depriving Cuba of free Venezuelan oil, or 2. Encouraging anti-socialist reform in Venezuela by offering a BIT [bilateral investment treaty] for the energy sector that would result in improved facilities and increased production and so would actually increase Venezuelan oil revenue.”