The Middle East is in chaos. Wars are being fought in Iraq and Syria. Iran is moving closer to getting the bomb. President Obama is clueless. Try as you might to make 2016 only about budgets, taxes and health care, it will in large part be a referendum on the Obama/Hillary Clinton/John Kerry foreign policy. Here are 15 guidelines to stay out of trouble and maintain the impression that you could be a credible commander in chief:
1. If you don’t know enough to comment, you aren’t ready to be president. Frankly, it is irresponsible to run for president if you don’t have a firm grasp of national security. We already had one president entirely unprepared to lead internationally. Another one would be devastating.
2. Make sure you demonstrate awareness of two enemies — Iran and al-Qaeda. Both are a threat to the United States. The idea that we can’t help non-jihadi rebels in Syria or fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq because we would be “helping Iran” demonstrates ignorance. We need to do both, in large part because a win for Bashar al-Assad is a win for Iran and because either a failed state or an out-and-out victory for al-Qaeda would be disastrous.
3. Show that you understand who our real allies are — Israel, Jordan, anti-jihadi rebels and activists. These allies are shaken and are convinced that we are intentionally capitulating to Iran on nukes and in failing to check its hegemonic ambitions. Explain how you’d reassure these allies. If you don’t know, see No. 1 above.
4. Demonstrate that you understand how things are connected. Doing nothing in Syria empowered Iran. Welcoming a Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity government signals that you are not serious about defending Israel against Iran, Hamas’s patron.
5. Stop ruling out things. The president is in the business of reassuring enemies. Don’t imitate him.
6. Don’t neglect human rights. The president has severed human rights from the nuclear talks with Iran, has not acted to prevent the killing of 160,000 Syrians and does not pressure governments such as Egypt to improve civil liberties. It is crucial that we stand on the side, at least rhetorically, of oppressed people who are genuinely seeking greater liberty. This is part of the struggle against Iran and essential to demonstrating to the “Muslim world” that we care about more than just our own security (e.g. Iranian nukes).
7. Be clear we need to increase defense spending. This is an easy call compared with other issues. It is needed both because the prospect we will need to fight multiple wars exists and because it would signal a new U.S. approach.
8. Don’t impugn the president’s motives. We don’t really know if he “wants” Iran to win, and it doesn’t matter. His policies are wrong and dangerous. Stick to what he has done. Let him try to justify why he did it.
9. Affirm that we need a robust data-mining program with appropriate oversight and drones to take out terrorists overseas. If you don’t think so, you’re not paying attention. See No. 1.
10. Benghazi, Libya, is a symptom, not the main Obama failure. The murder of four Americans occurred because were too busy doing a victory lap after Osama bin Laden’s killing that we lost track of the uptick in jihadists in Libya. The basic problem is that the president doesn’t recognize we are fighting Islamic jihadism and that bugging out of different fronts or ignoring the aftermath of war (as we did in Libya) leaves us vulnerable.
11. Do not indulge the administration’s giveaway in the P5+1 talks. Obama is already talking about leaving Iran with some nuclear material and infrastructure. We have six U.S. resolutions saying they get to keep nothing. The reason Iran won’t agree is that the United States has lost credibility, and the mullahs are certain that this president will never use force. Back passage of the Menendez-Kirk sanctions but also begin to think of ways to make the threat of military force by the United States or Israel more credible.
12. There is no “peace process.” With a Hamas-PA unity government, any hope of an agreement is wildly unrealistic, and suggesting that Israel deal with this entity is unfair and undermines our anti-terrorism credentials.
13. Don’t re-litigate the Iraq war. Whatever the merits of the war, it is in our interest now to see that it does not become part of enlarged al-Qaeda state (the other territory being in Syria). Obama was handed a peaceful, intact Iraq. There is now chaos. That is the reality we have to address.
14. Advocate early, limited action. Had we left troops in Iraq, helped push out Assad before jihadists flooded into Syria and taken other proactive measures, we would not be facing the situation we are currently in.
15. Don’t pine for redrawing the map of the Middle East into Iranian-dominated states and one of radical al-Qaeda forces. That is the worst of all worlds for the United States, and rearranging the borders will make the division of Pakistan and India after the British left look like a walk in the park.