Obama's State of the Union address -- what about foreign policy?
Much of the talk in the run-up to the State of the Union address has focused on domestic policy. But we are a country at war, facing major challenges from diverse sources. What should the president say on foreign policy tomorrow night?
He should reassert America's commitment to success in Afghanistan. The 2011 troop drawdown deadline has been moved back, it seems, to 2014. But even Vice President Biden has suggested that our presence there would last longer. While Obama is in the process of freeing himself from the left's foreign policy blunders, he should give his unqualified pledge to providing Gen. David Petraeus with all that he needs to secure our objectives.
On Iran, Obama has a chance to reaffirm the policy of two presidents -- George W. Bush and himself -- that Iran can never obtain nuclear weapons. We may have bought some time, but reports emphasize that Iran continues to make progress on nuclear enrichment. As Iran has becomes more recalcitrant, Obama should become more direct: The United States will use military force if needed to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions, and, more important, we stand with the people of Iran who seek a democratic government that respects human rights and wants a normal relationship with the outside world.
Then there is the rest of the Middle East. As we know from documents released over the weekend, Israel has been generous in its offers of Palestinian statehood and the Palestinians have been more than willing to concede nearly all of East Jerusalem. The problem is not, and has never been, Israel's settlements. This would be a grand opportunity for Obama to step away from the disastrous obsession with settlements, make clear that the U.S. will stand with Israel at the United Nations (in vetoing resolutions on settlements and unilateral declarations of Palestinian statehood) and give a boost to the Fayyed plan that seeks economic and political progress on the West Bank.
Finally, Obama needs to match rhetoric and policy on human rights. Elliott Abrams, writing in the New York Times, advises:
The revolt in Tunisia has thrown both that nation's dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and the Obama administration's democracy-promotion policy onto the ash heap of history. The revolt undermined -- indeed, destroyed -- two years of effort in Washington to move toward a policy of "engagement" with hostile and repressive regimes. . . .
The president needn't admit error -- he can stick with the old "engagement" trope -- but he must shift his focus from sclerotic regimes to movements, parties and brave people seeking political freedom.
Whether it be Iran, China, Russia or the despotic regimes of the Middle East, Abrams suggests, "Obama should explain that a stable peace is not the product of deals with dictators but of free peoples working for common goals. He must get over his allergy to what George W. Bush called the freedom agenda, for it has been the agenda of many presidents of his own party as well." JFK, for one.
Likewise, Bob Kagan , writing in The Post on Sunday, contrasted our approach to Colombia with our relations with Egypt. He made a convincing case that our failure to pass the Colombia free trade agreement is unconscionable. ("Failure to ratify it this year would be a slap in the face to Colombia's new president and the Colombian people. Rewarding Colombians for their democratic progress would seem to be a no-brainer.") And he made an equally compelling argument for getting tough with the decrepit regime of Hosni Mubarak (who "cracked down brutally on domestic dissent, arresting, torturing and murdering bloggers").
So, for the State of the Union address, Obama should unequivocally state that we stand with the people of Tunisia, Iran, Russia, China and Egypt, as well as those who now enjoy the freedoms ushered in by democratic governments in Colombia, Eastern Europe, and Central America. You see, hope and change, doesn't stop at the water's edge. Dictators are headed for the ash heap of history, but we are with those oppressed and newly freed people who seek that most universal of human desires -- freedom.
If he says half of that, I'll be the first one to applaud.
| January 24, 2011; 9:45 AM ET
Categories: foreign policy
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