A World in Crisis

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National security leaders assembled in Washington in October 2013 to ask, “Will America lead?” This year, they got their answer. Throughout the past year, the Obama administration has – frustratingly – refused to meet ceaseless global challenges. Nonetheless, as Russia dismembers Ukraine, Iran advances its illicit nuclear program, Syrian President Bashar Assad wages war against his own people, the Islamic State group extends its control over Iraq and Syria, and China tries to bring East Asia under its sphere of influence, American leadership is needed more than ever.

On Wednesday, leading lawmakers and national security experts assembled at the 2014 Foreign Policy Initiative Forum to discuss how the Obama administration can restore America’s global leadership. Speakers at the forum emphasized that a world in crisis is calling for American leadership. Fortunately for the White House, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers stands ready to support the president should he decide to rise to the occasion.

 For instance, over the past year, U.S.-led negotiators have desperately sought a diplomatic agreement that would deny Iran a nuclear weapons-making capability. However, with the extension of the talks until July 2015, it is clear that Tehran will not abandon its nuclear ambitions absent more non-military pressure. At the forum, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., lamented that the Obama administration has so far blocked legislation that would establish sanctions-in-waiting if Iran negotiates in bad faith, saying that the White House is “demanding that we take away their tools. They’re demanding that we take away their leverage.”

Similarly, incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said of the administration’s objections, “[I]t’s very difficult to understand how that is problematic, meaning that you’re not really adding any sanctions at present, you’re just saying that if you don’t get a deal, then it’s going to get much tougher on [Iran].”

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin’s Russia continues to arm Ukrainian separatists and fight alongside them. U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe, has called Russian troops the “backbone” of separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine and warned that Russia’s growing military presence in the Crimean peninsula would allow Moscow to control the entire Black Sea region. However, despite repeated pleas from Kiev, the United States has not provided Ukraine the military assistance necessary for its forces to be effective against the Russia-backed fighters.

At the forum, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “I have the exact opposite conclusion than the president about arming Ukrainians.” He also described his travels to Kiev: “We were there when 300,000 people in subfreezing weather demonstrated day after day, night after night, because they wanted to be part of Europe, part of the West. They don’t want the kleptocracy they were living under that we see in Russia.”

David Kramer, the former president of Freedom House and former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said at the forum, “The push for providing lethal assistance to Ukraine is bipartisan. This is not a Republican issue beating up the Democratic White House …The legislation passed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ... 18 to nothing. Nothing passes 18 to nothing these days. That’s a sign of strong bipartisan support for providing Ukrainians the means to defend themselves.”

Finally, the pillar of American strength, defense spending, is on course to be cut by $1 trillion over a 10-year period due to the Budget Control Act of 2011. The bipartisan, congressionally mandated National Defense Panel warned in its July 2014 report that these cuts “constitute a serious strategic misstep on the part of the United States” that “have prompted our current and potential allies and adversaries to question our commitment and resolve.”

At the forum, former Ambassador Eric Edelman, a member of the National Defense Panel, former undersecretary of defense for policy and Foreign Policy Initiative board member, told attendees, “If we don’t get rid of sequester and the [Budget Control Act] caps on the defense budget, it seemed clear to us as a panel that the United States will not be able in the future to continue to play that role” of providing “a framework for international order and a rules-based international system.”

Lawmakers were even more frank. McCain said if sequestration is not repealed, military leaders warn that “we’re not going to be able to defend United States national security interests.” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, added that “The impact of sequestration is having a serious, deleterious effect on our ability to defend our nation.”

The past year has demonstrated that, absent robust American global leadership, aggressive powers will be emboldened to repress their own people and threaten the world. If President Barack Obama wishes, he can work with these honest critics of his foreign policy and try to reverse the setbacks that the U.S. and its friends abroad have recently suffered. If he does not, then the world his successor will inherit will likely be even more chaotic and threatening to the United States and even more difficult to fix.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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