Expert-Checking The Security Debate

September 23, 2011

Washington, D.C. – Thursday night’s Fox News-Google debate offered presidential hopefuls the chance to present their vision on a range of important issues in foreign affairs. The discussion also revealed several surprising misconceptions about U.S. national security at odds with the views of nonpartisan
defense and military experts:

  • Pakistan. Conservatives, whose previous administration was found to have “no comprehensive plan” for Pakistan, now believe the U.S. can walk away from the country where Osama Bin Laden was found and killed.
  • Israel. A month in which Israel’s foreign minister said he would embrace Obama’s UN speech “with both hands” and its Prime Minister said Israelis owed Obama “a special measure of gratitude” is a surprising time to accuse the President of selling out
    our ally.
  • Supporting All Our Troops. The spectacle of an audience  booing a uniformed American risking his life for his country, without rebuke from the candidates, poses fundamental questions for a conservative movement that claims to be the defenders of the U.S. military.

What The Experts Say

Pakistan: Military, bipartisan experts, former Cabinet officials say it’s wrong to think we can walk away. The successful targeting of Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani territory, and the killings of dozens of other top Al Qaeda leaders highlight the consensus among those who lead our counter-terrorism policy that backing away from Pakistan is not an option.CBS reported earlier this year, “[Chairman of the Joint chiefs of staff Admiral Michael] Mullen acknowledged that the two countries were in the midst of a ‘turbulent time,’ but that both countries understand the importance of salvaging the situation. ‘I think that all of us believe that we cannot let this relationship come apart,’ he said.” Last year, a bipartisan
Council on Foreign Relations “Pak-Af” task force chaired by Sandy Berger and Richard Armitage considered the alternatives and concluded, “Engagement, partnership, and investment-with markers of progress-in support of common objectives are more apt to encourage desirable
results.”

By contrast, the Government Accountability Office found that the Bush administration had “no comprehensive plan” to deal with the problem.  Instead, the Bush administration pursued a policy President Bush described as: “When [Musharraf] looks me in the eye and says there won’t be a Taliban and won’t be Al Qaeda, I believe him.” [CBS News, 4/20/11. CFR,  11/10. GAO, 4/08 . George W. Bush via Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007.]

Israelis thank Obama; Foreign Minister endorses UN speech “with both hands.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman endorsed the president’s speech at the UN this week, saying he would sign on to it with “both hands.”   Less than three weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognized the strong leadership of the United States, saying, “I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I asked for his help. This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, ‘I will do everything I can.’ And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude. This attests to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States.  This alliance between Israel and the United States is especially important in these times of political storms and upheavals in the Middle East.” [Avigdor Lieberman via JTA, 9/22/11. Benjamin Netanyahu, 9/10/11]

Military leaders express support for all men and women in uniform. Hearing a debate audience boo an American in uniform – with no rebuke from the candidates – is surprising and unprecedented, in particular because it flies in the face of the views of America’s military leadership. A year ago Admiral Mullen wrote about why he supported the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, saying, “It comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.” Maj. Gen. (ret) Paul Eaton, NSN Special Advisor, explained, “It’s a matter of military discipline. All soldiers – gay, straight or otherwise – have the right to serve and to be held to the high standard of conduct currently applied to heterosexual service members. Ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is the right thing to maintain the integrity of the military and the right thing for our security.” [Admiral Michael Mullen via Washington Post, 2/3/10. Paul Eaton via NSN, 10/13/10]

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