Leading in the 21st Century

April 25, 2012

Over the next two days prominent speeches will lay out two opposing views on how U.S. achieves its objectives and secures its citizens in the world. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will set out the conservative criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign policy at the Brookings Institution today. Tomorrow in New York, Vice President Biden will speak on the Obama administration’s successes in the international arena.

Experts from across the political spectrum agree that the past three years have demonstrated that a principled, pragmatic and progressive approach to national security keeps Americans safe, builds our well-being at home and strengthens America’s power abroad. Addressing the challenges of the 21st century requires leadership that is able to recognize and draw from the true strength and potential of the American people. From killing Osama bin Laden, to bringing the Iraq War, to an end to rebuilding alliances around the word, this is an approach founded on pragmatism and results. In an ever more complex world America’s interests are advanced by refocusing all the tools of national power – diplomatic, economic, military, intelligence, social and moral – rather than seeing every problem as a nail to be hit with a very costly hammer. Americans demand leadership that is dependable, pragmatic and results-oriented – and poll after poll demonstrates that the public supports this  approach over the ideological and extreme views of the right.

Leadership Refocused on America’s priorities

Addressing today’s threats, preparing for tomorrow’s challenges. Strategic thinker David Rothkopf lays out the broad landscape: “The president came into office promising to get the United States out of a disliked war in Iraq and has kept the promise. He came in promising to shift the focus to Afghanistan and finishing the business of decapitating al Qaeda. He did both. Bin Laden is dead. And we are committed to coming home from Afghanistan, too. While the administration’s response to the first stirrings of rebellion in the Middle East — in Iran — was muddled and late, the overall approach has been constructive and the Libya chapter will stand out as a gamble that worked. Restoring relations with our European allies, engineering the ‘pivot’ in priorities to Asia cited by Secretary of State Clinton, and the recognition of the growing importance of dealing with emerging powers are all additional positive developments that are a credit to the president and his team.” [David Rothkopf, 10/20/11]

Results on Core Security Issues

Killing Osama bin Laden and taking the fight to al Qaeda leadership. John Brennan, the career CIA officer who is the White House advisor on counterterrorism explains that the raid that killed Osama bin Laden is just part of the overall success against al Qaeda: “We have affected al-Qa’ida’s ability to attract new recruits. We’ve made it harder for them to hide and transfer money, and pushed al-Qa’ida’s finances to its weakest point in years. Along with our partners, in Pakistan and Yemen, we’ve shown al-Qa’ida that it will enjoy no safe haven, and we have made it harder than ever for them to move, to communicate, to train, and to plot. Al-Qa’ida’s leadership ranks have been decimated, with more key leaders eliminated in rapid succession than at any time since 9/11.  For example, al-Qa’ida’s third-ranking leader, Sheik Saeed al-Masri-killed.  Ilyas Kashmiri, one of al-Qa’ida’s most dangerous commanders-reportedly killed.  Operatives of AQAP in Yemen, including Ammar al-Wa’ili, Abu Ali al-Harithi, and Ali Saleh Farhan-all killed.  Baitullah Mahsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban-killed.  Harun Fazul, the leader of al-Qa’ida in East Africa and the mastermind of the bombings of our embassies in Africa-killed by Somali security forces.  All told, over the past two and half years, virtually every major al-Qa’ida affiliate has lost its key leader or operational commander, and more than half of al-Qa’ida’s top leadership has been eliminated.” [John Brennan, 6/29/11]

Libya: Leadership with shared burdens and risks is “low-cost and high-reward.” The removal of Muammar Qaddafi – who Ronald Reagan called the “Mad Dog of the Middle East” – by the Libyan people with American and international support came at a very low-cost to the American people. Rothkopf explains, “It is no insult to lead but let others feel they too are architects of a plan, to lead without making others feel you are bullying, to lead but do so in a way in which risks and other burdens are shared. Libya is a test case for this approach… Outcomes matter most and the outcome here has been low-cost and high-reward. More importantly, perhaps, it solidifies an Obama approach to meeting international threats that seems better suited to America’s current capabilities, comparative advantages, political mood and the preferences of our allies everywhere than prior approaches which were created in and tailored to far different times.”  [David Rothkopf, 10/20/11.  David Ignatius, 9/3/11]

Managing China’s rise. Nina Hachigian of the Center for American Progress and Jacob Stokes of the National Security Network write, “The Obama administration’s approach is steady, clear-eyed, and focused on results. The administration has pushed back on China multiple times—taking China to task on unfair trade, forming a united front to get China to back down from aggressive actions in the South China Sea, and selling arms to Taiwan over furious protests from Beijing. President Obama’s Asia strategy, which is deepening partnerships and engagement in the region, is designed to ensure that as China grows it contributes to peace and stability and follows the rules of the international system. At the same time the administration does not let differences prevent the United States from working with Beijing on important joint challenges such as North Korea’s nuclear program and clean energy.” [Nina Hachigian and Jacob Stokes, 3/13/12]

Beginning transition in Afghanistan. With successes against al Qaeda and the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama has realigned America’s commitment in Afghanistan with our interests. The plans to withdrawal the 33,000 U.S. “surge” troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer and combat troops by 2014 is widely accepted by national security experts and has the support of the American public. [NSN, 6/11]

Ending the combat mission in Iraq.  With U.S. troops fully withdrawn from Iraq in December, a campaign promise was kept and, after years of effort, a failed strategy was replaced with one that better serves core American interests. Challenges remain, but these are problems that demand Iraqi-led solutions. [NSN, 8/31/10]

Anticipating and addressing 21st century threats. The Obama administration created a CIA center for climate change and national security; appointed a cyber security coordinator to craft government policy for the threats of the digital age; and developed the National Security Space Strategy. [NPR, 12/14/09. Washington Post, 12/22/09. Department of Defense, 1/11]

Building America’s Alliances

Reassuring Asian allies.  Douglas Paal of the Carnegie Endowment writes, “The [November 2011] Obama trip [to Asia] was more about re-engaging the region after more than a decade of reduced U.S. attention… Japan has abandoned its flirtation with balancing its relationship with the United States and China. South Korea’s ties with the United States are stronger than ever. And Southeast Asian sentiment clearly favors the United States to continue to be a counterbalance to China’s increasingly overweening influence, welcoming its presence but also not looking for a fight with China.” That commitment applies to U.S. support for Taiwan as well. As the State Department notes, “[I]n less than two years, the Obama Administration has sold over $12 billion in arms to Taiwan. This is comparable or greater than at any other period in the history of U.S.-Taiwan unofficial relations since the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act.” [Douglas Paal, 12/6/11. State Department, 9/21/11]

Bolstering military and intelligence ties with Israel. As Eli Lake of Newsweek reported last September, the administration has given “support that has drawn the two nations’ militaries increasingly close even as their leaders seem politely distant. The aid, U.S. and Israeli officials confirmed to Newsweek, includes the long-delayed delivery of 55 powerful GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators, better known as bunker-buster bombs, deemed important to any future military strike against Iranian nuclear sites. It also includes a network of proposed radar sites—some located in Arab neighbors—designed to help Israel repel a missile attack, as well as joint military exercises and regular national-security consultations. ‘What is unique in the Obama administration is their decision that in spite of the disagreements on the political level, the military and intelligence relationship which benefits both sides will not be spoiled by the political tension,’ says Amos Yadlin, former head of intelligence for the Israeli military.” As Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted last August, “I can hardly remember a better period of support, American support and backing and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.” [Eli Lake, 9/25/11. Ehud Barak via Fox News, 8/3/11]

Ensuring European security. As Sam Charap, on leave from the Center for American Progress, has written, “Following Obama’s little-noticed call in his April 2009 Prague speech and a subsequent behind the scenes push by the administration, the Baltic states  got the most concrete security commitment from NATO they could ask for: contingency plans within the alliance against an external attack… And despite the incessant claims that Obama’s missile-defense plan is both a sop to the Russians and an abandonment of Eastern Europe, his ‘phased, adaptive approach’ is a system that is both proven and designed to protect all of Europe from medium-range missiles from Iran — a threat the Pentagon believes to be quite real. Compare that with the previous system, which was unproven, did not actually protect the European continent, and was intended to counteract what the U.S. military says is a nonexistent threat: the Iranians’ launching an ICBM. It’s hard to see how the new plan could be interpreted as anything but a boost to the security of Russia’s neighbors.” [Sam Charap, 6/16/10]

Backing regional allies in the Middle East. As former Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy DeLeon and Middle East expert Brian Katulis, both of the Center for American Progress, write, “The Obama administration has made substantial investments in working closely with regional allies including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to respond to Iran’s nuclear program and Iranian support for terrorist groups. The United States has provided unprecedented military aid to Israel since President Obama came into office, including investments in missile-defense systems. In addition, the United States has offered Saudi Arabia modern and upgraded capabilities, as well as enhanced defense cooperation with a range of partners in the region including the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, the Obama administration realigned regional missile-defense capabilities to better address the threat from Iranian missiles, securing Turkey’s consent to host an early-warning radar on its soil—a radar that will monitor Iran for any missile launches. The administration has also accelerated the deployment of missile-defense systems to Europe that can protect our allies from Iranian missiles.” [Rudy DeLeon and Brian Katulis, 12/15/11]

Shrewd Diplomacy for America’s Security

Reducing the nuclear threat. This year saw the second Nuclear Security Summit, an initiative created by the Obama Administration. Those summits have brought concrete gains in nuclear security. As the Summit’s fact sheet notes, “32 countries made over 70 commitments on specific actions to enhance nuclear security at the Washington Summit, and the national progress reports submitted by the participating countries have shown that nearly all of these have been achieved.” Those results include eight countries giving up enough nuclear material to make 19 bombs and material for thousands more being properly secured against theft or misuse in Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere. And the New START treaty will reduce the strategic nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia and reinstate a stringent verification regime to ensure strategic stability between the two countries that hold more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. [Nuclear Security Summit Fact Sheet, 3/28/12. NSN, 4/4/12]

Isolating Iran: U.S. leadership, technical setbacks and unified diplomatic efforts have put Iran under unprecedented pressure. Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution explains how the Obama administration’s work with the international community to isolate Iran is paying off. She writes, “An extensive early effort by the Obama administration to engage Tehran in negotiations helped persuade reluctant European allies to adopt unprecedented sanctions on trade and investment in Iran’s energy sector when these negotiations failed.” And as David Ignatius says, Iran “faces an economic squeeze that is growing tighter by the month,” saying that “this global net appears to be closing around Iran.” [Suzanne Maloney, 9/16/11. David Ignatius, 4/9/12]

Working with Russia on converging interests. While drawing Russia’s ire for its stands on election fraud and human rights, Washington has pulled pragmatic results out of the Russia “reset,” as Andrew Weiss of the Rand Corp. explains: “Russian votes in the U.N. Security Council in 2009 and 2010 to tighten sanctions on Iran, the 2010 New START nuclear arms reduction treaty and the creation of a supply corridor across Russian territory for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. There are plenty of important issues on the agenda — nuclear nonproliferation, terrorism, the dangerous situation in Pakistan and the wobbly global economy — on which U.S. and Russian interests more or less converge.” [Andrew Weiss, 3/2/12]

Making international institutions work to America’s advantage. The administration has gotten results on U.S. priorities by working to engage and reform international institutions: From curbing the financial crisis, to human rights abuses in Iran and Syria, to monitoring of the radioactive plume from the Fukushima nuclear accident, to taking the front lines on Libya, other nations have shared costs and advanced U.S. interests around the globe.

What We’re Reading

Israel has legalized three unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank, inciting outrage from Palestinians and anti-settlement activists.

Kofi Annan acknowledged that Syrian forces did not withdraw weapons from urban centers and return to barracks, violating the terms of a six part peace plan he devised.

Libya’s National Transitional Council issued a new law that outlaws parties based on religious beliefs, a development that was ridiculed by Islamists.

One month after soldiers overthrew the country’s president, Mali’s short-term leader has announced a new government.

A statement by the Pakistani military revealed that the country has successfully tested an improved ballistic missile.

Standard and Poor’s Rating Services altered India’s long-term credit rating to negative from stable.

China released a warning to North Korea not to proceed with a widely-expected nuclear test.

South Sudan’s president shortened his visit to China as tension between the two Sudans flared up over border and oil disputes.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pushed for Brazil to become more invested in security efforts across the globe.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated that there will be no agreement between his party and the far-right National Front.

Commentary of the Day

Israeli military chief of staff Benny Gantz says he does not believe Iran will decide to develop nuclear weapons.

Brent Scowcroft advocates the international community working in concert, not competition.

Wesley Donehue  highlights the pervasiveness of social media and urges those involved in the political process to use it constructively.

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