Supporting Allies with Deeds
The role of alliances in achieving U.S. security and foreign policy goals is again a hot topic of political debate. Oddly, conservative presidential candidates have argued both that the Obama administration is over-reliant on international partnerships and that President Obama has “abandoned our allies.” This is a staple line; Mitt Romney’s foreign policy white paper accuses the president of “undermining our allies.” But in fact the Obama administration has won praise for reinvigorating alliances from Asia to Israel to NATO. And the candidates’ positions toward our allies are scanty at best—if not factually flawed.
The Obama administration has backed and rebuilt core American alliances, paying dividends for America.
Reassuring Asian allies. As 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.” That approach was underscored last December, when U.S. NATO envoy Ivo Daalder explained that the U.S. would complete an anti-ballistic missile shield to protect European allies against Iran “whether Russia likes it or not.” [Sam Charap, 6/16/10. Ivo Daalder via Reuters, 12/2/11]
Backing regional allies in the Middle East. As Rudy DeLeon and Brian Katulis 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]
The candidates’ records on our allies are scant, insulting and embarrassing.
Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, gives American allies short shrift. As Daniel Drezner of Foreign Policy writes to Romney about his foreign policy white paper: “[F]or someone who says that, the Obama administration is ‘undermining one’s allies (p. 3)’ in contrast to you, who will ‘reassure our allies (p. 13),’ you don’t actually talk about America’s treaty allies much at all. True, you do talk about expanding America’s alliance system to include India and Indonesia. Mexico gets some face time. Israel gets a lot of face time. On the other hand, NATO is not mentioned once in this entire document. Neither is the European Union. Japan and South Korea get perfunctory treatment at best. Turkey is a major treaty ally but you treat it like a pariah state. For someone who’s claiming that the U.S. will reassure its major allies, you didn’t seem to give them much attention at all. This is a really important problem, because Japan and Europe have been crucial allies in a lot of major American initiatives.” [Dan Drezner, 10/9/11]
Rick Perry, Texas governor, says NATO ally Turkey is run by “Islamic terrorists.” As the Boston Globe reports: “In response to a question about the growing murder rate of women in Turkey, declining press freedom, and the Turkish prime minister’s embrace of Hamas, Texas Governor Rick Perry was asked whether Turkey still belongs in NATO. Perry responded: ‘Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by, what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes. Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.’” But as the Globe explained, “Turkey has been ruled by the Justice and Freedom Party since 2002. The party has Islamic roots, though Turkey’s constitution defines the country as democratic, secular, and parliamentary, according to the US State Department. CNN’s National Security blog said Turkey’s leaders are not “terrorists.” Turkey has been a US ally, leading four NATO peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan since the US invasion in 2001. The Associated Press reported that Turkey recently began hosting an early warning radar system, part of NATO’s missile defense system.” [Boston Globe, 1/17/12]
John Bolton, former Bush administration UN ambassador, says helping Europe deal with a debt crisis that could imperil the U.S. recovery should be “off the table.” Bolton wrote in the New York Post, “Trying to rescue the European Union’s failed political objectives should be off the table in Washington.” As Jim Tankersley of the National Journal explains, “You don’t have to believe America should bail out Italy, Greece or the entire Eurozone – a straw-man concept that no one in Washington is even floating, but several candidates took pains to denounce on Wednesday night [November 9, 2011] – to recognize that the United States has a role to play in averting another global financial crisis. At the very least, you should expect lawmakers, and presidential candidates, to be making plans for how to respond if the European crisis escalates.” [John Bolton, 10/27/11. Jim Tankersley, 11/10/11]
What We’re Reading
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that any decision on attacking Iran because of its nuclear program was “very far off.”
Ethnic bloodshed continues in South Sudan with 51 people killed in the latest clashes.
Two European central bank chiefs advised investors to pay less attention to credit rating agencies.
As U.S.-Pakistani relations deteriorate, leaders of both nations aim to work toward ‘new normal.’
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez defended his new military chief against allegations of supporting drug traffickers and Colombian rebels.
China plans to be more open about the workings of ruling Communist Party.
The United States is pulling out all its Peace Corps volunteers from Honduras, citing safety reasons.
The World Bank claims India should brace for major economic slowdown.
U.S. urges South Korea to reduce oil imports from Iran.
Syrian troops agreed to a ceasefire as the UN Security Council diplomats held prolonged talks on a proposed Russian resolution.
Commentary of the Day
Michael Wahid Hanna imagines the Arab Spring toppling Saddam Hussein.
Joseph S. Nye, Jr. suggests China’s internal restrictions undermine its efforts to build up its image and cultural influence.
Colin Kahl responds to a former Pentagon subordinate, writing that Washington has better options than a messy war with Iran.