America Needs a New Foreign Policy

America's foreign policy is clearly not working.  The world, and the U.S. itself, are not any safer than they were three years ago, the military is still mired in Afghanistan, Libya's Gaddafi dictatorship is likely to be replaced by a sharia-based regime, and Pakistan is turning against the U.S., while China is rising both economically and militarily, and Russia is resurgent.

Despite Hillary Clinton's claims to the contrary, Obama's foreign policy has failed completely and is making America less safe.  Thus, it is time for a new foreign affairs approach.  The purpose of this article is to lay out such a proposal.  It borrows certain principles from the Reagan administration, but it is designed around the 21st-century world.

As a  number of readers have rightly stated in comments to several previous articles, the U.S. should not be policing the world and shouldn't be an empire, but it should invest adequately in defense (not offense).  AT readers also seem to agree that the U.S. government (including the DOD) should not be involved in nation-building under any circumstances.

I wholly concur with these opinions.

The overriding guiding principles for U.S. foreign policy should be:

-          Firstly, while America cannot afford to isolate itself from the world and retrench behind its borders, neither can it try to remold the entire world in its image or try to enact grandiose "Democratize the Middle East" schemes.  There are limits to what a superpower -- even the U.S. -- can do.

-          The overriding goal must always be to defend and advance American interests.  Whenever a decision on any issue (e.g., signing a treaty, giving aid, or committing American troops to combat) has to be made, the choice must be the one that best protects American interests.

Next, we must define the purpose (mission) of the U.S. military, and thus give it a clear mission statement.  The role of the United States military should be to protect U.S. soil, citizens, interests, and crucial allies.  That's it.

Nothing else should be the U.S. military's task.  Nation-building, democratizing the world, and righting every wrong on this planet are not the purposes of America's Armed Forces.

America also needs clear rules about when and where the U.S. military should be used in combat.  The best guidelines on this subject are contained in the Weinberger Doctrine, developed by Caspar Weinberger in 1984.  Wholly endorsed by President Reagan (and later refined by the "Powell Doctrine"), the Weinberger Doctrine instructs us that:

  1. The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.
  2. U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning. Otherwise, troops should not be committed.
  3. U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.
  4. The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
  5. U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a reasonable assurance of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress.
  6. The commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort.

To which I would only add that once American troops are committed to a truly necessary war, they must receive all the training, equipment, supplies, and funding to accomplish their job, and no punches should be pulled to defeat the enemy.  No restrictive ROE.  No kid gloves.  You either try to vanquish your enemy with all means at your disposal, or you don't fight at all.

However, if American troops have been involved in the wrong war, the president should not refrain from disengaging them from it.  When you make a mistake, the only right thing to do is to correct it (as Reagan did in Lebanon in 1983), not to perpetuate it and throw good money after bad.

Accordingly to these principles:

The U.S. should not try to, and cannot afford to, involve itself in grandiose world democratization schemes, nation-building, or peacekeeping where American interests are not at stake (e.g., in the Balkans and Uganda).  Such needless crusades only bleed the U.S. military needlessly and drain the Treasury without offering any chance of success.  America's hopeless military adventures in Uganda, Pakistan, and Afghanistan should be ended quickly.

Next, the entire network of America's alliances and defense commitments should be reexamined.  Alliances that have passed the test of time should be kept, as should commitments to loyal, useful allies.  NATO, however, has long outlived its usefulness and needs to be abolished.  The U.S. should keep its "special relationship" with Britain and continue to supply it with whatever weapons it needs.  However, continental European countries should start defending themselves on their own.  The EU collectively has a larger GDP than the U.S., so it can surely afford such measures.

Similarly, all multilateral organizations of which the U.S. is a member need to be reviewed.  Like NATO, the U.N. and the IMF have outlived their usefulness.  The U.S. needs to withdraw from them promptly.

The U.S. also needs to withdraw from any treaty that does not advance American interests. The first should be the New START, whose nuclear arsenal cut requirements and constraints on missile defense are damaging to America's national security.

Next, America's entire network of foreign bases and list of deployments abroad should be reviewed.  Why, almost 20 years after the USSR's collapse, does the U.S. have bases in Germany and Italy?  Why is there still a four-star Combatant Command in Europe?  The world center of gravity is in the Pacific Rim, not in Europe.

The U.S. military must be funded adequately to protect America.  Politicians should never play budget games with defense, even during a time of budgetary crisis.  Defense needs, not budgetary constraints, should determine the size and composition of the defense budget.  The federal government needs to determine what the threats to America and its interests are, then how to face off these threats, then what resources are needed to accomplish that, and finally sum their costs up.  The result should be the defense budget topline.  That's how the Reagan administration designed defense budgets.

Significant reforms of the DOD should be undertaken along these lines.  All defense needs must be funded adequately, but some programs and missions need to be prioritized above others.  The #1 priority should always be nuclear deterrence, followed by missile defense (#2) and long-range strike (#3).  The first two are essential for America's very survival (a nuclear, biological, or EMP attack would threaten the nation's very existence), while the third is a mission the military will likely have to undertake frequently in a world littered with access-denial weapons.

In conclusion, Obama and his predecessors have made a huge mess of America's foreign policy.  But it can be fixed using the principles outlined above, as shown in the several examples listed.  I sincerely hope Republican presidential candidates will consider fixing U.S. foreign policy among their first tasks.