Outlines of a US Republican foreign policy
The Republican Party’s presidential field is dominated by populist candidates pushing extremist policies with little substance.
Donald Trump has described his foreign and military policy as: “I will be so good at the military your head will spin.” And his economic plan? “I am going to fix it because I am rich.” Ben Carson would oppose a Muslim president because “Islamic beliefs are inconsistent with the US Constitution”.
In the midst of this confusing and disturbing exercise in dysfunctional presidential politics comes the John Hay Initiative — named after the US secretary of State at the turn of the 20th century. The initiative includes foreign policy experts trying to shape how Republicans talk about global affairs. They present their ideas in a new book, Choosing to Lead: American Foreign Policy for a Disordered World.
They are giving Republican candidates what they say is a balanced approach to foreign and security policy that is “more assertive” than US President Barack Obama’s policies but “more restrained” than that of former president George W. Bush.
The initiative includes prominent former Republican voices such as Eliot Cohen, one of the founders of the group and a former State Department official under Bush. Cohen told the Wall Street Journal: “Much of the foreign policy debate poses false and extreme choices. There is a sensible middle ground between a minimalist foreign policy of withdrawal and a maximalist one of over-extension”.
An adviser to a prominent Republican candidate, who preferred to remain unnamed, told The Arab Weekly: “This [book] is great food for thought and it will inform the debate on national security and influence the foreign policy of the candidates.” But most importantly, he said “it reflects a consensus in the Republican party that the US needs to be involved in the world”.
Iran figures prominently in the book through a chapter written by Michael Singh of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Singh argues for a comprehensive strategy for the Middle East “that has been absent in recent years”.
Singh says the new administration will require an entirely new Iran strategy that includes a “broad policy review that assesses Iran’s nuclear activities”, as well as its regional activities.
This strategy, according to Singh, should penalise Iran for its destabilising regional activities, including taking action against Iran’s proxies. Countering Iran, he says, would be “strengthened” if the United States were to increase pressure on the Assad regime in Syria.
Singh says the United States also should strengthen its regional allies and improve coordination with them. Singh concludes that “the door should be left open should Iran choose finally to undertake a strategic shift — but the shift must be Tehran’s and not Washington’s”.
Singh urges the next president “not to consider the nuclear deal in isolation”. The United States should have “a comprehensive strategy for the region and build an international coalition to support that strategy”. The issue of rebuilding America’s alliances is a central theme of the initiative. Elliott Abrams, an official in both Bush administrations, writes that the United States’ alliance network in the Middle East “must be rebuilt by the next president because Arabs, Israelis, Iranians, Turks all doubt that it still exists”.
Abrams is intrigued by how under Obama the United States managed to have “poor relations with both the Arabs and the Israelis”. For him, the “first order of business should be ending the mistrust with our closest friend and most valuable ally, Israel”.
He says the United States should end its “obsession with construction of settlements in East Jerusalem” and replace it by the “kind of quiet agreement reached by the Bush administration and the Sharon government in Israel to limit settlement growth and keep the peace map intact”.
Abrams advocates for a new “Track II” discussion between Arabs and Israel and says that “perhaps the 2002 Arab Peace Plan could be discussed in official or semi-official gatherings, to see if there are any prospects for Arab flexibility”.
Abrams says the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Jordan and Egypt want “a new American Middle East policy”. He called for reinvigorating “the Gulf Security Dialogue that the Bush administration began”. But he warned that “oil will not be a strong cement” for future relations with the Gulf states.
If a Republican wins the White House in 2016 he or she no doubt will listen to the advice of the John Hay Initiative and many of its members will likely end up in high-level jobs.