Tim Pawlenty delivered this must-read speech on foreign policy to the Council on Foreign Relations today.
President Obama has failed to formulate and carry out an effective and coherent strategy in response to these events. He has been timid, slow, and too often without a clear understanding of our interests or a clear commitment to our principles.
And parts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments. This is no time for uncertain leadership in either party. The stakes are simply too high, and the opportunity is simply too great.
No one in this Administration predicted the events of the Arab spring – but the freedom deficit in the Arab world was no secret. For 60 years, Western nations excused and accommodated the lack of freedom in the Middle East. That could not last. The days of comfortable private deals with dictators were coming to an end in the age of Twitter, You Tube, and Facebook. And history teaches there is no such thing as stable oppression.
President Obama has ignored that lesson of history. Instead of promoting democracy – whose fruit we see now ripening across the region – he adopted a murky policy he called “engagement.”
“Engagement” meant that in 2009, when the Iranian ayatollahs stole an election, and the people of that country rose up in protest, President Obama held his tongue. His silence validated the mullahs, despite the blood on their hands and the nuclear centrifuges in their tunnels.
While protesters were killed and tortured, Secretary Clinton said the Administration was “waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes.” She and the president waited long enough to see the Green Movement crushed.
“Engagement” meant that in his first year in office, President Obama cut democracy funding for Egyptian civil society by 74 percent. As one American democracy organization noted, this was “perceived by Egyptian democracy activists as signaling a lack of support.” They perceived correctly. It was a lack of support.
“Engagement” meant that when crisis erupted in Cairo this year, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, Secretary Clinton declared, “the Egyptian Government is stable.” Two weeks later, Mubarak was gone. When Secretary Clinton visited Cairo after Mubarak’s fall, democratic activist groups refused to meet with her. And who can blame them?
The forces we now need to succeed in Egypt — the pro-democracy, secular political parties — these are the very people President Obama cut off, and Secretary Clinton dismissed.
The Obama “engagement” policy in Syria led the Administration to call Bashar al Assad a “reformer.” Even as Assad’s regime was shooting hundreds of protesters dead in the street, President Obama announced his plan to give Assad “an alternative vision of himself.” Does anyone outside a therapist’s office have any idea what that means? This is what passes for moral clarity in the Obama Administration.
By contrast, I called for Assad’s departure on March 29; I call for it again today. We should recall our ambassador from Damascus; and I call for that again today. The leader of the United States should never leave those willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of freedom wondering where America stands. As President, I will not.
I blogged quite a bit about the peaceful protestors in Iran. Remember Neda Soltan who was shot down in the streets? And yet Obama had almost nothing to say about the pro-democracy movements. And Obama was on the wrong side in the Honduras election, as well – he backed Manuel Zelaya. It’s good that Tim Pawlenty has something to say about it.
And a bit more of his speech:
The third category consists of states that are directly hostile to America. They include Iran and Syria. The Arab Spring has already vastly undermined the appeal of Al Qaeda and the killing of Osama Bin Laden has significantly weakened it.
The success of peaceful protests in several Arab countries has shown the world that terror is not only evil, but will eventually be overcome by good. Peaceful protests may soon bring down the Assad regime in Syria. The 2009 protests in Iran inspired Arabs to seek their freedom. Similarly, the Arab protests of this year, and the fall of regime after broken regime, can inspire Iranians to seek their freedom once again.
We have a clear interest in seeing an end to Assad’s murderous regime. By sticking to Bashar al Assad so long, the Obama Administration has not only frustrated Syrians who are fighting for freedom—it has demonstrated strategic blindness. The governments of Iran and Syria are enemies of the United States. They are not reformers and never will be. They support each other. To weaken or replace one, is to weaken or replace the other.
The fall of the Assad mafia in Damascus would weaken Hamas, which is headquartered there. It would weaken Hezbollah, which gets its arms from Iran, through Syria. And it would weaken the Iranian regime itself.
To take advantage of this moment, we should press every diplomatic and economic channel to bring the Assad reign of terror to an end. We need more forceful sanctions to persuade Syria’s Sunni business elite that Assad is too expensive to keep backing. We need to work with Turkey and the Arab nations and the Europeans, to further isolate the regime. And we need to encourage opponents of the regime by making our own position very clear, right now: Bashar al-Assad must go.
When he does, the mullahs of Iran will find themselves isolated and vulnerable. Syria is Iran’s only Arab ally. If we peel that away, I believe it will hasten the fall of the mullahs. And that is the ultimate goal we must pursue. It’s the singular opportunity offered to the world by the brave men and women of the Arab Spring.
The march of freedom in the Middle East cuts across the region’s diversity of religious, ethnic, and political groups. But it is born of a particular unity. It is a united front against stolen elections and stolen liberty, secret police, corruption, and the state-sanctioned violence that is the essence of the Iranian regime’s tyranny.
So this is a moment to ratchet up pressure and speak with clarity. More sanctions. More and better broadcasting into Iran. More assistance to Iranians to access the Internet and satellite TV and the knowledge and freedom that comes with it. More efforts to expose the vicious repression inside that country and expose Teheran’s regime for the pariah it is.
And, very critically, we must have more clarity when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program. In 2008, candidate Barack Obama told AIPAC that he would “always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel.” This year, he told AIPAC “we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” So I have to ask: are all the options still on the table or not? If he’s not clear with us, it’s no wonder that even our closest allies are confused.
The Administration should enforce all sanctions for which legal authority already exits. We should enact and then enforce new pending legislation which strengthens sanctions particularly against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who control much of the Iranian economy.
Here’s a clip from the discussion with CFR after the speech:
You know, I was listening to a fiscal conservative being interviewed on the radio the other day and the person was saying that he had more fear of Obama’s foreign policy than of Obama’s economic policy. This was after he had laid out a gloomy economic picture.
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