The Consequences of America Leading From Behind

December 22, 2015
Columns

Last month when terrorists attacked the streets and soccer stadiums of Paris, ISIS sent a clear message: They can strike in the West, far from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.  Their reach has increased, moving out from the Middle East and crossing the borders of Europe.  The attack in France has once again shaken our allies.  The French President, Francois Hollande, promised a swift and “pitiless” response.  Within 48 hours French aircraft struck targets in the city of Raqqa.  Yet the Obama Administration continues to insist its strategy to deal with ISIS is working, that ISIS is contained, and complained about bipartisan efforts in Congress to ensure terrorists do not sneak into the United States alongside genuine Syrian refugees.

Sadly, the rise of ISIS and its bloody terrorist insurgence is another example of the consequences of America shrinking from the global stage.  The list of consequences when America “leads from behind” is long and growing.

The United States receding from the fight against terrorism is not the only effect of this misguided foreign policy principle.  As a result of American withdrawal, Iraq has plunged back into violence and chaos.  Syrians and Iraqis are fighting to reclaim territory from ISIS, yet we are reluctant to provide anything more than small arms and ammunition.  This includes a costly program to train Syrian rebels in their opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.  The program was scrapped after it produced only a handful of trained rebels.  When fighting in Syria intensified a few years ago and pressure for an international response grew, the President set a “red line” in Syria.  He declared the use of chemical weapons to be unacceptable and that there would be “enormous consequences” for Assad if used.  Since then, the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on multiple occasions with no consequences.  Leadership was promised from the White House and was never delivered.

Let us also consider the nuclear deal with Iran.  The agreement the administration negotiated with Iran and several other nations falls far short of the goals set out before negotiations.  Nearly $150 billion in financial assets is being unfrozen while Iran can restart their nuclear program.  The Iranians would then be allowed to start nuclear weapon construction just ten years from now at the expiration of the agreement.  And that is if the Iranians do not cheat.  Most importantly, we are leaving our friend and ally Israel behind, forcing them to stand nearly alone against a deal that will empower a nation that calls for their destruction.

The Russians’ annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine was met with weak economic sanctions of a few Russian officials.  What little material support the United States provided Ukraine was non-lethal equipment: Humvees, first-aid kits, and radios. It was another half-measure that did nothing to diffuse the situation or dissuade future Russian aggression. 

Russia is not the only competitor that is taking advantage of American withdrawal.  China’s military is expanding at an alarming pace.  The Chinese military budget is increasing by 10 percent this year and they are projecting their naval forces into disputed territories in the South China Sea and are making dubious claims on the Senkaku Islands.  They are even going so far as to create islands for the sole purpose of building a military base.  Additionally, the Chinese are engaging in currency manipulation, corporate espionage, and have a troublesome record on human rights.  Earlier this year, I pressed the President to discuss these important issues with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, during an official state visit.  According to a readout of the visit released by the White House, none of these issues were discussed.

The last few years shows that the world becomes a dangerous and belligerent playground for bullies and oppressive regimes when America leads from behind.  When American leadership recedes, a vacuum is created and it allows tyrants to gain and consolidate power.  The world is safer, freer, and more prosperous with strong American leadership.  America should be willing to reassure and back up its allies like Israel, who are under threat from Iran.  The United States should have the strength and resolve to make good on our promises.  We must stay engaged in all areas of the world, promoting freedom and expanding economic opportunity.  We should not bow to political correctness at the expense of security and call the enemy what it is: Islamist extremism.

America is a kind and generous nation.  We have been blessed with the people and resources to help millions of people around the world.  It is critical that our generosity be paired with strong global leadership.  To do otherwise, to lead from behind, encourages aggression and emboldens our enemies.