How not to build a foreign policy

Published 9:25 am Friday, July 24, 2015

by Randy Forbes

Many say to be truly smart on foreign policy, it takes a certain suave thinking – a heady blend of negotiation, policy, and intelligence. You cannot be overly reluctant, nor can you be haphazard. You have to be visceral, yet factual. It is not easy. This is perhaps why so many U.S. presidents are defined by their foreign policy legacies.

I think more important than foreign policy finesse, however, is a commitment to outcomes. No matter how you cut it, foreign policy decisions should 1) contribute as much as possible to our nation’s credibility abroad, and 2) never, ever put our nation at risk. Lack of commitment to these outcomes is what brings a foreign policy deficit.

Unfortunately, Americans know this from experience. With swelling frustration, Americans have watched as, through decision after decision, the Administration has misplayed America’s hand and created bad deals that have put our nation at risk. The President’s foreign policy legacy is marked by a lack of commitment to our credibility abroad and our nation’s safety. As a result, his decisions essentially create a blueprint for how not to build a foreign policy.

You and I are not in the seat at Pennsylvania Avenue, but there are some foreign policy moves that many Americans know are just too risky to make:

You don’t make dangerous nuclear deals. This week’s announcement of the Iran nuclear deal was met with fierce criticism from many Americans. Iran is a state-sponsor of terrorism and developer of a robust ballistic missile capability. This is not an opinion – it is a U.S.-designated fact, put in place in large part because we are uncertain over whether Iran can or should be trusted. Instead of a shaky bargain, we need a plan to prevent Iran from developing any nuclear weapons. We need to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions in its tracks.

You don’t threaten to veto the national defense funding bill.  Such threats not only demoralize our men and women in uniform, but they send a dangerous message to those who wish America harm:  that we are not willing to properly resource our men and women in uniform and prioritize our national security. A weak national defense is more often an invitation to confrontation than an overture of peace.  As the Commander-in-Chief of our military and the leader of our free nation, the President should put aside such heavy handed tactics.

You don’t ignore repeated vulnerability and non-compliance warnings for one of the largest personnel networks in the world. The hacks against the Office of Personnel Management are now the worst ever against the U.S. government. Not only is the breach a personal issue directly affecting millions of Americans – nearly 1 in 15 Americans, by recent estimates – but it is by and large a foreign policy issue.

Digital adversaries are actively pursuing the United States. Failure to keep hackers out sends a message to the world that the U.S. isn’t capable of protecting its own information. It marks us as a bull’s eye for cyber aggression. Other nations used to look at the U.S. for our strength and competency, particularly as it related to information security and efficiency.  Today, it’s hard to argue that is still the case.

You don’t release criminal illegal immigrants.  Over 30,000 criminal illegal immigrants were released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during Fiscal Year 2014 alone, according to information provided by the House Judiciary Committee. Such actions send the message that our nation is not serious about enforcing our own laws. Better action would be to immediately deport any illegal immigrant who is a member of a violent criminal gang.

You don’t negotiate with terrorists.  When the Administration released five detainees from Guantanamo Bay last year, it violated a long-held principle that our government will not enter into negotiations with a terrorist organization. Such negotiations carry great risk to our national security.  They send the message to terrorist organizations that the United States will do business with them, putting Americans around the world at risk.

Last month, the Obama Administration quietly transferred six more terrorists from Guantanamo, another step forward in their dangerous plan to shut down the prison. Even more are expected to be transferred in the coming weeks, according to some reports. Administration officials are said to be “working feverishly” and “taking all possible steps” to speed things along. The President should instead channel his concern for wait times and delays from terrorists at Guantanamo to the Department of Veterans Affairs, where our heroes are waiting – sometimes months and sometimes until it is too late – for the care they have earned and rightly deserve.

You don’t lay down red lines and then shrug them way. With every red line the President has drawn, he has become bound by his own rhetoric. The consequences are dire — human lives and national security are at stake. Our adversaries are watching, and they no longer fear us. Our allies are watching, too, and they are losing respect for us. That is a dangerous position for our country to be in.

We are living in a time of monumental global change. Smart foreign policy is essential. And foreign policy blunders like these are unacceptable.

The Administration’s pattern of decisions is not just lack of suave thinking — it is lack of consideration for the credibility and safety of America.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see