National Security Network

Bipartisan Support for Obama’s Foreign Policy Emerges, Exposing Partisan Ideologues on the Right

Print this page
Report 19 June 2009

Iran Iran BillKristol Charles Krauthammer Daniella Pletka Eric Cantor IMF john mccain Mike Pence Paul Wolfowitz Robert Kagan Supplemental


In an eventful foreign policy week, a bipartisan consensus has quietly emerged and held steady On Iran, there has been a near consensus among Iranian experts, serious foreign policy scholars and Republican political and policy leaders -- favoring measured statements that focus on demonstrators’ rights but emphasize Iran’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, the war supplemental funding bill passed 91-5 in the Senate, including groundbreaking new funding for the IMF’s response to the economic crisis, as well as payment of UN arrears and changes to the defense budget.

An extreme wing of dissenting conservative voices attacked vigorously, however, including political leaders in the House, including Mike Pence and Eric Cantor, and the former Republican candidate for president, John McCain. Additionally, leading neoconservatives – Kagan, Kristol, Krauthammer, Pletka, and Wolfowitz – took to the op-ed pages to denounce Obama on Iran and advocate a strategy of active meddling. These attacks, however, completely ignore the legacy of the last eight years, where Bush administration meddling and bluster completely backfired. U.S. involvement would only play into the hands of the Iranian regime and undermine the demonstrators. Meanwhile, House conservatives sought to scuttle the supplemental over the IMF funding – reversing course on years of insistence that a vote against supplemental was a vote against the troops.  Instead, it was clear that this group of conservatives was taking stands on sensitive international issues with only one thought in mind:  too oppose Obama.

In a challenging week, consensus forms around progressive foreign policy.  In response to challenges from Iran, North Korea and the financial crisis, the progressive approach to foreign policy attracted support from across the political spectrum.  Yesterday, in a display of bi-partisan unity, the Senate  passed the War Supplemental, 91-5 – with funding for Iraq and Afghanistan but also breaking new ground on an international response to the financial crisis through the IMF as well as defense budget reform..  And a coalition of experts and congressional foreign policy figures rallied behind the Obama administration’s approach on Iran.  Former Secretary of State under Nixon and Ford and Republican Henry Kissinger praised the Administration’s handling of the Iran crisis, remarking “I think the president has handled this well. Anything that the United States says that puts us totally behind one of the contenders, behind Mousavi, would be a handicap for that person. And I think it’s the proper position to take that the people of Iran have to make that decision.”  Kissinger’s comments seconded an earlier statement by Sen. Richard Lugar, which expressed similar wariness of the repercussions of U.S. interference in Iran’s affairs: “When popular revolutions occur, they come really from the people. They’re generated by people power within the country. For us to become heavily involved in the election at this point is to give the clergy an opportunity to have an enemy…and to use us, really, to retain their power.” Senators Mel Martinez (R – FL,), Bob Corker (R – TN), John Thune (R – SD), and Lamar Alexander (R – TN) all supported Lugar’s position, resisting calls from colleagues on the far right for intervention in Iran, according to the Politico. Former senior government official, Les Gelb expressed dismay over those congressional conservatives who stood outside of the pragmatic consensus, saying: “Republican leadership calls for Obama to condemn Iran's election results and speak out for the demonstrators shows no knowledge of Iran whatsoever. If he did so, America would become the issue in Iran, not Ahmadinejad, and we would become the excuse and justification for spilling Iranian blood.  These sniping remarks by Republican leaders also shows that they put pandering to their right wing above American national security. Why can't they listen to their own real foreign policy expert -- Senator Richard Lugar -- and see and say that the U.S. must exercise restraint in our public statements for Iran's sake and our own.”  [Washington Post, 6/18/09. Henry Kissinger, 6/17/09. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), 6/16/09. The Politico, 6/17/09. Les Gelb, 6/18/09]

Neocons continue to attack President Obama, despite Iraq debacle and failure to promote democracy in the Middle East. This week has seen the neocons out in full force, with prominent columns by commentators Bill Kristol, Danielle Pletka, and Robert Kagan.  Today, Paul Wolfowitz, Former Deputy Secretary of Defense for Donald Rumsfeld, builds a straw man in the Washington Post that “the reform the Iranian demonstrators seek is something that we should be supporting. In such a situation, the United States does not have a ‘no comment’ option. Coming from America, silence is itself a comment -- a comment in support of those holding power and against those protesting the status quo… Now is not the time for the president to dig in to a neutral posture. It is time to change course.” Of course, President Obama did not say “no comment” and spoke numerous times this past week about America’s support for the human rights and democratic aspirations of the demonstrators. Fellow neocon Charles Krauthammer continues on in the same vein, saying that “our fundamental values demand that America stand with demonstrators opposing a regime that is the antithesis of all we believe.” Krauthammer demonstrated the same penchant for baseless arguments in 2005 in an op-ed titled, “Three Cheers for the Bush Doctrine” in which he wrote that, “[t]he [Bush]Administration went ahead with this great project knowing it would be hostage to history. History has begun to speak. Elections in Afghanistan, a historic first. Elections in Iraq, a historic first. Free Palestinian elections producing a moderate leadership, two historic firsts. Municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, men only, but still a first. In Egypt, demonstrations for democracy -- unheard of in decades -- prompting the dictator to announce free contested presidential elections, a historic first. And now, of course, the most romantic flowering of the spirit America went into the region to foster: the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon.”  In reality, the Bush administration has had a catastrophic democracy promotion legacy across the Middle East.  In Iran, dissidents viewed Bush's support as so toxic that they implored congress to stop enabling the Administration's efforts.   And in Palestine, despite calling for elections, the Bush administration was caught unprepared for the possibility that Hamas would triumph over Fatah. Following the Bush-backed Cedar revolution in 2005 in Lebanon, the country slipped back into political paralysis, from which it is still emerging even now.  And despite Egyptian President Hosni Mubarrrak’s long record of human rights abuses, Bush praised him for taking “steps toward economic openness…and political reform,” noted the Washington Post. [Bill Kristol, 6/14/09. Danielle Pletka and Ali Alfoneh, NY Times, 6/17/09. Robert Kagan, 6/17/09. Paul Wolfowitz, 6/19/09. Charles Krauthammer, 6/19/09. Charles Krauthammer, 3/7/05. Akbar Ganji, 10/16/07. The Atlantic, June 2006. NSN, 1/29/08. Washington Post, 1/17/08]

Supplemental exposes a foreign policy-driven by partisanship.  Before the GOP backed down and let the supplemental pass by broad majorities in the House and Senate, columnist Mike Allen writes, “To hold up a war-funding bill would be ‘the equivalent of waving a white flag to al Qaeda.’ It would be ‘nothing less than a disgrace.’ Why, it would be using ‘our troops as pawns in a political game.’ That’s what GOP lawmakers said when a Republican president was in the White House, and it was Democrats who were trying to put on the brakes on a war supplemental bill. Now there’s a Democratic president, and Republicans are strongly protesting his inclusion of a $108 billion line of credit for the International Monetary Fund in a war-spending bill that includes funds for President Barack Obama’s troop buildup in Afghanistan.”  House Republicans pointed to the increased funding for IMF support for economies hit hard by the financial crisis as the source of their objections.  As Majority leader Steny Hoyer points out, “our Republican colleagues have seized in particular on a provision equally important to our national security: a line of credit for the International Monetary Fund, or IMF. The IMF is the world body that has been essential to the stability of the global economy since the end of World War II—in fact, it was part of the package of reforms that have kept the world economy from sliding into another depression of the kind that once led to world war. This line of credit provided by this bill is an insurance policy for the global economy. If all goes well, the money will never leave the United States. But if all does not go well, if the global economy sees another economic shock, this money will help the IMF provide loans to the countries in greatest danger of economic collapse. Collapsing economies have the power to drag the rest of the world down with them and spark unpredictable political turmoil—which could mean more lost jobs at home and a more dangerous world abroad.” And as Center for American Progress analyst Nina Hachigian writes, “This extra capital is necessary because, in an effort to stem the economic crisis, the IMF bailed out a number of countries such as Pakistan and Iceland that may have otherwise gone belly up... Let’s be serious. We aren’t going to let Pakistan’s economy collapse, or for that matter Hungary’s, Romania’s, or Guatemala’s. The potential national security consequences of any of those countries failing are too dire, not to mention the ultimately higher economic costs to America.” [Mike Allen, Politico, 6/16/09. Steny Hoyer, 6/16/19. Nina Hachigian, 6/16/09]

What We’re Reading

In his first public comments about the aftermath of Iran’s disputed elections, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denied claims of a rigged election, called directly for an end to protests, and warned protestors to keep off the streets. He accused “evil” Western nations, particularly Britain and the United States, of showing “enmity” toward the Islamic Republic system, and rejected American officials’ remarks about human rights as unacceptable. Iranian paramilitaries vowed a public crackdown.

The House and Senate passed the FY09 supplemental war-spending bill. The $106b bill includes funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, critical IMF funding and programs for pandemic flu preparedness, and restores full payment of American dues to the United Nations. Congress heavily conditioned requests for funding to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.  

Switzerland and the U.S. reached an agreement on a double taxation treaty
, which officials say is a step towards removal of Switzerland from a list of tax havens.

Japan’s parliament passed a law allowing its navy to protect all commercial vessels off the coast of Somalia and fire at pirate vessels.

The US boosted theater missile defense in and around Hawaii amid reports of a planned North Korean test.

Nigeria’s main militant group claimed a bomb attack on a ‘major’ oil pipeline operated by the Italian gas company Agip.

An aide close to Pakistan’s Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud confirmed reports that Mehsud was behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The US and Mexico announced an agreement to try to limit drug trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The agreement allows an unlimited number of immigration officials to be cross-designated as DEA agents  

Members of Obama’s national security team determined that success in Afghanistan requires a total overhaul of the American approach to development. They hope to shift away from Bush-era policies that focused on free-market reform and discrete success stories, and instead implement broader initiatives aimed at improving the lives of as many Afghans as possible.

Commentary of the Day

Shane M., a student in Iran, implores Americans to stop viewing the protests “through anxieties left behind by the 1979 revolution.”

Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi urges the Iranian government to void the elections or risk further violence.

Matt Duss criticizes conservatives' "Cold War approach" to Iran

Peggy Noonan slams conservatives' take on Iran and discusses the importance of Twitter, YouTube and other social networking websites.

Saree Makdisi considers the language used to describe the actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.