Gov. Christie: American exceptionalism isn’t a punchline — it’s a set of principles.
Today, Governor Chris Christie is giving a speech in Prescott Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire about America’s role in the world. Embargoed remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
Thanks Renee and thanks Paul for that kind introduction. It’s great to be here.
Today I’m going to talk about America’s place in the world and how we can create a new American century — and I couldn’t think of a better place for us to have that conversation. Right across this park is the house of John Paul Jones, a proud Irishman and father of the US Navy. And across the water, and over the decades, so many ships have sailed from the great Portsmouth Naval Yard in the service of freedom — and continue to do so. This is a place of history and one that has shaped history at so many pivotal moments.
With that, I want to tell you about another story from history — a story about a proud son of New Hampshire with a New Jersey connection.
John Winant was a Republican governor of this great state back in the 1930s. His New Jersey connection? He attended one of New Jersey’s great schools, Princeton University. He was the first man to serve more than one term as Governor here. And since he was tough enough to survive the politics of Concord, in 1941 the President asked him to take on another difficult job — US ambassador to Great Britain.
As Ambassador Winant, he arrived in London at Britain’s darkest moment. London was being pounded round the clock by Hitler’s Luftwaffe. German U-boats were strangling the country’s food supply. Many people thought that a German invasion was weeks away.
Faced with those circumstances, a lesser man might have asked for another assignment. Talk about a bad promotion, right? In fact, there were plenty of people who thought this was a fool’s errand. The outgoing ambassador, Joseph Kennedy — — thought Britain’s days were numbered and flew home as soon as he could. He declared that appeasement was the right course of action for America. A lot of opinion polls agreed with him.
Well the new ambassador took a different approach.
He flew to England. And the first thing he said when he got off that plane was “I’m very glad to be here. There’s no place I’d rather be at this time.”
And he meant it. He rallied the morale of the British people, and promised them that America would stand by them. He went out on the streets of London and asked people what he could do to help. He counseled President Roosevelt not to give in to appeasement, but to prepare to confront the German menace.
So why am I telling you this story? For two reasons.
First, this is a story of New Hampshire’s impact on the course of history, at the moments when our country faced choices that would determine the course of our future. In this election season, as our country faces new choices and new challenges, you’re going to be asked to play that role again.
But the other reason? For me, this is a story that embodies the qualities that make our country exceptional.
Now, American exceptionalism is something that politicians love to talk about. It’s a punch line in a speech that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.
But American exceptionalism isn’t a punch line — it’s a set of principles.
When the world faces its darkest moments, we use our strength and resolve to light a fire.
When our allies stand up to fight the darkness, we find a way to stand with them.
When a threat appears from over the horizon, our country gets ready — not when that threat arrives on our doorstep or when it’s popular.
America has never been a member of the league of ordinary nations. We have never ignored the crises in the world around us. Because throughout history, leaders in both parties have based our foreign policy on these principles — strength, leadership and partnership with the people and nations who share our values. And it’s served the world and us pretty well. That’s what saved the world 70 years ago. That’s what defeated Soviet tyranny. That’s what kept the peace.
Now, fast forward to today.
For the first time since World War Two, Russian troops march across the lands of a sovereign European state.
In the streets of Baghdad and Damascus, Aden and Tripoli, terror has become a permanent way of life — and the sinister black flag of ISIS looms larger every day.
In the South China Sea, Chinese vessels raise islands and military bases from the sea, in disputed waters where they have no right to do so — seizing strategic footholds across the region.
And in the holy land, Israeli citizens live their lives in the shadow of the Iranian menace — while our diplomats toast the promises of the ayatollahs.
So how did this happen? How did it come to this?
All these things are happening because American power is in retreat — and we’ve backed away from the principles that made us a source of strength and stability.
No one understands any longer whom America stands with or against.
No one understands exactly what we stand for and what we are willing to sacrifice to stand up for it.
No one understands if we’re prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow — while we lurch from crisis to crisis today.
Instead of consistent, principled policies that made our country respected by our allies and feared by our adversaries, we have an intellectual and strategic mess. Once, America sought to lead the world. Now, our President leads from behind.
Well if we want to lead from behind, we’re going to be left behind.
We give up our claim to be the leader of the free world. We give up the partnerships for peace that defined the American century. And we give up the chance of another American century. The world will be more dangerous and less prosperous.
For six years, a lot of people in our country have been worried about the path we’re on. And I don’t want to feel like that anymore, and I bet you don’t either.
So I think we ought to take a different approach.
We need to change course as a country and embrace a foreign policy based on the timeless principles that helped America to lead the world.
Let’s talk about what a policy agenda looks like for a truly exceptional nation, at a time of extraordinary global challenges — and how we get the strength, tools and partnerships to lead the world
Under our Constitution, the first and most important job of our government is to protect every American and our way of life. That means keeping our military strong must be at the heart of any global agenda.
A strong military doesn’t just help us to deal with the threats we face. It helps eliminate them before we even see them.
Over the last 70 years, our world has entered an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity. Nations have risen from the ashes of war; new industries have reshaped the world. Europe became free and united, and democracies multiplied across Latin America, Asia and Africa. And all of this took place only because a strong America served as the anchor and organizer of global stability. We didn’t have to be a global policeman who solved every problem, but it was enough for our allies to know we had their back — to give them a zone for peace in which to choose a future for themselves.
Now, our country reaped the rewards of this strategy for decades because we had responsible leaders in both parties who ensured that the military never become a partisan plaything. Partisanship is a fact of life in our political system, and a price worth paying to keep our democracy accountable, strong and vibrant. But our armed services were beyond this — because keeping our country safe should never be up for debate.
But lately, things have changed.
Over the last few years, Washington has grown more and more dysfunctional. And instead of reaching sensible compromises over spending, the President and Congress have made decisions that have compromised our military.
Last year, the National Defense Panel, a bipartisan commission chartered by Congress, concluded that cuts in defense spending imposed by sequestration have been a “serious strategic misstep.” By forcing deep, across-the-board cuts in military spending since 2011, Congress and the President have tied the hands of our commanders and created a readiness crisis in our armed services. Now we have fighter pilots who can’t get enough hours in the skies to train, ships that can’t patrol the routes we need to, and only a handful of Army brigades ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.
If we want to effectively deliver on our entire national defense strategy, then we need to fix this.
We need ground forces that can respond to crises on multiple fronts, without compromising our capacity for deterrence. The Army and Marines should not be reduced below their pre-9/11 strength, and our active duty forces should be at 500,000 Army soldiers and 185,000 Marines.
Our Navy should have more ships. In this century, to secure our global interests our Navy will be called upon to assume even greater challenges and responsibilities. But even as our maritime needs grow, we’re cutting back and right now are on a budgetary path to 260 ships or less. That’s just wrong. Our Navy bears the greatest burden of our forward-presence missions, and shouldn’t be equipped to do the bare minimum. We should have at least 350 ships — and our Navy should be an armada without equal.
And we need a larger Air Force. Our Air Force now has the oldest and smallest combat force in its history, and we’re on track to reduce our inventory of bomber, fighter and surveillance forces by 50% over the next 4 years. Well, when it comes to maintaining our air supremacy, winging it won’t do. We should modernize the Air Force and build up to 2,500 combat coded aircraft as part of a total force of 6,000 aircraft capable of carrying out all the missions we know our pilots will face in the years ahead. Americans were the first to conquer the skies — let’s not concede them.
So we need to give our men and women in uniform the resources they need to get the job done — and we owe it to them. That’s why Congress and the President should repeal the 2011 Budget Control Act as soon as humanly possible, get back to regular order in budgeting and restore funding levels to what Secretary Gates proposed in his fiscal 2012 budget — modest increases in defense spending through the end of the decade that will make a massive difference to our troops. It’s the right thing to do — and we should do it now.
But that’s just the start. We also need to innovate to fight the battles of the future.
For a long time our military has led the world not just through the skill and the courage of our troops, but the ingenuity of our scientists and engineers. Our forces are the envy of the world because they’re also the best equipped in the world.
But the world is catching up — and our rivals are working hard to copy and steal our best-kept secrets. Today, Russia has stealth fighters, a new generation of battle tanks, and a growing military presence in the Arctic. China has its first aircraft carrier, with more on the way, double digit increases in military spending every year, and cutting-edge cyber warriors always, seemingly, one step ahead of our own. And in just the last few months, we’ve seen North Korean hackers targeting Hollywood and the Russians reading President Obama’s email. That’s just embarrassing.
So we need to work harder to keep our edge. We need to invest in building the military of the future. We need to build a new generation of weapon systems to protect our interests on every front — on the ground, on the seas, in the air or new frontiers even further out. We need to invest in unmanned aviation, directed energy weapons and space. We should continue to be leaders in undersea warfare, and that’s why we should speed up the build rate of our Virginia-class attack submarines and support the replacement of the Ohio class. And when it comes to cyber warfare, we need to be ready not just to defend against threats to our vital national systems, we need the offensive capabilities to deter our enemies — or strike back if they don’t take the hint. To keep our country safe in this century, we need to maintain the digital balance of power.
And if we want our armed forces to get the right tools at the right time, in a way that doesn’t waste taxpayer money, we need to fundamentally reform our entire DoD procurement process.
Between 2001 and 2011, the DoD spent around $44 billion dollars on weapon programs that were eventually cancelled. Weapons that have overrun their budgets by hundreds of billions of dollars and failed to live up to expectations. And across the board, military officials spend millions of dollars every year dealing with red tape and byzantine reporting requirements just to get the weapons we need.
Clearly, something isn’t right here in our procurement process. Business-as-usual bureaucrats in Washington aren’t taking care of business. So we need to adopt real world, private sector practices across our procurement system, and remove wasteful, overlapping functions. Bureaucracy shouldn’t burden our troops, and we should attack it with the same energy as any other threat to our defense.
So a strong defense needs to be the first cornerstone of our foreign policy.
The second is strengthening our intelligence efforts.
This is something very close to my heart. Because I’ve seen up close just how important our intelligence community is to defending our way of life.
On the morning of September 11, my wife Mary Pat was working just two blocks from the World Trade Center. She got evacuated from Manhattan by ferry, and I was so unbelievably grateful and relieved that she was all right. But like many of you, there were other people in our lives — friends, colleagues, loved ones — who didn’t make it. A friend from our church. The brother of one of Andrew’s teachers. Parents of their classmates. And for New Jersey as a whole, we lost so many people on that terrible day — the second most deaths of any state other than the State of New York.
Those weeks after the attacks were such a scary and unpredictable time for everyone. But it was also in that time that President Bush nominated me to be US Attorney for the District of New Jersey. I was informed by the White House on September 10, 2001 that I would be nominated for US Attorney for the District of New Jersey, and I was confirmed to that post on December 10, three months later. And by then it was clear what I was going to be working on for the next few years.
In early 2002, John Ashcroft called all the US Attorneys into the Justice Department. And he gave us a message from the President. What happened on 9/11 must never happen again — and it was up to all of us to prevent it. We had a responsibility to go after the terrorists with every legal instrument at our disposal.
Well I took that to heart. Because I remembered what it felt like to be waiting for a phone call from Mary Pat, hoping and praying that she was safe. I know what it feels like to lose people when they should be safe — at work, on our streets. This is not theoretical to me. I lived it in my home. Everything changed that morning in September.
So for the next seven years of my life, my office focused on fighting terrorism every day.
We started by bringing the first post-9/11 terrorism case in the country. This was a case against a man called Hemant Lekhani, an Indian-born British citizen who tried to buy and sell shoulder-fired missiles on the black market, that could take down a plane. He thought he was dealing with a terror organization, but he was actually dealing with a joint operation between the FBI and the Russians. We investigated that case using tools including the Patriot Act — and we ended up getting him convicted and sent to jail for the rest of his life.
Another case was the Fort Dix Six. These were six radical Islamists who were conspiring to attack soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey. They tried to buy weapons and explosives from an underground weapons dealer who was actually an FBI informant — the result of a 16-month operation with the FBI and Justice Department to infiltrate the group. It was incredible coordination, and we got the entire group behind bars.
So I’ve used all the tools we had to go after terror. I’ve used the Patriot Act myself and personally reviewed the applications. I’ve prosecuted terrorists, and sent terrorists to jail. And I’ve seen what happens when our intelligence community, legal system and law enforcement work together. We can use information to save lives.
That’s why intelligence matters. At the simplest level, intelligence helps us prevent the next attack. But at its best, intelligence is a force multiplier for all our national capabilities. If we want to manage events — and not have events manage us — then we need superior knowledge of the world around us.
Strength and knowledge go hand in hand — and should always be at the core of our strategy.
Now, we’ve seen some good successes over the last few years. The way Bin Laden was caught shows exactly how our intelligence efforts should work. That took ten years of investment in building our human intelligence capabilities. It took an immense effort to track individual cell phones across Pakistan and Afghanistan. And it was the payoff for years of training and equipping our SEAL teams to get the job done. President Obama and President Bush deserve credit for laying the foundations for that operation, and most of all, the brave troops and operatives on the ground who made this happen.
But we need more efforts like that. We need to be constantly building those foundations for the threats over the horizon, and the next set of challenges we need to solve.
Today, we’re not seeing that progress. Instead, Washington is debating the wrong question entirely — which intelligence capabilities should we get rid of?
Too often, the loudest voices in the debate about how to keep our country safe are driven by some purist, theoretical vision of how we should manage our intelligence efforts.
When Edward Snowden revealed our intelligence secrets to the world in 2013, civil liberties extremists seized that moment to advance their own narrow agenda. They want you to think that there’s a government spook listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids. They want you to think of our intelligence community as the bad guys, straight out of the Bourne Identity or a Hollywood thriller. And they want you to think that if we weakened our capabilities, the rest of the world would love us more.
Let me be clear — all these fears are exaggerated and ridiculous. When it comes to fighting terrorism, our government is not the enemy. And we shouldn’t listen to people like Edward Snowden, a criminal who hurt our country and now enjoys the hospitality of President Putin — while sending us messages about the dangers of authoritarian government. And, frankly, we don’t need advice from Hollywood, the guys who made our intelligence agencies the villains in practically every movie from the last twenty-five years.
But instead of taking on the ideologues, the Obama administration and the Democrats have taken the path of least resistance. They’ve apologized for our intelligence collection, promised that we will collect it only in ways that protect the privacy of foreign citizens, and cut back on vital funding for our intelligence services.
They’ve politicized intelligence oversight and demoralized our intelligence community. Last year, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee released a one-sided and inaccurate attack on our intelligence services. Democrats behind that report should be ashamed for putting partisanship above genuine oversight in the way they released this. And it’s just disgraceful the way there are folks on the Hill who want American intelligence weaker and less informed just to drive their own personal political agendas.
So instead of support, our intelligence services get condemnations. Instead of resources, they get regulations. Instead of building a community that’s trusted and equipped to go after the hard targets, we have a risk-averse intelligence service. The watchword from this administration isn’t, “Collect all the information you can about a dangerous world,” but “collect only what you have to have.”
The next time there’s a phone call to a terrorist safe house in Yemen from San Diego or New Jersey, would our agents dare to listen in?
Well, we’ve never had a risk-averse military. And I don’t think we want a risk-averse intelligence service. So we need to fix this.
We need to treat intelligence as a practical issue, not a theoretical one. We need to be practical about preventing real civil liberties abuses wherever they occur. That’s what a vigilant, responsible Congress, not a partisan one, would accomplish with vigorous oversight. That’s what a truly apolitical Justice Department would do by pursuing real legal violations by any member of our intelligence community who steps over the line. Protecting our homeland must be an uncompromising priority.
The vast majority of Americans aren’t worried about the government listening in on them, because it hasn’t happened. But they are worried about what happens if we don’t catch the bad people who want to harm our country.
Here’s how we catch them.
We need to toughen our anti-terror and surveillance laws to give our intelligence services the legal mechanisms to do their job.
Over the last couple of years, most of our allies including the UK, France, Canada and Australia, have announced plans to toughen their laws to better detect and prevent terrorism and extremism. Now we’re the only major country talking about going in the opposite direction.
We should begin by passing a clean extension of the Patriot Act. At the end of May, vital pieces of that legislation are going to expire, including Section 215 — essential for our intelligence agencies to access the data they need to stop suspected terrorists. I used this tool extensively, aggressively and legally as US Attorney and I can tell you this: it works. This is a big debate in Congress right now, and different courts have expressed their views on the program too. But right now, that debate is dominated by the intellectual purists worried about theoretical abuses that haven’t occurred — instead of the real threats that we’ve already seen from Garland, Texas, to Ft. Dix, New Jersey.
If you’re an ordinary, law-abiding American, this legislation has absolutely no effect on you — except it could prevent the next attack from taking place in our country, killing our fellow citizens. Absolutely no one has a single real example of our intelligence services misusing this program for political or other nefarious purposes. And we have incredibly stringent oversight of these provisions. I wish I could say the same about the Internal Revenue Service in this administration. The critics have chosen the wrong target. But if they had a leg to stand on, they would ask for greater oversight of Section 215. But they don’t want to because that would mean more responsibility and accountability for them. Simply put, they’re on the wrong side of this debate.
So let’s move beyond this. Let’s give our people the tools they need to get the job done.
Part of that also means properly funding our intelligence services and allowing them to keep innovating and improving their capabilities. We need to invest in new technologies and infrastructure to support our signals intelligence, so that we can actually interpret all the data we’re gathering. Today’s problem isn’t having too little information; it’s having too much. So we need to invest in turning noise into understanding.
One of the ways we can do that is by building a stronger and more productive relationship with Silicon Valley. Our entrepreneurs and innovators are some of our strongest assets as a country, and the work they’re doing to connect the world helps to improve all our lives. So we should be clear that we have no interest in reading the Facebook messages and tweets of ordinary Americans. We want a strong and secure internet. But we need the tools to find the people who would hurt our country so that people can carry on enjoying the benefits of Facebook and Twitter and Google. Our government should treat our tech community as our partners, not our enemies. And when foreign governments try to use the Snowden leaks to justify protectionism and attacks on our companies, we need to fight for them — and with something more than apologies.
At the same time, we need to strengthen our human intelligence capabilities in the parts of the world where they’re weakest. Our country has reacted too slowly to the return of Moscow’s aggression and the rise of ISIS partly because of our lack of investment in human intelligence. America should never be caught napping because we chose not to invest in dealing with the hard targets — Russia, Iran, North Korea.
And closer to home, we can do more to strengthen our cooperation and intelligence sharing with our neighbors, as well as our allies in Europe. We face common challenges and enemies, so we ought to have common solutions. With Canada and Mexico we should be sharing more information about overseas travelers to both countries, and greater cooperation with Mexico to police their side of the border. And with Europe, in particular the countries in the visa waiver program, we should be doing more to encourage the sharing of digital data and information about extremist threats. Ensuring the collective security of our allies should be something they welcome, and it’s the price for all our partnerships.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the final pillar of our stronger foreign policy — building stronger alliances.
As Governor, I’ve had the chance to meet with a lot of foreign leaders and partners from overseas. Over the last couple of years I’ve met with the leaders of our closest allies, from Canada and Mexico, to Israel and Great Britain.
Everywhere I go, I hear the same thing from our allies — we want America to be a strong global leader. We want you to step up and lead.
Because that’s who we are. It’s not just our strength and intelligence that defines us as a country; it’s our willingness to stand with those who share our values and interests. We became the leader of the free world because we also chose to become the arsenal of democracy. And when we make a commitment to stand with our allies, our word is our bond. Or at least it used to be.
Throughout history, our leaders and diplomats have lived their lives to extend that bond. Our soldiers have died to defend it.
But right now, we have a government that doesn’t seem to care about all the blood and sweat and treasure that it took to build those alliances. Because we’ve broken our word.
In 2013, President Obama talked about defending a red line for our nation if the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. Well, he used chemical weapons on his people. President Obama’s response? Never mind. His unwillingness to stand behind his own words has made America weaker and less reliable in the world. He damaged the credibility of the Presidency.
And when the world saw that our word was not our bond, are we surprised at what happened next?
Are we surprised that Vladimir Putin chose to annex Crimea and invade eastern Ukraine?
Are we surprised that Iranian-backed militias are rampaging across Yemen?
Are we surprised that Bashar al-Assad continues to butcher thousands of men, women, using barrel bombs and conventional munitions dropped out of Russian helicopters? Or that with Iranian support, the moderate Syrian opposition has been sidelined by extremists and ISIS?
So whoever is going to be our next Commander-in-Chief is going to make restoring America’s word a priority. We need to make it clear to our friends and allies that we stand with them in the cause of freedom, and against all the gathering threats. We will stand together, because we cannot stand alone. And we must return America to the leadership role the world needs and expects.
In Europe, our first task is to defend the Western alliance against Russian aggression.
We have spent 70 years of blood and treasure, first to defeat Nazism and then to defeat Soviet totalitarianism to establish and maintain a free and united Europe. Now President Obama and Secretary Clinton are giving this sacred investment away for nothing with their inane reset button.
In March, the Polish government started offering military training to any civilians between the ages of 18 and 50 who wanted it. On the very first day they opened up that program, 1,000 people signed up. And then they kept coming.
When Polish civilians are drilling to defend the streets of Warsaw once again, you know our Europe policy is a scary failure to our allies. And we need to have our allies’ backs. And we need to do it now.
We need to stand up to Russian aggression together, and make clear that our commitment to our NATO allies in Eastern Europe is absolute. And if Putin’s Russia wants to rejoin the community of civilized nations, then they’re going to have to behave like one.
We need to bolster our allies by helping them get access to the weapons systems and training they need to defend themselves. We should strengthen NATO’s military presence in the Baltic states, and make clear to all our Eastern European allies that we will not allow the freedoms they’ve won since the Cold War to be reversed. We should give Ukraine the weapons it needs to defend itself.
We should also put the pressure on all our NATO allies to invest more in their own defense. After the Cold War, too many of our European allies rushed to cut their military spending and enjoy the dividend of peace. Well now they need to invest, and fulfill their NATO commitments to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense annually. It’s not because we’re not going to have their backs — Europe just needs to watch their front as well, and close the big and increasing capabilities gap that we saw between our forces and theirs at moments like Kosovo in 1999 and Libya in 2011. And even as Europe increases spending, we should work with them to avoid duplication in capabilities across the alliance. They don’t all need to rush out and buy tanks, but they might benefit from investing more in cyber warfare, missile defense, precision weapons and artillery — the things we need more of.
And as for Russia — until Putin chooses the path of peace, we should keep applying pressure.
Just a couple of months ago, the head of Russia’s FSB — the old KGB — was invited to the White House for a summit on “countering extremism.” We didn’t just invite the fox into the hen house, we let in the bear. That just seems crazy to me. Instead, we should immediately put travel bans and asset freezes on every member of the Russian parliament and Putin’s entire circle — including Putin himself. We know who holds the leash on the dogs of war. So let’s not mess around on this. And if that still isn’t enough, we should look at tougher sanctions on Russia’s energy and financial sectors — and hit them where it really hurts.
How we deal with Russia is a test for how we stand with all our allies everywhere. We cannot back down, and we need a leader who won’t back down.
But there are other places we’re going to be tested too, and other allies we need to defend.
At the top of the list is Israel. I’m going to be short and sweet here. Our commitment to Israel must be absolute.
Israel is a beacon of freedom in a sea of autocracy, and our friendship should be unshakable. Over the last few years, the Obama administration has taken our Israeli partners for granted and it’s just shameful the way the President has treated them. When the President is barely on speaking terms with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and waited two days to call and congratulate him after his election, that’s just immature. If we can’t be respectful to our best friends in the world, then we’re not going to get very far with anyone else — and it’s no surprise this administration has such an abysmal record on diplomacy.
Finally, Israel and its people must be supported by the United States and the American President. Its existence and security is non-negotiable. The Iranians and others who think otherwise must be reminded of that simple fact.
Also damaging to our partnership with Israel, is just the staggering strategic incompetence and disinterest in countering the rising threats across the Middle East and North Africa — threats that if left unchecked, will compromise Israel’s security and future. If we truly care about defending Israel, then we need to consider what the region will look like tomorrow — and then take action today. President Obama seems unwilling to stand up to anyone in the Middle East — except for Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is embarrassing and dangerous.
We have a lot of work to do.
With Iran, the President’s eagerness for a deal on their nuclear program has him ready to accept a bad deal. The framework we’ve negotiated here seems pretty flimsy, and I have grave concerns over how we’re going to make the Iranians live up to their end of the bargain and how we can ensure proper, verifiable compliance. So until we get that, we should have the strength to keep our guard up and keep our sanctions up. The deal as structured will lead to a nuclear Iran and, then, a nuclearized Middle East. That not only threatens Israel. It threatens the United States and turns 70 years of nuclear policy on its head.
Iran has also been pretty busy across the region, and almost everywhere Iran opposes US goals. In Yemen, they’ve launched a proxy war that has devastated our ally and represents a clear and present danger to world. And while Iran has supported Iraq in fighting back against ISIS, their motives are hardly benign, and we know they have a long-term interest in building a power base in Iraq.
Iran might not have the bomb right now — but their influence is absolutely radioactive to the world. So we need to contain it with our moderate Sunni Arab allies, while at the same time rolling back the shadow of ISIS. We need to do more to organize our allies into a strong coalition on the ground in Yemen, and to train and equip the moderate opposition to Assad in Syria and the tribal elements in Iraq that are a threat to peace. We should develop new tools to blunt Iran’s regional influence, including ways to fight the flow of cash to their puppets: Hezbollah, the Houthis, Syria and Iraqi militants. We should link our sanctions regime to the threat Iran poses to the region, and treat all these threats as connected, which the Obama Administration doesn’t — and come up with a real coherent strategy with our Sunni partners.
The price of inaction is steadily rising. Just last week we saw the embarrassment of almost all the Gulf leaders, including the Saudi King, pulling out of President Obama’s summit at Camp David. Our allies want policies, not photo ops, and we’re not listening to them. And as we fail to confront Iran’s shadowy nuclear program and undisguised quest for regional power, we raise the likelihood of states taking unilateral actions or seeking extreme solutions. If we’re not going to stop Iran getting a nuclear capability, then why would the Saudis or Egyptians or Emiratis choose not to follow? If we don’t have a plan to stop Bashar al-Assad in Syria, or Iraq in Yemen, what’s to stop governments lending support to proxy forces like Al Qaeda and ISIS?
In August the President announced a campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS. But right now they seem to be getting stronger every day, and we’ve just witnessed ISIS taking full control of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s largest province. So right now our piecemeal strategy to deal with ISIS doesn’t inspire confidence.
When allies lose confidence in us, they take matters into their own hands. I think it’s better for America to extend a helping hand — and help manage events.
And that’s why we also need to strengthen our alliances across the Asia-Pacific region.
This century, more than any other, will be defined by the Pacific. So I think it’s important we work to build on our relationships with our core allies in the region, Australia, Japan, the Philippines and Korea, as well as newer partners, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma and Vietnam.
Now, the President has talked about leading a pivot to Asia in our foreign and security policy. We’ve taken some of the right steps, like working to strengthen our economic ties with our Asian partners through the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But generally, we haven’t matched strategy with capabilities, particularly in terms of our defensive deployments. 2,500 marines in Australia, a couple of Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore, and exercises in Philippines are a start. But compare that to China’s double digit growth in military spending every year, with thousands of missiles pointed across the Taiwan Straits, next generation fighter jets and soon, likely a full blue water capable fleet with aircraft carriers. And we still face an unpredictable and dangerous regime in North Korea, and extremist threats across the region.
If we don’t upgrade our presence in the region, then we won’t be able to keep our commitments to our allies. The President’s pivot to Asia might just be a pendulum to Asia. So I think we should match words with deeds, and alliances with strength. We need to reposition more of our fleet and our forces across the region, and give our allies the capabilities they need to respond to the threats of the future. We don’t want to fuel a regional arms race, but there’s no reason we can’t help our allies upgrade their capabilities with stronger coastal defenses, submarines, maritime reconnaissance equipment and other defensive equipment.
Nothing about these policies is about treating China like a foe. China is a great nation, and we want them to be a partner. Our countries have so much to learn and to offer one another, and if we can work together, we can create a century of greater prosperity and security. But we must never shy away from demanding that China live up to the rules of the global community, and respect the human rights of its own people and the sovereignty of our allies — and we should make clear that the United States will always stand by its allies, no matter what.
Let me be clear. Strengthening America’s defenses and our intelligence community, and sending clear and resolute signals to allies and adversaries alike will not lead to war. It will build the foundations of peace. It will lead to fair negotiations, not one-sided ones. It will lead us towards stability and away from indecision and chaos. It will strengthen existing alliances and build new ones. It will reestablish American credibility in the world — with everyone.
America’s word will once again be our bond — as it always should have been.
A great generation
So that’s how I see an American foreign policy designed for the times we live in — and for an exceptional country. We need a stronger defense, stronger intelligence and stronger alliances. When we add strength to knowledge, and work with partners who share our interests and values, we can create a world that is safer, stronger and more prosperous.
But there’s one more thing we need to do. We need to banish cynicism.
Today there are plenty of voices that say that America’s time as a global leader has passed. We can’t change the world. We shouldn’t change the world. The challenges we face are too great — and our power too small.
That might be true of an ordinary nation. But that’s not us.
President Reagan once said that “above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have.”
He was right. And that will and courage will lead us forward.
Today, we live in cynical times with cynical politics. If we’re going to keep making progress as a country, we’re going to have to fix that and get our domestic house in order. That’s a longer discussion — and one that I’m looking forward to having with all of you in the weeks and months ahead.
But none of us should doubt our ability to lead in this new century. This can be the second American century. It must be. We shouldn’t fear that challenge.
Our forefathers’ generation was called “the greatest generation” because they put their lives on the line to protect our way of life — and because they overcame the greatest challenges. They didn’t achieve greatness because the challenges were too few. It was because they faced many, and they dared to confront them.
It’s only when we dare to face the big challenges that we can achieve greatness. Courage is not the absence of fear — it is the presence of fear, but with the will to go on fighting.
Well we have a chance today to face big challenges and to overcome them. We have a chance to follow in the footsteps of giants like our grandparents’ generation, and leaders like New Hampshire’s John Winant. He went to London in the service of his country. Now, we’ve been blessed with the strength and resources to go out and defend our way of life once again. And if we dare to do that, then we have a chance to be a great generation too.
It’s time for us to get to work, and to find our greatness again. Let’s go do the big things that lead America to another century of exceptionalism, and not a century of settling for second place. The world is waiting, and together we can lead it forward. Thank you.