Pushing Back

President Barack Obama's advisors fire back at Mitt Romney.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Dear Governor Romney,

Dear Governor Romney,

The letter in yesterday’s National Review signed by your foreign policy advisors painted a distorted picture of President Obama’s national security record. We’re writing you to set the record straight. Today, al Qaeda’s senior leadership has been decimated, the Iraq war has been brought to a responsible end, the transition in Afghanistan has begun, and the president has restored our leadership role in the world. We urge you to clarify exactly how and why you would depart from many of President Obama’s policies.

Because you have repeatedly said that your foreign policies will be informed by the advice of experts, we wanted to highlight some of the factual inaccuracies in the letter from your advisors. The American people deserve an honest, fact-based discussion about these important issues. Here are those facts:

• Iran is weaker and more isolated today precisely because of actions that President Obama has taken. Through sustained diplomacy, the president forged unprecedented international consensus to pressure Iran — far greater consensus and pressure than the previous Republican administration achieved through its go-it-alone, my-way-or-the highway approach. President Obama secured the toughest unilateral and multilateral sanctions on Iran to date, and they’re having a devastating impact on its economy. The Iranian nuclear program has been slowed, and Iran’s leaders have signaled their willingness to resume talks, in which the United States will seek to ensure Iran lives up to its international obligations. At the same time, the president has firmly and consistently said that all options are on the table, including military action, to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

• No president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel’s security than President Obama. Israel’s Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, has said publicly that he can “hardly remember a better period of support.” Despite serious budget constraints, the president has worked tirelessly to ensure a significant increase in security assistance to Israel, including more than $200 million to protect Israeli civilians from rockets and missiles fired by Palestinian militants and Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Even as the president has taken historic steps to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon that would threaten Israel, he has also provided Israel with critical technology to ensure its qualitative military edge and its right and ability to defend itself. The President has also encouraged both Palestinians and Israelis to take the steps necessary to achieve a lasting two-state solution based on mutually agreed-to borders and durable security arrangements. At the same time, he has steadfastly defended Israel against unilateral steps by Palestinians and others to use international bodies to impose an outcome on the parties or de-legitimize Israel’s right to exist.

• After nearly nine years of war in Iraq, the president ended the war responsibly, brought our troops home, and developed a strong relationship with a sovereign Iraq. With our diplomats and civilian advisors in the lead, the administration is working to help Iraq develop strong and accountable institutions, while standing up a dedicated Office of Security Cooperation to ensure a lasting security relationship with the Iraqis for years to come. Iraq remains a close partner with the United States military, purchasing nearly $10 billion in U.S. military hardware and training, and we will continue to develop lasting economic and cultural ties with the Iraqi people.

• The president also has a clear strategy to end the war in Afghanistan based on a transition plan embraced by NATO, our ISAF partners, and the Afghan government at the Lisbon Conference. This timeline is informed by both conditions on the ground and the continued growth in the capability, capacity, and performance of the Afghan security forces. Ultimately, the Afghans must take responsibility for their own security and governance, and we remain committed to helping them do so. Thanks to the president’s transition plan, half of the Afghan population already lives in areas in which the Afghan National Security Forces are in the lead, and the plan envisions Afghans in the lead for the whole country in 2014, marking the end of the current ISAF mission. As we transition in Afghanistan, it’s worth remembering that President Obama refocused our strategy and resources there on the goals that matter most to U.S. national security — defeating al Qaeda and preventing a return of the Taliban safe haven that al Qaeda had before 9/11.

• Regarding Russia, President Obama signed the New START treaty, reducing the number of strategic nuclear weapons in Russia and allowing inspections of its nuclear arsenal to resume — without placing any constraints on U.S. missile defense and conventional strike capabilities. At the same time, the United States has maintained a strong, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent. More broadly, the president has successfully worked with the Russians to advance other key policy objectives, such as securing and eliminating vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide and placing severe multilateral sanctions on Iran. The president’s decision in 2009 to reset relations between the U.S. and Russia came at a time when bilateral relations were as contentious as they had been in 20 years; that decision brought practical benefits for the United States and for the international community.

• On the defense budget, the president’s new strategy both keeps the U.S. military as the best fighting force in the world and keeps faith with the men and women who serve. The entire Defense Department senior leadership — military and civilian, from across the services and combatant commanders — stands behind the president and is united in the belief that the defense strategy and resulting budget decisions meet the country’s most pressing security needs. The real failure when it comes to the defense budget is the unwillingness of congressional Republicans to close on a budget deal that would avert sequestration — a further round of drastic cuts that our military leadership has said would harm our nation’s security.

• And finally, on Cuba, President Obama has repeatedly renewed the trade embargo, and he has promised to continue to support liberty for the Cuban people and to provide humanitarian assistance to dissidents. The kind of unlimited family visits and remittances that he has allowed, as well as additional people-to-people contact, support pockets of independence in Cuba and undermine the repressive mechanisms of Cuban authorities. The president’s policies all work toward the goal of supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their future and to lessen their dependence on the Castro regime.

We are prepared to engage your advisors on these and other issues. While they were criticizing the president, they have failed to answer the following basic questions about your national security proposals:

• What specifically would you do to address the Iranian threat that is different from what President Obama is already doing? Do you believe there are still viable options for dealing with the Iranian threat short of war? What would your proposed military action against Iran involve, and how would you deal with its potentially destabilizing consequences?

• You have said you would have left tens of thousands of U.S. forces behind in Iraq. Would you have done so against the wishes of the Iraqi government and people, with no legal protections?

• Why have you not outlined any policies to achieve U.S. objectives and end the war in Afghanistan? How would you change the president’s plan, which has the full support of NATO and our closest allies, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Australia?

• What did you mean when you said, “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person,” referring to Osama bin Laden? Given the clear successes of President Obama’s counterterrorism policies, why and how would you change the current approach to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda?

• Why did you call Russia "without question our number one geopolitical foe," especially when strategic cooperation with Russia is essential for countering the Iranian nuclear threat? What do you think is gained by casting Russia in this role? Do you believe there are other entities that pose greater challenges to American economic and strategic interests in the 21st century?

• Why do you continuously mischaracterize President Obama’s support for Israel, which threatens America’s longstanding bi-partisan consensus in support of our ally, by suggesting that the president is not doing things that in fact he’s already done — such as increasing military cooperation and assistance every year since he took office?

We look forward to your responses on these specific issues.


Michèle A. Flournoy
Adm. John Nathman (ret.)
Colin H. Kahl
Jeffrey A. Bader
Spencer Boyer
Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.)
Richard Danzig
Janine Davidson
Nathaniel C. Fick
Nina Hachigian
Bruce W. Jentleson
Brian Katulis
Cliff Kupchan
Mel Levine
David Shorr
Sean Smith
Richard Verma
Jeremy Weinstein

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