Former President Jimmy Carter recently said of President Obama’s foreign policy that America’s “influence and prestige and respect in the world is probably lower than it was six or seven years ago,” adding “…I can’t think of many nations in the world where we have a better relationship now than when he took over.” Having recently returned from Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and Afghanistan with Congressman Andy Barr and several of my Senate colleagues, it’s clear that Carter’s critique is devastatingly accurate.
When the Obama Administration withdraws our forces and forward presence from the world stage, others step in to fill the void, leaving the world less stable and America on worse footing. Thanks to this administration’s indecision in reacting to events in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Russian president Vladimir Putin has projected combat power to expand Russia’s sphere of influence, evidenced by Moscow’s recent deployment in Syria.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has consolidated its gains in Iraq and Syria, and is increasingly active in Afghanistan. To help prop up the Assad regime in Syria, Russia has attacked moderate opposition forces there, and Iran is reportedly sending reinforcements. Civilians are dying and refugees are fleeing.
Our longstanding ally, Israel, is rightly concerned that the windfall of billions of dollars in sanctions relief to the Iranian theocracy—facilitated through President Obama’s ill-advised nuclear agreement—will finance terrorist operations against Israelis by Hamas and Hezbollah. This has all occurred while the President has reduced the size of our conventional forces and failed to invest in modern weapons systems.
Congress recently passed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This bipartisan bill—which passed with 70 votes in the Senate—not only provided a number of tools to help the Administration execute defense operations, it also authorized pay raises and improved quality-of-life programs for our servicemembers, strengthened sexual assault prevention and response, and equipped the men and women who volunteer to serve our country with funding at the same level requested by the Administration.
The NDAA would also benefit Kentucky servicemembers and military families by authorizing school construction projects and a new, 102,000-square-foot medical facility at Fort Knox—a project I have championed for years—as well as a new special forces facility at Fort Campbell.
Incredibly, the President vetoed this bipartisan bill for unrelated partisan reasons. That represents another grave foreign policy miscalculation that our country cannot afford.
I thought the growth and advance of ISIL last year would have prompted a reconsideration of strategy for the President. I thought the fall of Iraq’s Anbar Province to ISIL and the threat posed to allies like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey would have sparked a rethinking of his entire national security policy. It didn’t then. But if the latest reports of White House efforts to revise its ISIL strategy are to be believed, then perhaps the President now finally realizes that the threat from terrorist groups like ISIL and Al Qaeda has outpaced his failed efforts to train and equip military units in Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan while drawing down U.S. forces.
I welcome the President’s recent announcement that he will maintain a force level of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, which General John F. Campbell, Commander of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, relayed to me upon arrival in Kabul. I hope, however, that the President will follow through on his assertion—and the advice of American military leaders—that conditions on the ground should determine the appropriate force levels necessary to continue our vital counterterrorism and training missions there.
Russia, China, and Iran are all looking to exploit American withdrawal in pursuit of dreams of empire. They have watched as America shrinks back and as other U.S. commitments—like the announcement of a strategic pivot to Asia, without the investments to make it meaningful—have proven hollow. The next President will have to rebuild America’s credibility with friend and foe alike.
At every stop in my travels, foreign leaders expressed sincere appreciation for U.S. leadership and assistance, and requested that it continue. To better protect U.S. interests, President Obama must work with Congress to redouble support for our allies in the Middle East and review his strategy in this region. Unfortunately—and to the detriment of the needs of our servicemembers and of U.S. leadership in the world—the President’s veto of the bipartisan NDAA bill indicates his foreign policy blunders may continue.