American Leadership is Becoming a Distant Memory in Distant Lands

American Leadership is Becoming a Distant Memory in Distant Lands


Congressman Rodney P. Frelinghuysen

(as submitted to the Washington Post)


As chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I just led a bipartisan Congressional delegation of committee members to the Pacific. Over the course of this trip, I met with Philippine’s President Benigno Aquino, as well as many other leaders in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore. I also had the opportunity to visit with some of our American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, all volunteers, stationed throughout the region.

During the course of my meetings, I asked one question again and again: How is America being perceived as a leader in the world?  Despite President Obama’s much-publicized “pivot to the Pacific,” which was announced in 2011 with much fanfare, many of those we met with are concerned that the United States’ is really turning inward. They are especially troubled given China’s clear efforts to dominate both the seas and the airspace in the region as well as their national economies.

They also wonder whether an America that is “leading from behind” – an oxymoron if ever there was one – will leave them behind, as it has so many other countries that once relied on America’s commitment to advance peace and freedom in the world.

America’s retreat from the world stage has produced the greatest level of instability in decades.  “To put it mildly, the world is a mess,” is former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s blunt assessment.

“Great nations need organizing principles and 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle," former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed recently.  

Perhaps the most succinct summary came from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “The world is exploding all over,” he told a group of 200 Marines at Camp Pendleton earlier this month.

Indeed it is.  The list of trouble spots is long and growing and much of the turmoil is related to a lack of American presidential leadership. 

Ukraine has already lost the Crimea to Russian-backed “separatists,” and Russia continues to threaten Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Libya has descended into such chaos that the United States was forced to evacuate our embassy in Tripoli. Will we soon potentially see the same thing in Baghdad or Kabul?

In Syria, the only “red line” that remains is the long trail of blood left by the brutal Assad regime. The President has certainly not proposed any plans for Congress to consider.

Iran’s determined effort to acquire nuclear weapons continues unabated.

In Iraq, ISIL now controls an area the size of Belgium, is on the border with Jordan, and is continuing its genocidal attacks on Christians, Kurds, and others who refuse to bow down to barbarism and forced religious conversion.

In Gaza, Hamas terrorists, temporarily weakened by Israel’s successful efforts to reduce its ability to kill Israeli citizens, are undoubtedly already regrouping to pursue their stated goal of the destruction of Israel.

In Nigeria, the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram continues its brutal campaign of kidnapping and terror, proving that it takes more than a few of our military aircraft and a hashtag to defeat terrorists.

North Korea’s maniacal dictator is still pursuing his goal of developing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads to targets thousands of miles away.

And China, the Pacific’s increasingly emboldened bully, is expanding its sphere of influence both in the “blue water” by expanding its Navy and by restricting large amounts of airspace. These actions threaten the stability of the entire Asia-Pacific region.

The world truly is a mess.  This is not a partisan statement; it’s the assessment of many Democrats, Republicans, and non-partisan foreign policy experts alike.  And what is President Obama’s strategy for meeting these growing threats to our national security and that of our allies around the world? Continued detachment and a “whack a mole” approach to foreign policy.

The President seems to believe that he has only two options open to him, either using American ground fighting forces or doing little more than ordering narrowly targeted air strikes.  At least that’s how he consistently presents the options in front of him.

But that is a false choice.  There is a wide range of options available to any American president who wants to assert America’s leadership role in the world as a force for peace and freedom.  But those options are only attractive to a President who believes that our nation has such a role to play.

As I heard again and again on my recent trip, people around the world continue to look to the United States to be present in the world, to use the full range of its power and influence to shape events in a positive way.  The President simply must reassert America’s indispensable role on the international scene. If he does not, the violence and instability that is plaguing the globe will only continue to grow and our influence will continue to shrink.