Prepared Remarks For The Council On Foreign Relations

Date: Dec. 3, 2009
Location: Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Dr. David L. Aaron, Director of RAND's Center for Middle East Public Policy, for your kind words.

The Constitution makes Congress the nation's lawmaker but makes the President the Commander-in-Chief of military forces and chief of the executive branch, and "execution" means directing the nation's power in the international arena. Congress is expressly empowered "to regulate commerce with foreign nations." I have had limited involvement in international issues when I co-chaired the Congressional Middle East Economic Partnership Caucus. The President has constitutional primacy in foreign affairs, while Congress is, so to say, his junior partner, supplying resources for national security and international success.

Members of Congress raise criticisms of the President's foreign policies based on the people's concerns, but these usually reflect their local or state constituencies. The President alone can and must provide national leadership. His actions, more just than his words, must convince the country that his foreign policy advances the whole nation's interests. If Presidents do not lead, the foreign interests of America will be compromised, and our nation's well-being placed at risk.

The grand strategy of this country's foreign policy should be the security and independence of America combined with the defense of human rights in the world. The US was history's first government to found itself expressly on the principles of God-given natural rights, equality, liberty, opportunity, and popular consent. It is always in the interest of the United States to promote these principles in other nations. Among other benefits of such a policy are prosperity and international peace.

Presidential leadership has been missing in the area of human rights. The State Department, for example, has cut back or eliminated funding for groups such as Freedom House and the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, and for pro-democracy publications involving Iran, where earlier this year we saw a fraudulent election and government repression of its democratic opposition.

The President has found time to visit Scandinavia for his Nobel Peace Prize and join a United Nations meeting on climate change, but he had no time to attend the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall celebrating the collapse of Russia's experiment in international socialism. He has refused to pressure China about its human rights record. He has refused to meet with the Dalai Lama. The Administration's defense for turning away from human rights issues is classic Old World realpolitik: human rights get in the way of diplomacy. This Administration wants more negotiation with repressive, dangerous, and questionable governments formerly branded an "axis of evil." As a "citizen of the world," President Obama seems to separate the interests of the nation that elected him from the human rights of people everywhere.

"Human rights" and "economic growth," rightly understood, have this in common: the expansion of some does not come at the expense of others. Free markets and trade, in one or among many nations, promote the prosperity of all participants. Believers in the social welfare state model might not care to encourage free and open international trade for the same reason they dislike robust competitive markets at home. "Protectionism" conforms better to social welfare state controlled economies than open and free trade.

Thus the Obama Administration has imposed heavy tariffs on tires imported from China after a finding of "dumping." China has retaliated of course with tariffs on nylon imports from the US. and is looking into similar actions against other US imports. In China, the President talked about liberalizing trade and job creation, but has shown little leadership in anything beyond feeble talking points. His Energy Secretary has endorsed carbon tariffs on imports, the House included them in its "cap-and-trade" energy tax bill, the EU is threatening to do the same. And Congress, Mexico, and Canada are quarreling about auto manufacturing locations.

The previous Administration had reason to believe the US was in a global war with terrorists, and believed that part of the struggle against terrorism was to support the growth of trade, prosperity, and democracy in the Middle East. In 2003 it proposed to create a U.S.-described region called the Middle East Free Trade Area, MEFTA. 20 countries in the Mideast and North African region could be covered. The process would include participation in the World Trade Organization (WTO); possible participation in the Generalized System of Preferences; trade capacity building measures; plus a network of agreements on trade investment frameworks (TIFAs), free trade (FTAs), and bilateral investment (BITs).

The MEFTA initiative's intention is to diversify and improve the member states' economies, increase jobs, stimulate US exports, and help make economic reforms as part of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy. Going into the year 2007, the Bush Administration made substantial progress in developing these working arrangements. The World Economic Forum issued its Arab World Competitiveness Report in April 2007 announcing "spectacular rates of growth for the fourth year in a row" in the Arab world including intensifying global trade linkages and improving competitiveness in many countries.

Developments in these arrangements were early successes and were hopeful signs to the world that the foundations for peace and prosperity in the Middle East were being built. I was pleased to be involved in this process in Oman and Bahrain. In my work on the Ways and Means Committee and in the Middle East Economic Partnership Caucus, I traveled to the region and aggressively promoted these arrangements. Success was possible only because the White House was committed to trade.

The financial meltdown of last year and the current prolonged recession complicated the process, but this means that determined leadership is even more necessary both in the US and internationally to continue to make progress in US economic engagement with the Middle East. Dubai's current debt crisis is one likely result of the abandonment of progress in trade -- and who knows what other Mideast nations may fall into the same difficulty?

As we're meeting here today, the President is convening a "jobs summit" at the White House to come up with new ways to create jobs here in the United States. Since 97% of the world's consumers live outside the United States, one of the most promising, but neglected, ways to do this would have been to aggressively promote economic engagement with the world. The jobs summit marks yet another missed opportunity.

President Obama, frankly, is proving to be a real disappointment in US international concerns. The situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating while commanders in the field were asking for additional support months ago. The President travels the globe to give fine speeches, yet it took him until now to respond to Afghanistan's rising military threat. I'm pleased that he has responded positively to the obvious military necessity, but quick decisions are also needed and we didn't get one.

The 9/11 Commission report recommended "a comprehensive U.S. strategy to counter terrorism [that] should include economic policies that encourage development, more open societies, and opportunities for people to improve the lives of their families and to enhance prospects for their children's future." Yet in the terrorist breeding grounds of the Mideast, our President is invisible. Economic liberty is an integral part of the natural rights of human beings everywhere, yet he is agnostic on free trade and other practical consequences of these universal principles.

There is bipartisan support for trade and a bipartisan coalition of advocates on the Hill, including, for example, Democrats Gregory Meeks and Joe Crowley of New York. But we need the President's leadership to bolster these efforts. He ought to be an ambassador for freedom and opportunity. His refusal to engage actively represents an enormous missed opportunity -- not only to advance hope and prosperity where it is so needed but to diminish the appeal of terrorism and promote the cause of peace.

Finally, may I say a few words about international monetary policy. In the last few months the dollar's international value has fallen precipitously to new lows. Through all this, the silence of the Obama Administration has been deafening. The silence can only mean they don't see a problem when the dollar -- the world's reserve currency -- loses value every day.

Some central banks and governments are speaking openly about ending the dollar's role as the reserve currency for the world and finding a more reliable monetary replacement. The dollar world reserve system may not be dumped soon, but the discussion itself should set off alarms. I am more troubled by the continued sleep in Washington than those conversations in other capitals.

The bottom line is this: President Obama and the political leaders in Congress have lost their faith in the American idea. They think it is obsolete and must be replaced by something like the social welfare states of Europe. In that type of government, your rights don't come from God and nature. Government's mission is not to secure your rights, it is to give you "rights." It follows that the citizens' rights and benefits can also be taken away on the government's say-so. No objective moral standard measures what government does because we live in a post-modernist world where "change" is everything and fixed principles of right or wrong don't exist.

The United States is not just another name on the UN list somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe. This really is an exceptional nation. Our foreign policy requires executive leadership that believes in it, both to secure our safety and to model the hopes and benefits of human freedom to inspire people everywhere.