By: DJ Bettencourt – May, 2014
Whatever may be said of Richard Nixon, he was a visionary and strategic genius on foreign policy. Indeed, Nixon’s most enduring and important legacy is the positive mark he left on the world stage. The 20th anniversary of Nixon’s death this month comes at a time when the American public wants to pull back from the world stage—Wall Street Journal/NBC poll recently finding that nearly half of those surveyed wanted the nation to be less active in the world.
For New Hampshire’s political leaders in Washington, foreign policy concerns are often a distant concern. While Sen. Kelly Ayotte has admirably taken strong stands on national security issues, our delegation lacks Nixon’s strategic thinking to guard America’s foreign interests. This comes despite the consequential developments taking place across the globe, including America’s strained relationship with Israel; a Russia that is seeking to rebuild its Cold War empire; a continuing war in Syria; and a dangerous Middle East.
So what should the New Hampshire delegation do to highlight the importance of an attentive foreign policy to a reluctant public? They should consider how Nixon might handle America’s foreign challenges. While the Constitution gives the president great latitude in conducting foreign affairs, loud congressional voices can influence his choices.
The most pressing current challenge is Russia. Former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein speculates on some concrete steps Nixon might have taken that New Hampshire’s delegation can adopt. First, they should encourage Obama to take a more serious tone. Putin knows our economic threats are hollow since he controls most of western Europe’s energy sector. They must pressure Obama to cease any defense cuts. Sen. Ayotte is in a particularly credible position to carry that flag. Putin is an old school Soviet who only responds to strength. Nixon would realize that disarming ourselves in a dangerous world is irresponsible.
Second, after Putin broke his promise of noninterference in Ukraine, Nixon would understand that he cannot be trusted to maintain joint missile defense treaties. As Stein suggests Nixon would do, New Hampshire’s leaders should call to end treaties that handcuff deployment of American technology to protect ourselves and our allies from missile attack.
Nixon also would know that Putin’s Crimea move is a mixed blessing economically and they must now grapple with a captive population that hates them. While the world now knows Putin cannot be trusted, major problems arise if he invades other former Soviet countries. America must be ready to take decisive action, diplomatic or otherwise.
However, New Hampshire’s leaders should make it clear that unless Obama is willing to commit seriously to fighting for those former Soviet countries there can be no eastward expansion of NATO. The Obama Administration has shown no willingness to fight, even when its self-imposed “red lines” are disregarded. In dealing with Putin, we should avoid setting ourselves up to abandon future commitments that will result in projecting weakness and empowering Putin further. Nixon would have guarded American prestige and credibility with our allies.
With regard to Israel and Iran, there is no doubt Nixon would be aghast at the strain in the current US-Israeli relationship. Matters came to a boil when Secretary of State John Kerry made an Israeli apartheid reference. Nixon was a staunch supporter of Israel and his leadership during the Yom Kippour War is credited with saving Israel from potentially devastating attacks. Senators Shaheen and Ayotte must encourage Obama to ease the current strain with our only ally in the Middle East. They also should stress that there must be no relaxation of sanctions on Iran until they denuclearize and be willing to stiffen sanctions if necessary.
Finally, Nixon would likely find Obama’s current strategy of arming moderate rebels in Syria to rebuild opposition strength against the brutal Assad regime to create a more advantageous negotiation position in Geneva, as promising. The anti-Assad rebels have refused to negotiate until a balance in forces is restored. This is not unlike Nixon’s Vietnam strategy of bolstering South Vietnamese forces to strengthen peace talks with the Vietcong and North Vietnamese. According to Vietnam historian Phillip Jennings this strategy bore fruit for Nixon and could do so for Obama. In Syria the key is ensuring the arms do not fall into radical Islamist hands. Congresswomen Shea-Porter should use her skepticism of military intervention to carefully monitor progress of this policy and remind the president that again Putin is looming in the background.
While an ostrich can bury its head in the sand to hide from its problems it doesn’t make them go away. We need leaders who can articulate and execute an effective foreign policy that protects America’s interests and advances world peace. New Hampshire’s delegation can and should lead the way.
D.J. Bettencourt served as a State Representative in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 2005 to 2012 and was the House Majority Leader for the 2011-2012 legislative term. He currently works as the Director of Development and Community Relations at the Salem Animal Rescue League.