Posts Tagged ‘heritage foundation’


September 26, 2013

Washington Times on September 24, 2013, published a commentary by Ed Feulner on US handling of interventions. He wrote that it goes without saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad is a monster. He’s killed thousands of his own citizens, unleashed chemical weapons against rebels, and is closely associated with Iran’s dangerous rulers.

It also needs to be said, though, as President John Quincy Adams did, that the United States “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

Adams was speaking in 1821, explaining the foreign policy of the Founders. His father played a vital role in the creation of the country, and J.Q. Adams helped it grow and thrive decades later. He was serving as secretary of state when he discussed American foreign policy, and he went on to serve a term as president.

This all matters as we consider how to handle Syria, and its resident monsters, today.

As analyst Marion Smith writes in a Heritage Foundation special report, the Founders provide a handy guide about how the country should handle foreign problems today.

“America’s Founders actually advocated and acted upon the idea that prosperity at home comes through active trade abroad and that peace is best secured through military strength and foreign respect of U.S. sovereignty and the principles of liberty,” he writes. They were neither isolationist nor interventionist. They were pragmatic.

He adds that the Founders were wary of permanent political alliances, foreign intrigue at home and coercive foreign powers. They aimed to protect America’s strategic independence and support U.S. interests.

Using that standard, the United States should only use military force if it serves a vital national interest. That’s a far cry from a progressive foreign policy, of course. That concept, born a century or so ago, teaches that the United States should act only when our interests are not at stake, since promoting our self-interest would be inherently bad.

It’s an idea the Founders would have dismissed out of hand.

Despite his progressive tendencies, President Obama seems to be saying he agrees with the Founders. Discussing the use of chemical weapons in Syria, he said: “This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security.” While the first part of that statement is clearly true, the second part is far from proved.

It is indeed dangerous for Syria to have chemical weapons, but it would be far worse for those weapons to end up in the hands of al Qaeda or Hezbollah terrorists. While the administration has offered some halfhearted reasons for intervening, it hasn’t explained how U.S. vital interests are at risk, nor has it shown that the American people would be gravely threatened if our military doesn’t intervene.

That doesn’t mean we should do nothing at all. In a recent paper, regional expert Jim Phillips laid out some steps our government should take to contain Syrian aggression. He writes that the United States should:

• Work with friends and allies to prevent terrorists from obtaining Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons.

• Cultivate allies within the Syrian opposition, especially non-Islamist forces that would be willing to monitor the disposition of Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons, track their movements, and destroy or seize them if necessary.

• Work with regional allies to strengthen non-Islamist opposition forces and accelerate the fall of the Assad regime.
Whenever anything bad happens, seemingly anywhere in the world, all eyes seem to turn to the United States. We’re the world’s leading nation, but we cannot be the world’s policeman.

It’s clearly in our best interest to help shape a stable Syria, one that doesn’t threaten its own people or its neighbors and one that surrenders its chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Those outcomes will require American involvement, but don’t require American military intervention.

It’s a crucial difference, one the Founders would have appreciated.

Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation (


September 2, 2013

Heritage Foundation’s Luke Coffey on August 28, 2013, recommended priorities for President Barack Obama when he visits Sweden on September 4 en route to the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. The timing of this visit is important… Excerpts from Issue Brief # 4029:

…like his meeting at the White House with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in August, the President’s visit is an opportunity to demonstrate America’s commitment to transatlantic relations.

The U.S. and the Nordic and Baltic countries share many of the same values and challenges. President Obama should use this opportunity to build closer American ties with Sweden. Three issues should dominate the visit: regional security, negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Arctic policy.

The Current Situation

Although previous U.S. Vice Presidents have visited Sweden, no sitting U.S. President has made a bilateral visit. In 2001, George W. Bush became the first and only serving U.S. President to visit Sweden, but his visit was for the U.S.–European Union (EU) summit. Consequently, President Obama’s upcoming trip will be the first-ever bilateral visit to Sweden by a sitting U.S. President.

The political situation in Sweden remains fragile for the ruling party. The center-right Alliance for Sweden coalition, headed by the Moderate Party, lost its absolute majority in September 2010. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt leads a minority government. He and President Obama face many of the same domestic challenges, including high unemployment and sluggish economies. Recent riots in Sweden’s immigrant communities have also brought the immigration debate to the political forefront.

Regional Security: Sweden, the U.S., and NATO

In terms of security, Sweden still sees itself primarily as a “soft power.” Even so, it has contributed to NATO-led military operations in Afghanistan and recently over Libya, albeit on a minor level in both cases. In Afghanistan, Sweden has approximately 260 troops deployed around Mazar-i-Sharif in the north—a relatively peaceful part of Afghanistan. During the recent air operation in Libya, Sweden was one of seven countries that flew air missions, although Swedish aircraft did not drop any bombs or strike any targets.

Sweden has maintained a neutral status since the 19th century, but there is increasing debate inside the country on whether to join NATO. Recent bellicose Russian behavior and Sweden’s declining military capability have prompted some to see the possible benefits of NATO membership.

For example, in March 2013, two Russian bombers and four fighter jets took off from St. Petersburg and carried out a mock strike on targets in the Stockholm region. The Swedish air force did not react, as it was on low alert during the Easter break. Instead, NATO scrambled two Danish jets from a base in Lithuania to intercept the Russian planes.

Like the rest of Europe, Sweden’s defense spending has decreased, leading to a decline in military capability and readiness. According to General Sverker Göranson, supreme commander of the Swedish armed forces, the Swedish armed forces could defend a small part of Swedish territory for approximately one week against a limited attack. For these and other reasons, NATO membership is becoming more appealing to Swedes.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

According to the White House, TTIP will be discussed during the visit. The 28 EU member states have surrendered their ability to negotiate trade deals to the supranational EU Commission. Therefore, Obama and Reinfeldt will not agree to or announce anything substantial in the area.

In February 2013, President Obama called for a free trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU during his annual State of the Union address.

Tariffs between the U.S. and the EU are already low, so TTIP will be more about regulatory processes and harmonizing of standards.

Time to Get Serious About the Arctic

Sweden considers itself a regional leader in the Arctic. With Sweden having just finished its two-year presidency of the Arctic Council, the Arctic will likely feature during the visit. Swedish officials have arranged a dinner for President Obama and the leaders of the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland) in Stockholm. Since all of the Nordic countries and the U.S. are members of the Arctic Council, this will be a good opportunity to discuss issues of mutual interest in the Arctic.

The U.S. should take the Arctic region more seriously. Some estimates claim that up to 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and almost one-third of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves are located in the Arctic. As ice continues to dissipate during the summer months, new shipping lanes have opened, offering additional trade opportunities. The economic potential of the Arctic is enormous.

More actors than ever before are operating in the region, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the U.S. and its Nordic partners. The region needs more than communiqués passed every two years at the Arctic Council’s summit. The region needs action and leadership. It is time for the U.S. to take a leadership role in the Arctic, work more closely with like-minded allies, and promote actionable policies in the region.

Advance Cooperation

President Obama’s visit to Sweden offers a good opportunity to improve Swedish–American relations. Specifically, the President should take this opportunity to promote:

• Regional security cooperation. The collective defense of NATO’s area of responsibility in northern Europe cannot be accomplished without access to Sweden’s airspace. The U.S. needs to find areas of U.S.–Swedish and NATO–Swedish cooperation.

• Transatlantic free trade. President Obama needs to promote economic freedom in Europe and support genuine free trade.

• Cooperation in the Arctic. The Arctic is an area ripe for cooperation between the U.S. and its Nordic partners. The President should use this visit to promote cooperation in the Arctic that is focused on national sovereignty, economic freedom, and sensible environmental policies.

A Close Partnership

Washington should reinvigorate partnerships with America’s key friends and allies in Europe, such as Sweden. Combined with President Obama’s meeting with the three Baltic leaders at the White House in August, his visit to Sweden offers an opportunity to demonstrate America’s commitment to transatlantic relations.

Luke Coffey is Margaret Thatcher Fellow in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.