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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

President Obama Is A Tough Leader — Just Look At China

Much of the criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy has been that he projects weakness – that somehow, murderous thugs like ISIL would abandon their posts and flee for their lives if President Obama was just…tougher, somehow.

Projecting toughness in this case, it seems, comes down to talking tough and being willing to risk another world war over every slight, incident, or threat, real or perceived.

It is true that everyone must understand that the U.S. is committed to protecting our allies and interests, no matter the costs. But what does that actually look like? It seems that many of the tough talkers have not thought that far ahead.

An under-discussed example of how President Obama has projected actual toughness in tackling a national security challenge is China. It’s a complex relationship with a nation that is committed to pursuing its own interests – occasionally at the expense of its neighbors, our allies.

The President has never hesitated to push back on the Chinese, not just with rhetoric – though that has been necessary at times – but with actions. Concerned that the Chinese were attempting to occupy international waters by building artificial islands that could be transformed into military installations, the President sent a destroyer through those waters, demonstrating that they did not in fact belong to China and that we were more than capable of projecting the kind of force needed to keep them open.

When hackers compromised the Office of Personnel Management and investigation revealed links to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, President Obama pushed back hard, threatening to sanction companies or individuals who participate in cyber-attacks; and while we have no illusions that China has somehow given up cyber-warfare cold turkey, it forced China to publicly state that they would do just that.

And, recognizing that no progress could be made addressing climate change without the participation of the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the President pushed publicly and privately for China to commit to serious, meaningful reductions in emissions. The result was a landmark bilateral agreement where, for the first time, China agreed to concrete targets for emissions reductions. That, in turn, helped pave the way for the COP21 agreement reached in Paris.

The President also refused to let China set the economic rules of the road in the Pacific – say what you will about some of the details of the Trans Pacific Partnership, but by bringing ourselves closer economically with key allies like Japan and the Philippines, we lift them up, strengthen our own hand, and diminish China’s ability to dominate the region economically. It’s a recognition that drone strikes or special forces represent only one aspect of American power.

Toughness is not about threatening to “carpet bomb” someone or to “bomb the [expletive] out of them.” Blind tough talk accomplishes nothing and risks much.

Rather than tough talk, true leaders are calm and steadfast in the face of multiple threats. True leaders stick to their values and stick by their allies. And a true leader knows that we must use every tool in our arsenal to stare down those threats and take advantages of the opportunities this century offers us.

There has not been as much written about the so-called “pivot to Asia” as there has been about ISIL, but the challenges and opportunities in addressing a rising China are just as great. When historians look back on this period they will note that China repeatedly tested the boundaries and the norms of the international system – and, at each turn, was met by a President who pushed back forcefully in defense of our values, our interests, and our allies.

That is a legacy of toughness that no amount of talk could match.

Brandon Fureigh is the Chief Strategy Officer of the Truman National Security Project.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting at the start of the climate summit in Paris November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Race To The Bottom: Governors Turning Their Backs On Syrian Refugees Are Turning Their Backs On American Values

Across large swathes of our country, a false choice for the American people is resulting in an ugly abdication of American values and leadership. Throughout the day on Monday, 27 governors (26 Republicans and 1 Democrat) declared their intentions to attempt to block any Syrian refugees from settling within their respective states in the name of protecting the homeland.

These prohibitions, driven by the fear and anger surrounding the horrific attacks in Paris and from the unconfirmed possibility that one of the terrorists may have had a Syrian passport, represent a stunning lack of empathy for hundreds of thousands of people desperately seeking to escape the very type of violence we oppose. Not only does this go against everything we stand for as America—it plays right into the hands of our enemies, who want nothing more than for us to abandon our values and allow these families to continue to suffer under their rule.

Our first priority is and should continue to be to protect our nation, period—but we already do that. The fear that insufficient vetting of refugees will allow terrorists or their sympathizers to slip into the states ignores the well-developed capabilities of the United States government to prevent exactly that. Unlike in Greece, Syrian refugees are not arriving on our shores by boats or small rafts in the thousands.

In fact, in spite of false stories circulating the internet, fewer than 2,200 refugees from Syria have been relocated to the U.S. since the beginning of the war. The refugee screening process currently in place takes an average of 12 to 18 months per successful applicant (with additional steps for Syrians), and it involves coordination between agencies as diverse as the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security. The process is so thorough that more than 750,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States since September 11, 2001, yet not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges.

Does that mean it isn’t possible for someone to infiltrate the system in order to carry out an attack on American soil?  Of course not. No system is perfect, and we must remain diligent when it comes to our screening process and constantly strive to improve it. But pretending that we have no screening process already in place is as immoral as it is misleading. Our leaders have the responsibility to have an honest conversation with us about the threats we face, and the solutions we should embrace to keep us safe—not to put on the most outrageous political theater they can muster.

A quick glance at the bandwagon reveals some bewildering passengers. Louisiana Governor and four-time winner of the Undercard Debate Participant Ribbon Bobby Jindal was one early adopter of the anti-refugee position. Jindal, himself the son of immigrants from the war-torn Punjab state of India, expressed his lack of understanding of irony by signing an executive order that not only halted the inflow of any refugees to Louisiana, but also authorized the Louisiana State Police (presumably led by Sherriff J. W. Pepper, given his prior liaison with MI6) to monitor all 14 Syrian refugees already settled in the Pelican State.

Some governors don’t need a futile run for president to excuse a scarcely concealed contempt for not only Syrian refugees, but apparently foreigners in general. Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey took one of the most extreme positions in the nation,  demanding that the federal government halt the resettlement of all refugees within his state—not just those fleeing the brutal violence of the Syrian civil war. It seems hard to justify a prohibition on admitting those fleeing from states like Myanmar, Cuba, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a fear of ISIL infiltrators.

And finally, a perfect example of abdicating leadership to avoid tough conversations with some of the most informed constituents in the nation is New Hampshire’s Gov. Maggie Hassan. Gov. Hassan became the only member of the president’s party joining the panic train, breaking the hearts of Democrats everywhere and endearing herself to tens of Republicans. The Governor’s decision was surely based on heretofore-unreported problems with the more than 3,300 refugees that have become Granite Staters in the past 7 years rather than her coming 2016 Senate battle with Sen. Kelly Ayotte. 

The most ludicrous part of all this chest thumping? The governors can’t even follow through. Per the Refugee Act of 1980, the president accepts and directs refugees into the United States. Yet their empty gestures are still inspiring damaging policy and rhetoric of the GOP presidential field, with son of a refugee (but not the Muslim kind, relax) Sen. Ted Cruz pushing a bill to ban the appropriation of funding Syrian refugees, and master of the folksy-offensive, former Gov. Mike Huckabee (of my own home state of Arkansas), demanding we “wake up and smell the falafel” and stop “importing terror.”

But there’s something fundamentally damaging about all of this, too—a dimming of the American beacon of hope, intangible but far-reaching. Those who fear refugees indiscriminately, or turn from saving thousands of lives without even understanding the processes in place to keep us safe, have the flattest, simplest views of “us vs. them.” An America that wishes to be an active participant on the global stage cannot afford to cede control to those who would leave the innocent with their faces pressed against the glass, looking for hope that will never come.

In the decades following World War II, the world looked to the United States for an example of open-handed kindness to those most in need. Now, it sees a growing number of xenophobes, egged on by leaders embracing a cheap politics of fear.  We must not sacrifice our values and give into the extremists who wish to tear us down and destroy all we hold dear. Instead, we must fight—not only with our military and diplomatic tools, but with our spirit. For living our values is the truest way to defend them.

If you are serving in or running for office in the United States, lead that fight or get out of the way. We deserve better than false choices and fear-mongering.

Brandon Fureigh is the Chief Strategy Officer of the Truman National Security Project. He previously was a Training Coordinator working with U.S. Marines preparing to deploy to the Middle East and has been involved with a number of political and issue advocacy campaigns.

Photo: Syrian refugees call for help and empty water from their flooding raft as they approach the Greek island of Lesbos October 20, 2015.  REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis