Foreign Policy Issues Will Dominate State of the Union

Tonight President George W. Bush will deliver his fifth State of the Union Address. It comes at a time when crucial foreign policy issues again are front and center in the public debate, as they have been so often during his presidency. Not least of them is Mr. Bush’s democracy and freedom agenda. Last year, he laid out an ambitious and visionary agenda in foreign affairs, and tonight the nation should hear where that agenda now stands. Below are some of the broad themes and specific issues on which the President needs to inform the nation as he assesses the past year and looks forward.

The President’s legacy will be determined in large part by future developments in Iraq and the war on terrorism. We have promised to ensure that the people of Iraq have the means to protect themselves from terrorists, and we cannot leave until that work is done. At the same time, it is imperative that the President lay out in very clear terms his idea of the endgame in Iraq, as well as what will be needed to sustain the fight in the war on terrorism in general.

This description of the endgame in Iraq must be accompanied by new energy and specificity in the President’s plan to spread freedom and democracy in the Islamic world. The President’s vision of spreading democracy is a good one, but he must explain how he plans to deal with the reality that populist movements that support violence and oppression in the Islamic world will claim a democratic mantle of legitimacy in elections. The parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority are a troubling case in point. Terrorist movements masquerading as counterfeit democrats — those who claim to speak for the people but in reality wish to oppress them — should not confuse freedom-loving peoples. Leaders in emerging democracies must be dedicated to democratic values and institutions. To help countries transitioning to democracy, the President must establish clear-cut normative standards for parties and groups participating in elections. Moreover, U.S. grant-making activities designed to promote democratic institutions and good governance should be increased and consolidated under the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

Iran also presents an immediate and formidable challenge for U.S. Middle East policy. The President should continue to press for a referral of Iran’s non-compliance with its non-proliferation obligations to the United Nations Security Council and to seek sanctions against the Iranian regime. Though U.N. economic sanctions by themselves may not bring about a halt to Iran’s nuclear program, they will raise the economic, diplomatic, and political costs to Tehran for continuing on its present course. If U.N. is unable to impose tough sanctions, then the President should form a coalition of the willing to impose travel bans and assets freezes on Iran’s leaders. Moreover, because Iran’s military looks to increase its ballistic missile arsenal, the United States should also strengthen American alliances in the region. And while the Iranian regime looks backward, it cannot silence the voices of its well-educated young reformers. We will continue to give them our support. We will increase our efforts to publicize their activities through radio and television broadcasts into Iran and the region.

The President’s legacy of freedom will be fulfilled only if poorer nations develop economically. The President’s Millennium Challenge Account has revolutionized the way people think about foreign aid. But our commitment to economic development needs to be taken to an even higher level. This can be done best by making developing countries equal partners in trade, which they desire far more than aid. The U.S. can lead by example by unilaterally eliminating agricultural tariffs and reminding European partners of the stakes in the Doha Round of trade talks. Agricultural subsidies suppress economic growth in developing countries and keep people poor. Additional, for the promotion of global prosperity, it is time to consider seriously a Global Free Trade Area, a grouping that would include all nations living up to the economic freedom standards set forth in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom.

At home, since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 much as been done to strengthen the nation’s emergency response this system; we are far better prepared to deal with emergencies today than in 2001. But what has been done was not adequate for Katrina, a "catastrophic" disaster. In catastrophes, tens or hundreds of thousands of lives are immediately at risk. Dealing with a catastrophe requires a different kind of national response. National resources have to show up in hours, not days, and in unprecedented amounts regardless of the difficulties. In the future, reliance on America’s citizen-soldiers, our National Guard, should close that gap. We have, however, never asked them to take on a mission as vast and difficult as catastrophic response — and so we must give them the right resources, organization, training, and equipment to do the job.

The President has a full plate of foreign policy issues to deal with as he address the American people tonight, and the Heritage Foundation’s international, defense and homeland security analysts will be watching carefully, posting analysis of the speech with all due dispatch. So please visit Wednesday morning for analysis and commentary.