Fixing Our Foreign Policy: 12 Ideas From a Sometimes Critic

05/27/2014 12:49 pm ET | Updated Jul 27, 2014

President Obama has been critical of his foreign policy critics of late, suggesting that they had little to propose other than military intervention. As a sometimes critic, I take exception to that charge, as I rarely support "boots on the ground," but do question the Obama administration both for what it is doing and not doing.

Ironically, the president just put 80 pairs of boots on the ground in Chad in an effort to locate and liberate the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Hopefully this effort will accomplish just that, but even if it does, the criticism of the administration's foreign policy will not go away. Nor should it.

I appreciate that it does not take a whole lot of effort to find fault. In that spirit, here are a dozen proposals -- some likely to be popular, others anything but -- that if adopted would enhance this country's national security. I offer them now in the hope the president and his aides are open to new ideas as they prepare his much anticipated May 28 national security speech at West Point.

1. The European allies are far too dependent on Russian oil and gas, a dependence that constrains their willingness to stand up to Mr Putin when he behaves badly, as he is wont to do. What is needed is a trans-Atlantic energy initiative, one that involves increased US exports of both oil and gas and increased European production of shale gas. The US would be better positioned to suggest France start fracking and Germany reconsider its opposition to nuclear power if the president were willing to put aside politics and support the Keystone pipeline.

2. Expanded trade would boost economic growth and provide new strategic ties to Asia, Europe, and Latin America. How about a major White House commitment to and push for Trade Promotion Authority?

3. A modest increase in defense spending is warranted on grounds of need and would send a clear signal of renewed US interest in global leadership. Coupling it with long overdue reforms of military retirement, healthcare, and veterans programs would be a two-fer.

4. Syria is a strategic and humanitarian disaster. We need to act to reduce the fighting and the absolute and relative strength of the jihadists, who are threat not just to Syria but to the entire region and the world. It is time to extend greater intelligence and military help to the non-jihadist opposition and to put forward a diplomatic plan that accepts the reality of Alawite primacy and Mr. Assad's position for the immediate future.

5. Afghanistan will soon have a new government. Let's re-establish a regional diplomatic mechanism that includes its immediate neighbors (including Iran, which has a stake in a stable Afghanistan) as well as Russia and India to increase the odds the new government does not fail. Keeping 10,000 or so American troops there, as the President is now calling for, looks both possible and desirable.

6. Speaking of India, the United States should be reaching out to the recently-elected government. A joint declaration in which Congress and the president welcome the new prime minister and expressed a commitment to closer US-Indian relations would be one way to start. So, too, would suggesting regular, high-level consultations on economic and strategic issues.

7. And speaking of Russia, President Putin seems to be feeling the pain of sanctions and realizing the risk of a failed Ukraine. This would be the moment to work with the new government in Kiev to put forward a comprehensive offer that extended political guarantees and assurances to all of Ukraine's citizens and neighbors.

8. There are growing signs that many in China are coming to see North Korea and its reckless leader as a strategic liability rather than an asset. It would be worth initiating a quiet dialogue with Beijing and Seoul on the future of the Korean peninsula, including the conditions under which all would support unification.

9. New technologies have increased US production of oil and gas; higher automobile mileage standards have reduced consumption of oil. US dependence on foreign oil imports is way down, as are carbon emissions. Shifting large trucks from oil to liquified natural gas would reduce American consumption of oil by millions of barrels a day; exporting that oil would weaken world oil prices, something that would weaken governments in both Russia and Iran. This is a rare three-fer: good for the economy, the environment, and foreign policy.

10. Corporate tax reform that encouraged American companies to bring their profits home rather than park or invest them abroad simply to avoid relatively high US taxes is long overdue. These funds could build plants and create jobs here in the United States, all of which makes sense and might even be popular.

11. Comprehensive immigration reform would go down well in Mexico and, more important, make this country more competitive and productive, both by attracting and keeping larger numbers of talented people and by allowing the millions of undocumented individuals resident in the country to become full participants in the society.

12. Put a serious plan for entitlement reform on the agenda. If we don't prepare for this now, the next president will likely face a large and growing debt crisis as boomers age and retire and as interest rates rise. Financing this debt will further crowd out investment in people and infrastructure and defense. In addition, allowing a large dependence on imported dollars to emerge at a time this country has done so much to reduce its dependence on imported oil would constrain us in future crises just when we had begun to move beyond such constraints.