I've criticized the Republican 2012 field on numerous occasions for their lack of foreign policy heft and a profound unwillingness to weigh in on difficult decisions they would have to make as Commander in Chief. It's only fair, then, to share one potential candidate's attempt to frame a coherent approach to foreign policy in the public square - in this case, Sarah Palin in a speech in Colorado this week. Here's the relevant portion:
There’s a lesson here then for the effective use of force, as opposed to sending our troops on missions that are ill-defined. And it can be argued that our involvement elsewhere, say in Libya, is an example of a lack of clarity. See, these are deadly serious questions that we must ask ourselves when we contemplate sending Americans into harm’s way. Our men and women in uniform deserve a clear understanding of U.S. positions on such a crucial decision. I believe our criteria before we send our young men and women—America’s finest—into harm’s way should be spelled out clearly when it comes to the use of our military force. I can tell you what I believe that criteria should be in five points. First, we should only commit our forces when clear and vital American interests are at stake. Period.
Second, if we have to fight, we fight to win. To do that, we use overwhelming force. We only send our troops into war with the objective to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. We do not stretch out our military with open-ended and ill-defined missions. Nation building is a nice idea in theory, but it is not the main purpose of our armed forces. We use our military to win wars.
And third, we must have clearly defined goals and objectives before sending troops into harm’s way. If you can’t explain the mission to the American people clearly and concisely, then our sons and daughters should not be sent into battle. Period.
Fourth, American soldiers must never be put under foreign command. We will fight side by side with our allies, but American soldiers must remain under the care and the command of American officers.
Fifth, sending in our armed forces should be the last resort. We don’t go looking for dragons to slay. However, we will encourage the forces of freedom around the world who are sincerely fighting for the empowerment of the individual. When it makes sense, when it’s appropriate, we will provide them with material support to help them win their own freedom.
We are not indifferent to the cause of human rights or the desire for freedom. We are always on the side of both. But we can’t fight every war. We can’t undo every injustice around the world. But with strength and clarity in those five points, we’ll make for a safer, more prosperous, more peaceful world because as the U.S. leads by example, as we support freedom across the globe, we’re going to prove that free and healthy countries don’t wage war on other free and healthy countries. The stronger we are, the stronger and more peaceful the world will be under our example.
Some of these principles may sound familiar. A few of them were first expressed back in 1984 in President Reagan’s cabinet. They were designed to help us sharply define when and how we should use force, and they served us well in the Reagan years. Times are much different now, but I believe that by updating these time-tested principles to address the unique and changing circumstances and threats that we face today, they will serve us well now and into the future. Remember, Reagan liked to keep it simple, yet profound. Remember what he would say to the enemy? He’d say, “we win, you lose.”
It's not sophisticated, and it's more passion than policy, closer to campaign rhetoric than thorough commentary. But this expression of a framework from Palin is a vast improvement over the stated remarks from other candidates thus far. It is unacceptable, a year and a half before election day, for serious individuals to still mark foreign policy as "TBD."
A side note: the mission that killed bin Laden ended up hinging on an area where Palin explicitly parted ways with John McCain during the 2008 campaign, siding with Obama on the question of sending a unilateral mission into Pakistan. Obama's major vindication on this is also a minor vindication of Palin on the point, who was slammed internally by McCain campaign staff at the time for expressing this view.