A few days ago, after coming under criticism for my answer to a question about Libya in an interview, I made a lighthearted comment that reflected all this -- that I'm not supposed to know everything (most of the media quoted me as saying "anything") about foreign policy.
Bizarre things happen when you run for president, one of which is that statements like this go viral, with people claiming I had somehow made the case that no knowledge of world affairs is required for the job.
I obviously don't think that, but I'm also quite willing be honest about my strengths. My background is in the business world, and my greatest strength concerns the economy. My motivation in running for president is to apply my leadership skills to all issues -- foreign and domestic. But clearly, as I have met with foreign policy luminaries like John Bolton and Henry Kissinger, I have done a lot more listening than talking -- because they know a lot more about it than I do, and it would be absurd for me to claim otherwise.
That said, a man taking the oath of office for the presidency must have a sense of America's place in the world, and must have a clear idea of the challenges, threats and opportunities that present themselves. Otherwise, success on the economic front likely goes for naught, as mistakes in the international arena tend to be costly both in the short term and in the long term.
My approach to foreign policy is to apply a general set of principles to each situation we face, and I have summarized these principles as peace through strength and clarity. This is a modernized version of the Reagan philosophy that helped bring down the Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe, and also won a series of victories -- though not a complete and lasting victory -- in South and Central America.
What does this mean?
In a broad sense, it means that I would not retreat on initiatives that strengthen America's strategic standing in order to buy some sort of accommodation with those who do not have an interest in our security. For example, I would not have welched on America's commitment to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe because the Russians didn't like it. The security of the U.S. and our allies would take precedence over the concerns of a nation whose strategic interests are often contrary to ours.
That is one of the reasons I would not have signed the New START treaty, as President Obama did in 2010. Not only did that treaty commit America to arms reductions that the Russians would not necessarily have to match, but it permitted them to maintain a sizable advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, while ignoring programs and ambitions of other nations like Iran, North Korea, China and Pakistan. But more to the point, we simply don't need to be signing treaties like this with unfriendly countries. The United States can make its own decisions about the nature and the volume of strategic assets we want to deploy. We don't need to ask anyone's permission.
As president, I intend to be a strong supporter of America's strongest allies, and that absolutely includes Israel. I agree with the statement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that if Israel's enemies were to lay down their weapons today, there would be peace, whereas if Israel were to lay down its weapons, there would be no more Israel. Supporting Israel is crucial not only because it is an important strategic ally, but also because it is the most free and democratic nation in the region, and a threat to Israel's security is a threat to freedom everywhere.
Peace through strength and clarity means there is no doubt about where we stand, for what we stand and with whom we stand. We stand in support of free nations who respect the rights of their people and do not threaten their neighbors. And we treat our allies like allies. President Obama's lukewarm treatment of Great Britain has served to create tension within the most important strategic relationship we have ever had. Likewise, his friendly embrace of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez during a meeting of regional leaders sent exactly the wrong signal, as did his naïve statement during the 2008 campaign that he would sit down and talk to Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without conditions.
Peace through strength means recognizing that we are the United States, and we are the ones who approach these things from a position of strategic superiority. Clarity means we treat our allies like allies, and others have to earn the right to stand with us (and that especially applies to those who hope to receive aid from us -- that isn't happening if you are hostile to us or to our allies).
I agree with former President George W. Bush that the United States should promote free democratic movements throughout the world, and that it is in our strategic interests to do so. That does not mean we try to "impose democracy at the barrel of a gun," as some of Bush's rather disingenuous critics claimed he was doing. It means we support these movements where the opportunity presents itself (as President Obama should have in Iran and Syria) or when strategic necessity compels us (as I believe President Bush correctly did in Iraq in 2003). And you don't always have to use force.
Peace through strength and clarity also recognizes the danger posed by nuclear proliferation, particularly when it involves regimes like Iran or North Korea, which give every reason to believe they may initiate the use of nuclear weapons against other nations. The U.S. must be willing to use its power to stop nuclear proliferation. If we regard such action as beyond the pale, then we essentially concede that all non-proliferation agreements are meaningless.
The most effective application of strength is that which is rarely used. Our troops are already overstretched and our financial resources are limited. An America that is capable and ready, and backs up what it says, won't have to take action all that often. The world's bad actors will know we are serious.
I think it's clear by now that I am not going to score the best of all the candidates on media pop quizzes about the details of current international events. Some have claimed that I take some sort of perverse satisfaction in not knowing all these details. That is not true. I want to know as much as I can. But a leader leads by gathering all the information available in a given situation, and making the best decision at the time based on that information, and in accordance with sound principles. As president, I would not be required to make decisions on the spur of the moment based on a question from a reporter. I would make them the way I made them as a CEO -- based on careful consideration of all the facts and the best advice of the best people.
But it is crucial to understand that my foreign policy decisions will always be based on the principles I have laid out here. That will not change, because these are the principles that best represent America's heritage, and best advance our interests, as well as the interests of all freedom-loving nations and peoples.