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We must return to engaged American leadership

  • Author: Dan Sullivan
  • Updated: July 7, 2016
  • Published October 3, 2014

When asked in a press conference last month about the next steps in combating the rising threat of ISIS, President Obama astoundingly said "we don't have a strategy yet." Unfortunately, that statement still rings true.

I am glad to see that the Obama Administration has finally awakened to the serious threat of ISIS. I support the current airstrikes, and I would have voted in favor of the continuing resolution offering aid to the Syrian rebels already opposing ISIS. But these preliminary efforts do not constitute a comprehensive, cohesive strategy. We must leverage all instruments of American power -- diplomatic, financial, military, and most importantly, economic -- to defeat and destroy ISIS. President Obama owes the American people a detailed explanation of how he plans to bring the full weight of American power to bear on the violent oppressors who would do us harm.

Congress should have the opportunity to carefully consider and vigorously debate our nation's long-term strategy to address the disturbing threat in the Middle East. Instead, the White House hastily proposed a first step, the Senate voted, and then Washington's leaders put American foreign policy on hold while they sent their colleagues home to campaign.

Sadly, this typifies the Obama Administration's foreign policy. President Obama shrugs off the mantle of American leadership, only to be reluctantly dragged into the global challenges of our day. He spent his first term in office apologizing for America's actions abroad as part of a foreign policy that even his own advisers described as "leading from behind." This has led to a situation where our friends no longer trust us and our adversaries no longer fear us.

Moreover, this tepid approach to global leadership diminishes America's standing in the world and signals weakness, and weakness is provocative. The last six years of failed leadership have emboldened nations that would like to fill the void of American global leadership. We're seeing it in Russia's mounting aggression, including bombers once again buzzing Alaska; Iran's efforts to destabilize the Middle East and obtain nuclear weapons; and China's aggressive actions in the South China Sea. All of this undermines the security of Alaska and America.

Unfortunately, Mark Begich has been enabling this weak approach to American foreign policy during his time in the U.S. Senate. In a recent op-ed on ISIS, he focuses almost exclusively on what we won't do. But saying no to everything isn't foreign policy. As we've seen with the rise of ISIS, inaction has its own consequences.

In his op-ed, Begich insists that the United States cannot and should not use combat troops to eradicate the threat of ISIS. But what he fails to realize is that we already have combat troops engaged daily in Iraq and Syria -- our brave pilots conducting dangerous airstrikes. Moreover, there are certainly search and rescue ground troops in the region ready at a moment's notice to rescue a downed pilot or other American personnel in peril. Should we forego deploying such troops as we tragically did in Benghazi? Mark Begich's answer is yes, mine is no.

Begich justifies his "all options off the table" approach to national security as somehow driven by his desire to take care of the troops. As someone who has commanded a Marine Corps search and rescue task force and currently commands a Marine Corps Reserve unit whose mission is to call in supporting arms fire, I disagree. The best way to take care of our troops is to provide them with a clearly-defined mission to defend America's national security interests and then enable them to pursue that mission relentlessly with full backing at the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the U.S. Senate.

As your U.S. senator, I will demand that we provide our troops with a clear, fully funded mission to address the threat of ISIS that is part of a broader comprehensive strategy that emphasizes all elements of American power. I won't broadcast to our enemies what we won't do. This only encourages them.

I will also champion America's strong global leadership and stand up for an ideal Alaskans and Americans know to be true -- that America has been an unparalleled force for good and a beacon of freedom and optimism in an often dangerous world. We need leaders who truly believe in American Exceptionalism and pursue foreign policy strategies that reflect this ideal, not run from it. With your vote in November, I will be one of those leaders.

Dan Sullivan is a lieutenant colonel in the USMC Reserve, former assistant secretary of state, and current candidate for U.S. Senate.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)

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