Columns

McConnell: Renewing U.S. Global Leadership Includes 'Rebuilding Our Will'

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee this morning that the United States can’t repeat the mistake of abandoning troubled regions susceptible to being engulfed by terror groups such as ISIS.

McConnell’s address to the pro-Israel activists at the Washington Convention Center focused primarily on correcting foreign policy mistakes of the previous administration, declaring the U.S.-Israeli relationship “was in a terrible state when the new administration took office.”

McConnell said he and former President Obama “just had a fundamentally different approach” to the world; he accused Obama of seeking “politically expedient solutions” to fulfill campaign promises such as the closure of Guantanamo and quick withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama’s “absence of presidential leadership,” he added, “created a strategic vacuum” that allowed Russia, China and Iran to gain dominance on the world stage. “Our enemies learned not to fear us, our allies learned not to trust us, and allies like Israel felt abandoned,” he said.

Noting the new administration’s current review of counter-ISIS policy, McConnell stressed that Defense Secretary James Mattis supports maintaining a residual force inside Iraq — “we can’t make that mistake again,” the Senate leader added, of allowing “incredibly resilient” terror groups like ISIS predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq to gain steam.

McConnell was less detailed on what the U.S. role in Syria should be as the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition bears down on ISIS capital Raqqa, saying that “whatever post-Raqqa Syria looks like the U.S. will stand with Israel” including if al-Nusra, al-Qaeda or Hezbollah “are left with a presence in the Golan Heights.”

The majority leader said new U.S. leadership in the world comes down to “rebuilding our capabilities, rebuilding our partnerships and, frankly, rebuilding our will.”

To that end, McConnell pitched increased defense spending and work to counter the “serial degrading of our alliances and partnerships across the globe.”

“Instead of alienating our Sunni Arab partners, let them know that we will stand with them … instead of telling victims of Iranian aggression to ‘share the neighborhood,’ we should push back, don’t you think?” McConnell said.

The Iran nuclear deal, he said, has served to “hold hostage all other areas of our foreign policy.”

Foreign policy, McConnell added, needs a cornerstone of the “right deterrence measures” — a “clear, clear declaratory policy that says what we will do and why.”