1. The Europeans are in pretty full-throated appeasement mode, though it's hard to blame them in the total absence of American leadership, which everyone at the conference privately noted and lamented. Even somewhat anti-American European politicians would ask, in private, "Where are you? What is your administration doing?"
In particular, the American reluctance to provide even defensive arms to the Ukrainians makes it far easier for the Europeans to justify what I'd call second-stage appeasement of Putin. The first stage was wishful thinking. We're beyond that now, and the second stage is basically fear--if we arm the Ukrainians, Putin will escalate, and then what will we do? It's not an entirely unreasonable question. But the rather chilling implication is that the entire West is so weak that we're intimidated by Putin's Russia. And the implications of that, both in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world with respect to other bad actors, are scary.
2. Which leads to a second point. Most of the discussion at the conference, apart from silly posturing about climate change and the like, was about Ukraine. But the really big issues for us, I'm even more convinced now than before, are two, and only two: Iran and the defense budget. The good news is that these are two where Congress can play an important role.
On Iran, I had long conversations with Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker, who are working on a proposal to try to ensure Congress has a say on any Iran agreement. I think fighting for that goal is a fight worth having. The insistence on a congressional say is right. It also might scuttle a bad agreement beforehand, if the Iranians knew that Congress would get a say. Even if Obama beats back congressional approval, it would be good to make clear that half the American body politic doesn't agree with a bad Iran deal, and that--if the administration doesn't get an agreement ratified by Congress--such an agreement is only between this administration and Iran, and that neither Congress nor the next administration, especially if it's a Republican one, will feel bound by it.
These are very important principles to establish, both politically in the U.S., and also abroad. One of my strongest conclusions from Munich was how important it is that Republicans stand up to Obama's foreign policy and articulate an alternative U.S. foreign policy. Not just for 2016 and 2017. But now. Because it makes a big difference if allies, waverers, and enemies abroad think Obama's America is the future of America. If it is, they'll make their decisions and accommodations accordingly. If it's not, they might hang on for two more years in the hope of a better American future. So it matters now, what Republicans say, and what votes they cast, on foreign and defense policy.
3. Which leads us to defense. There's a dispute among Republicans in Congress about whether to accept, even embrace, the sequestration cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which constrain federal spending, or whether to bust the caps for defense--and, since you'd need Obama ultimately to sign legislation, in return to accept some increase in domestic spending as well. This now poses--as Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly say in their editorial in this week's issue --a key choice for the GOP. And I think it's an easy choice. Embracing sequestration would mean, politically, that the Obama administration (and the Hillary Clinton campaign) could plausibly say they're more hawkish than Republicans on defense, and that all the GOP talk about a stronger American foreign policy is hollow. It would also send such a signal to the rest of the world. Both would be a disaster. The GOP needs to be the party that stands, seriously and forthrightly, for restoring American defense capabilities. Republicans can also of course make the correct case that we can and should constrain domestic spending while increasing defense spending. But as with Reagan in 1981, if forced to choose between the two goals, defense has to come first. And while there are many complicated legislative twists and turns ahead, I now am even more convinced now than before I left for Munich that the defense budget fight over the next few months is key--and that this really is the moment for the Republican party to speak for American strength, for America's indispensable role in the world, and, yes, for American greatness.