Hillary Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan took shots at the Obama administration's foreign policy during his address at Friday's Truman National Security Project in Washington, calling for a "more effective American strategy in the Middle East" and criticizing the country's inability to handle cyber threats and the depletion of respect abroad for the United States.
Sullivan, a senior foreign policy adviser to Clinton's campaign after serving in her State Department from 2011 to 2013, cited Clinton's San Diego foreign policy speech earlier this month for its repeated allusions to American exceptionalism.
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"In that speech, she consciously used the term American exceptionalism, because she believes we are exceptional and we do have exceptional capacities to go about building that better future for our people and for all people," he said.
Sullivan said the central components of American foreign policy needed to update the global order to "reflect current realities," while simultaneously protecting core interest and values. Part of this included a need to "reinforce the foundation of our values."
"Many of you guys know better than I do that the reservoirs of American credibility, and the degree to which young people in the rest of the world look to the United States and see a moral beacon, have been depleted over time," Sullivan said.
He also called for a "rebalance" in the Middle East, citing the threats of the Islamic State and the enforcement of the Iran nuclear deal. The proxy conflict between Iran and the region's Sunni states is "helping to fuel the instability" there.
"From my perspective, a rebalance is needed in order to set the table for a more effective American strategy in the Middle East, and it goes like this," he said. "We need to be raising the costs on Iran for its destabilizing behavior, and we need to be raising the confidence of our Sunni partners that the United States is going to be there, and in so doing in raising their confidence, begin to try and draw down some of their more dangerous hedging behavior.
"So raise the costs on Iran, raise the confidence of our Sunni partners, and set the table for a more effective enforcement of both the Iran nuclear deal and our capacity to fight ISIS."
Later, Sullivan reminded the audience of the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee and said the United States has to admit it had failed to "keep up" with the speed and evolution of adversaries in "asymmetric threats" like cyber warfare.
"You see, for those of you who have spent time in government, our adversaries are getting faster, they're getting more adaptable, and they're using increasingly asymmetric means to advance their objectives, many of which are in direct conflict with ours," he said. "Propaganda. The use of corruption as a national security tool to insidiously influence neighbors and destabilize them.
"The use of cyber tools and avoiding attribution. We just saw the the Democratic National Committee hacked a couple of weeks ago, and we could ask ourselves who the progenitor of that particular asymmetric act was. As we watch our adversaries, whether they be state actors or they be non-state actors, get more effective, more nimble, more adaptable and frankly faster … we have to confess that we haven't been able to fully keep up with the speed and the flexibility that is required to deal with these asymmetric threats."