Why would a president include in a speech to cadets at West Point the statement that he is not weak. “A strong President doesn’t need to say that he is not weak.” Even the Washington Post and New York Times were critical of the President’s foreign policy speech. The Washington Post’s lead to its story on the speech said:
President Obama has retrenched U.S. global engagement in a way that has shaken the confidence of many U.S. allies and encouraged some adversaries. That conclusion can be heard not just from Republican hawks but also from senior officials from Singapore to France and, more quietly, from some leading congressional Democrats. As he has so often in his political career, Mr. Obama has elected to respond to the critical consensus not by adjusting policy but rather by delivering a big speech.
In the speech the President sought to create the image of a successful foreign policy, which is in fact, as the Post notes, a failure of American leadership. His strawman was to dismiss the concept that every problem had a military solution. In doing so he missed a critical point—the willingness to deploy troops so as to posture a strong position might have made his red line in Syria a valid line—not the center line in a vicious hockey game that it has become with both sides crossing it continually.
Being constrained by the threat of Russian troops in the Crimea shows the weakness that he claims not to have, not the strength that is necessary to deter the Russians. Actually in the Crimea, as we have pointed out he drew a line that encouraged the Russians in their attempts at intimidation of the Ukrainians.
The President defined when the United States should act unilaterally --only in defense of a narrow set of “core interests,” such as the free flow of trade. When “crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction,” he said, “we should not go it alone.” This varies from the position taken by every US President since World War II. What he did was rule out interventions to stop genocide or reverse aggression absent a direct threat to the American homeland unless as a participant in a multilateral initiative. So we want to destabilize more regions like we did Libya?
The President went on to falsely claim that: “The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low.” That statement reveals the false impression that indirect threats (such as the implosion of Western-oriented Arab regimes since 2010), threats against allies (such as the Russian threat to the Baltic republics or the Iranian threat to Israel), and threats by subnational actors (including all those al-Qaeda affiliates that attacked the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya) are not all worse today than they were when the president took office. The opposite is the case.
In arguing that 911 cannot happen again because a centralized Al Qaeda under Osama bin Laden has been splintered is at best false optimism. Any of the numerous Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations are capable of another horrific attack on the American homeland—possibly with covert support from North Korea, Iran or even Russia.
What the President actually did was to embolden America’s adversaries to nibble around the edges at our interests while justifying a continued dismantling of the American military. America can only lead from a position of strength and with a declining military and China about to surpass it in economic strength that position is rapidly eroding.