National Security & Defense

Obama’s Hiroshima Visit Epitomizes His Failed Foreign Policy

President Obama with Japanese prime minister Abe, May 26, 2016. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)
The president’s preference for style over substance is on full display during his swing through Asia.

Tomorrow, President Obama will visit Hiroshima, the city destroyed on August 6, 1945 by an American atomic bomb. And while we don’t know exactly what Obama will say, aspiring-poet-turned-Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes suggests that his boss’s remarks will ignore President Truman’s decision to use the bomb. Instead, legions of liberal columnists explain to us, the president will ‘remind the world of the horrors of nuclear weapons.’

Of course, this is absurd. All of us are aware that nuclear weapons are brutal. The idea that President Obama’s oratory could catalyze nuclear security was fanciful when first tested in Prague seven years ago, and it is ludicrous today. But the persistent disconnect between White House expectations and reality is nothing new. It’s the defining characteristic of Obama’s delusional and failed foreign policy, perfectly encapsulated by his visit to Asia.

That foreign policy has always favored stagecraft over substance. On this trip, in both Vietnam and Japan, President Obama has found himself in many photo-shoots. He’s rapped for video crews, he’s had dinner in a quiet Vietnamese restaurant for photographers, and he’s embraced foreign fans who cling to a dream few Americans still believe in. But in substantive terms, the president has accomplished little.

Take his decision to suspend the arms embargo on Vietnam. On paper, it looks like a bold move that will empower a U.S. partner to help deter Chinese imperialism. The Vietnamese people, after all, are infuriated by China’s hostile takeover of their sovereign waters. Yet in the pursuit of grand strategy, arms supplies are small-fry stuff. Vietnam will still have to endure the torturous process of American-weapons procurement, which Mr. Obama seems very unlikely to make any easier. And supplying the Vietnamese with U.S. weapons doesn’t go very far toward deterring China, a tall order that will require concerted regional action to unify American partners. None of which seems to matter to Obama, who, at pains not to upset China, prefers steps that generate some headlines without altering the status quo.

RELATED: President Obama Is Visiting Hiroshima. Why Not Pearl Harbor?

When it comes to the specifics of nuclear security — the key focus of this visit — President Obama’s immense stagecraft also betrays a weak record. His signature foreign-policy accomplishment is a diplomatic farce that pays Iran tens of billions of dollars to destabilize Iraq, and to develop ballistic-missile capabilities that are only useful as a delivery system for nuclear weapons. The threat posed by America’s most capable nuclear adversary, Russia, has grown exponentially during his time in office, and then there’s North Korea, which has not posed a more serious threat since the Korean War.

#share#Let’s be clear: While the president and his sidekick Ben Rhodes have spent the past seven years heaping disdain upon their critics, their hubris has become all-encompassing. Tomorrow, in failing to defend Harry Truman’s decision to use the bomb, the leader of the free world will disregard the responsibility of his office to the men and women of the U.S. military. Some may challenge that point, but as every serious military theorist from Sun Tzu to Carl von Clausewitz to Jim Mattis has explained, service personnel deserve confidence in their command. With his explicit silence on the morality of bombing Hiroshima, Mr. Obama lends credence to the (inherently false) notion that it was unjust. Don’t believe me? Read the foreign opinion columns on Saturday.

RELATED: How Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy Destabilized the World

Throughout his time in office, President Obama has pretended that the often messy but necessary work of power politics could be overcome with his unique personal confidence — that somehow a “reset button” with Putin, or a letter to Khamenei, or a calculated disdain for the concerns of allies (albeit often lazy allies) could replace realism and the exceptional necessity of American leadership. This is not to say that a president should not change with a changing world. It was moving, for example, when President George W. Bush stood alongside then Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, and proudly referenced their friendship in the context of George H. W. Bush’s service in the Second World War.

#related#Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is not a president who, as George W. Bush did in Iraq in late 2006, learns from his mistakes. Rather, this scripted adventurer for the liberal legacy-writers cares only about the magnification of his own ego. This week, Obama sat down to dinner with Anthony Bourdain in Hanoi. The resulting photograph, obviously choreographed down to the finest detail, was designed to portray the president as a relaxed visionary reaching out to an old enemy. And to be sure, it worked: The BBC noted that the image attracted “more than 120,000 likes” — or half the number of Syrian civilians who have died on the watch of this president. Those unnamed dead remind us that we have traveled far since July 2008, when a candidate named Barack Obama talked about genocide and promised to “give meaning to the words, ‘never again.’”  

— Tom Rogan writes for National Review Online and Opportunity Lives. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. He tweets @TomRtweets. His homepage is

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at

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