The Corner

Obama Manages to Lose a Battle Against an Army of Strawmen

President Obama championed the success of his foreign policy by knocking down one strawman after another on Wednesday.

In an address to the graduating class at West Point, Obama criticized those “who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away” as either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics. He offered himself as the reasonable alternative to “self-described realists” who resist foreign conflicts altogether and their extreme opposition, the “interventionists from the left and right.” He later took aim at “skeptics,” who “often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions, or respecting international law, is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong.”

Are Americans who thoughtfully challenge the president’s policies really nothing other than ignorant partisans who are irrationally concerned about the strength of the United States on the global stage? I’m not so sure.

Succeeding against an army of strawmen might feel good as a speech, but in reality the world is filled with extraordinarily difficult challenges and very real consequences as a result of how we face them.

Obama delivered soaring rhetoric – which is one of his signature characteristics – but it bore little resemblance and did little to speak to the world that I see today.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just me. Our allies are seriously concerned and confused by foreign policy.

The U.S. might have diminished al-Qaeda’s capabilities in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it has not diminished the threat from radical Islamist terrorists as a whole.

They have instead reestablished themselves in such safe havens as the Maghreb, the Levant, and the Arabian Peninsula. The threat from radical Islam is in fact much more dangerous to American and Western interests than when the administration assumed office six years ago.

Obama’s “reset” with Russia and “pivot” to Asia never materialized. It has instead resulted in our Cold War enemy’s aggressively expanding its sphere of influence into formerly occupied satellite states, as well as developing relationships with China that the U.S. could never have imagined.

Obama pledged to support training and equipping Syrians opposed to the brutal regime of Bashar Assad – in a move that seems eerily similar to a proposal in 2013 — but recent history demonstrates the difficulty of separating the good guys from the bad guys.

The administration did not support the 2009 Green Revolution against the theocratic Iranian regime, which responded by suppressing dissidents even more. It is now closer than ever to producing a nuclear weapon.

The White House supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s takeover of Egypt that forced a strong U.S. ally, President Hosni Mubarak, to flee Cairo. One of the Muslim Brotherhood’s first acts after winning control of parliament was to trash its 30-year peace treaty with Israel and reestablish ties with Hamas and Hezbollah.

Obama’s foreign-policy team supported Islamist rebels fighting against another U.S. ally, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, which led to the overthrow of his regime and his execution. The result? Today Libya is a lawless ungoverned state along the soft underbelly of Europe where radicals operate freely.

Whether it is Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Asia, or Africa, today we see a world of increased threats to U.S. leadership on a scale we haven’t seen for quite some time.

Rather than accepting a simple world in which we should praise Obama’s grandiose accomplishments and noble ambitions, we should rightfully express concern about a diminished America that responds to events rather than an America strategically positioned to shape events. That’s a real difference.

In this context, the army of strawmen just might be winning the debate after all.

— Pete Hoekstra is the former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the Shillman Senior Fellow with the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

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