Before a silent graduating class at West Point, Mr. Obama monotonically delivered a defensive foreign-policy address empty of substance. He failed to connect with an audience that responded with polite but tepid applause to a vapid speech more suitable for the United Nations than for the United States. He put forward four points that he asserted comprised the bedrock of American leadership in the world.
First, if our core interests demand it, we will use force.
Second, decentralized terrorist groups comprise the most direct threat. He cited Benghazi as the example. Therefore he will ask Congress for $5 billion — less than 1 percent of the Defense budget — to partner with and to train countries threatened by terrorists. This will include some funds for the moderate opposition groups inside Syria.
Third, the U.S. must strengthen international institutions and alliances. These, the president explained, provide the new leadership channels for 21st-century conflict resolution. In the Ukraine, the U.S. shaped world opinion and gathered European support that isolated Russia, “giving a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future.” Turning to the Pacific, Mr. Obama’s rhetoric soared when he accused the Senate of “retreat” and “weakness” for not ratifying an obscure Law of the Sea treaty. An indignant Mr. Obama implied that the Senate thus allowed the Chinese to claim the South China Sea.
Fourth, the U.S. will act on behalf of human dignity. We will pressure Egypt. Burma is flourishing politically due to our diplomacy. Our military, based on lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, “became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development. Foreign assistance is part of what makes us strong.”
Mr. Obama said in closing, “We have been through a long season of war. There is something in America’s character that will always triumph.”
Triumph where? We pulled entirely out of Iraq, and al-Qaeda came back. As for Afghanistan, five years ago Mr. Obama had promised to defeat the Taliban and win the war. At West Point, the president reneged on that promise. By the end of his presidency, he declared no American military force will remain.
“Sustaining progress,” the president said, “depends on the ability of Afghans.”
I wish what I had written above was a parody. Unfortunately, it is the president’s speech and his view of American leadership in the world. Not one word about American martial strength spoken at West Point, not one effort to inspire our country’s future military leaders. A sad, half-hearted address to the wrong audience.
— Bing West served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the Reagan administration. He has written numerous books about war and national security. (He also commented today on NPR.)