Barack Obama’s speech at West Point Military Academy today should have come as no surprise for those who have always been sceptical about his approach to foreign policy. From the premature winding down of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to the utterly inappropriate appointments of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel as Secretary of State and Defence Secretary respectively, Obama has cut a weak and ineffective figure on the world stage, a stark contrast to his Republican predecessor.
George W Bush was certainly not universally loved, but even his critics conceded that he had a clear and unchanging approach to foreign affairs. He firmly believed the USA to be the world’s greatest force for good, and so in the wake of 9/11 launched an ambitious and wide-reaching effort to reshape US foreign policy in his own image, based on the view that freedom, democracy and human rights are universal values not simply confined to the nations that already enjoy them. Both his supporters and his enemies saw him as uncompromising, aggressive and forthright, qualities which when used correctly are highly admirable for the leader of the free world to possess. However, since Bush left office in 2009, US foreign policy has taken a turn for the worst, to the point where it is now marked by weakness and inconsistency.
President Obama has vacillated over key questions of international relations, and has never been clear as to what he truly believes in. Some have labelled him as being broadly interventionist, with critics on the left even claiming that his presidency has been indistinguishable from the Bush administration concerning foreign affairs.
However, this view is not a convincing one; President Obama was swift to end US operations in Iraq and to scale down involvement in Afghanistan, and his rhetoric too suggests that he has been keen to put an end to the ‘foreign adventurism’ of the Bush years. His presidency has also taken a very different line concerning Israel, frequently criticising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and warning that his government is leading Israel ‘toward near-total isolation.’
In today’s speech, Obama has simply added to this dismal record. It takes some nerve to criticise the ‘mistakes of the past’ committed under President Bush, but to claim that the last year has seen progress in Ukraine and Iran and that the USA is now stronger than ever before. In case the president hasn’t realised, an entire Ukrainian region has been annexed by Russia, whilst Iran is continuing with its nuclear development programme which remains one of the greatest potential threats to world peace. Additionally, a failure to leave a US presence in Iraq has allowed the spread of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in that region, a blunder which will soon be repeated in Afghanistan. Far from appearing strong, the USA has been made to look weak as the direct result of Barack Obama’s hesitant approach to tyrants and despots, from Bashar Assad of Syria to Vladimir Putin of Russia.
When he was sworn in as US President in 2009, many claimed that an Obama presidency would mark a new era in US foreign policy. The perceived wisdom of the liberal intelligentsia was that the aggressively neoconservative agenda of the Bush administration had only served to radicalise a generation of young Muslims, uniting the Arab world in opposition to the ‘Great Satan’ which is the United States of America. However, five years later we can see just how wrong this view was. President Obama has indeed presided over a new era in US foreign policy, but it is one which has been marked by weakness, dithering and political impotence. Today’s speech just proved how removed from reality the president is, and how badly the USA needs a change in direction.
This post was originally published on my personal blog Plainly Speaking at http://georgereeves1994.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/more-of-same-weak-foreign-policy-from.html