President Obama’s speech at West Point was pure Obama — cynical, strewn with straw men and vague to the point of meaninglessness.
Take his opening barb: “By most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise – who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away – are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.” The issue isn’t whether we are in decline; it is whether Obama’s policies are leading to decline. Rather than directly address his critics’ specific criticisms of, say, his wrongheaded obsession with the “peace process” or the failure to check China’s aggression and “pivot” to Asia, it’s much easier to write the critics off as rooting against America.
Obama congratulates himself on “winding down” a war. Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies sees the false notion that we are “winding down” a war as the essence of the president’s self-delusion. He e-mails, “America is not stronger for having ‘wound them down’ rather than finding a strategy to defeat enemies we choose not to understand.”
Consider this odd formulation from Obama’s speech: “A different view, from interventionists on the left and right, says we ignore these conflicts at our own peril; that America’s willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos, and America’s failure to act in the face of Syrian brutality or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience, but invites escalating aggression in the future.” Wait, isn’t that what interventionists say? It is isolationists on the right and left who say otherwise. Anyway, it is a peculiar formulation to be uttered by the president who dragged his feet on Libya, erased his red line on Syria, has stood on the sidelines while 160,000 Syrians have died, refused to bolster the Green Revolution and has no discernible policy for dealing with the Arab Spring.
As Obama goes through his “principles,” it becomes apparent that he is either highly cynical or misinformed, since his own record follows none of the precepts he outlines. He asserts, “If nuclear materials are not secure, that could pose a danger in American cities. As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened groups to come after us increases. Regional aggression that goes unchecked – in southern Ukraine, the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world – will ultimately impact our allies, and could draw in our military.” Umm, but all those things are happening — on his watch.
Obama’s platitudes are the stuff of a freshman college student: “Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will.” But these are sentiments, not his administration’s policy objective, for which there are defined means of obtaining results. He seems to believe that saying we must always lead excuses not actually leading.
What does it even mean to say that “when issues of global concern that do not pose a direct threat to the United States are at stake – when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction – then the threshold for military action must be higher” when Obama announced we had a national interest in preventing use of weapons of mass destruction and then backtracked, refusing to act?
You have to marvel at assertions like this: “I believe we must shift our counter-terrorism strategy – drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan – to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.” First, this has been U.S. policy since the George W. Bush administration. Second, in perpetually insulting Afghan President Hamid Karzai, failing to complete a status-of-forces agreement in Iraq and bugging out of Afghanistan regardless of conditions on the ground, Obama has undermined that policy.
He calls for “a new Counter-Terrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines. These resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al Qaeda; supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali.” How about adequately funding the U.S. military, which is the finest and most critical counterterrorism entity on the planet?
By far, the most egregiously hypocritical comments concern Syria, in which Obama once again posits the choice as one between “American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war” and doing nothing. Almost no one has advocated the former, and he refused to do anything despite an array of alternatives. Worse yet, he speaks approvingly of actions he has rejected for years, thereby permitting the slaughter of 160,000 people and providing Iran with a huge psychological boost. (“That does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his people. And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we also push back against the growing number of extremists who find safe-haven in the chaos.”)
Obama likewise acts as though we have restrained Russian President Vladimir Putin from capturing Crimea or as though Iran is not much closer to a nuclear weapons capability than when he took office. As to the latter, he concedes that a diplomatic deal is highly unlikely and is mum on the effects of lifting sanctions. On Iran, get a load of this self-contradiction: “The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement – one that is more effective and durable than what would be achieved through the use of force.” It is real, but a long shot? Whatever. It’s just a flood of words, unconnected to reality and devoid of specific content.
It was a depressing and cynical speech, one that presumes no one is aware of what Obama or the rest of the world is doing. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute summed it up for Right Turn, “I don’t know what America or what world he thinks he’s living in. It is nothing more than rationalization and recasting failure as success — like saying an F is an A and congratulating yourself.” And we have 2 1/2 more years of this. Heaven help us.