President Obama’s speech last week to graduates of West Point was supposed to highlight the success of the administration’s foreign policy and lay out a vision of American engagement for the remainder of the president’s time in office. Success at this proved hard to come by. As Heritage’s Nile Gardiner, wrote, the speech “reinforced the impression of a lackluster commander-in-chief with an empty foreign policy vision.”
Here are four of the speech’s biggest foreign policy delusions:
1) “America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.” – In every region of the globe the U.S. is in a weaker strategic position than before President Obama took office. Friends and foes alike cannot count on the White House backing up rhetoric with concrete actions. A haphazard foreign policy built upon false narratives such as “the Russian reset” have left the U.S. weaker, allies gravely concerned, foes emboldened and neutrals wondering whether to bet on the U.S.
Although strength isn’t measured only in terms of troop numbers, U.S. power is ultimately predicated upon a robust military. Although U.S. armed forces remain the world’s best, this is no thanks to President Obama. Under his leadership, capabilities have atrophied and readiness has declined. Under his watch, the military has undergone drastic funding cuts. It’s perhaps no wonder the president was met by “an icy reception,” according to a journalist at the West Point speech. The Army is set to shrink to its smallest size since before WWII, the Navy the smallest since before WWI and the Air Force its smallest size ever. Yet the challenges facing the United States have not shrunk at all.
2) “Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions”- The U.S. response to Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine has been weak and ineffective. Aside from enacting a series of largely symbolic sanctions and giving a few speeches, the U.S. response to Russian aggression has been anemic. The U.S. needs to lead in NATO, recommit itself to trans-Atlantic security, enact real biting sanctions against the Russian economy, free U.S. energy markets, withdraw from New START and modernize U.S. nuclear forces.
3) On Iran: “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 we could have achieved through the use of force.”- The interim nuclear agreement slows Iran’s nuclear weapons program but does not halt it. The deal eased sanctions against Iran in exchange for easily reversible pledges and implicitly recognized Iran’s right to enrich Uranium.
4) “We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by our United States Senate.”- In reality the The UN Law of the Sea Treaty undermines U.S. sovereignty. Furthermore, as Heritage’s Steve Groves and Dean Cheng note, “Ratification of UNCLOS will neither sway China nor guarantee U.S. navigational rights in the SCS, which are advanced not by membership in a treaty, but by maintaining a strong Navy, conducting persistent naval operations against China’s excessive maritime claims, supporting key U.S. allies and adhering to long-standing principles of the customary international law of the sea.”
The president’s speech was meant to bolster confidence in the administration’s foreign policy, but it did little to rebut the charge that he has weakened America in the world.