Today President Barack Obama addressed graduating students at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The commencement address offered one of Obama’s most comprehensive views on American foreign policy in which he proclaimed that “America must always lead on the world stage, if we don’t no one else will.”
Obama said he would use unilateral force if America’s “core interests” were at stake and that America should “never ask permission” to protect its security or way of life. He said when core interests were not at stake the US should seek collective action.
Obama said centralized Al Qaeda has been destroyed but that threats from affiliates still threaten American interests abroad and used the attack in a mall in Nairobi, Kenya as a example of what Al Qaeda affiliates could do. He therefore wants a $5 billion “counter-terrorism fund” to support military actions abroad, particularly in Syria. A policy that has already blown up in Obama’s face. He claimed his evaluation of counter-terrorism policy is based on the principle that “We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.”
In Ukraine Obama claimed that America “led the world to isolate Russia” and that America standing with its allies allowed the election to occur last Sunday.
In Iran Obama said that America was on the verge of a “breakthrough agreement” to achieve more than could be achieved through force to prevent the progress of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Obama said he envisioned more action with NATO beyond Europe’s border mentioning possible work in the Congo and Sudan. And that he was proud of the work the US was doing in trying to secure maritime agreements on behalf of countries in the Pacific in dealing with China.
Then President Obama said he wanted to take on climate change which is a national security issue. Obama claims he will launch a plan next year to make sure America is “out front” on climate change. Saying “American influence is always stronger when we lead by example.”
And, once again, Obama said he would close Gitmo and would also seek to reform the NSA to build trust among allies.
The speech mostly offered platitudes – which in fairness is a large part of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy – but did seem to signal a shift towards low foot print conflicts and use of money and arms to fund proxy forces against perceived geopolitical opponents. The days of full scale face plants like Iraq may be over, but policymakers in Washington still want to pull the strings of the world.