News / USA

Obama Foreign Policy Speech Draws Criticism, Some Praise

President Barack Obama applauds those who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan as he deliverers the commencement address to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's Class of 2014, in West Point, N.Y., May 28, 2014.
President Barack Obama applauds those who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan as he deliverers the commencement address to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's Class of 2014, in West Point, N.Y., May 28, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama used a speech Wednesday to broadly define his approach to foreign policy for the remainder of his presidency, while also attempting to silence critics who say he has ceded America’s position of dominance in the world.

Speaking to graduates of the U.S. Military Academy, Obama described the U.S. position as finding a middle ground between isolationism and interventionism, using military force when appropriate but using other tools, such as sanctions and diplomacy, when a threat doesn’t merit military involvement.

Many reviews criticized this approach.

The Washington Post editorial board writes: President Obama has retrenched U.S. global engagement in a way that has shaken the confidence of many U.S. allies and encouraged some adversaries. That conclusion can be heard not just from Republican hawks but also from senior officials from Singapore to France and, more quietly, from some leading congressional Democrats. As he has so often in his political career, Mr. Obama has elected to respond to the critical consensus not by adjusting policy but rather by delivering a big speech.

Elliott Abrams of the Washington Post said the policy that Obama outlined on Wednesday is likely of  little comfort to U.S. allies and to the cause of freedom in the world.

At bottom, the speech was a labored defense of a foreign policy that has come under attack from left and right recently for being weak. Mr. Obama’s response was to say that the refusals to lead here or act there are all in the plan, and the refusals are called “multilateralism,” and anyway the alternative is constant invasions and wars and Iraqs and Afghanistans. Mr. Obama said early in the speech that “Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worry its neighbors.” Their nerves won’t be any better after listening to what he said at West Point.

The New York Times wrote that Obama’s speech was largely uninspiring and likely did little to quiet his critics.

In his speech, Mr. Obama tried to push back against critics who say he has ceded America’s post-World War II dominance. The question, as he correctly put it, is “not whether America will lead but how we will lead” and he reasserted that “isolationism is not an option.” Mr. Obama was right when he suggested there would be no serious negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program without his approach to American leadership.

But he provided little new insight into how he plans to lead in the next two years, and many still doubt that he fully appreciates the leverage the United States has even in a changing world. Falling back on hackneyed phrases like America is the “indispensable nation” told us little.


In the Los Angeles Times, Doyle McManus criticized Obama for taking aim at a battalion of straw men.

“U.S. military action cannot be the only, or even primary, component of our leadership in every instance,” he said.

But no one has argued that military action should come first — not even George W. Bush, who took the nation to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 “A strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naive and unsustainable,” Obama said, knocking down another argument nobody has made.


Or, as The Christian Science Monitor summed it up in its review of the speech:

Other than the new counterterrorism partnership fund, the speech was devoid of initiatives or proposals and instead seemed aimed at refuting mounting criticism both domestically and among some worried international partners that his foreign policy is weak and rudderless.

Abroad, critics were vocal as well.

An editorial in The Guardian finds fault mainly with Obama’s handling of Syria.

"Mr. Obama is striving to steer a middle course between the isolationists and interventionists and the outcome is inevitably something of a fudge. … The greatest failure so far of Mr. Obama's foreign policy lies in Syria. Humanitarian interventions aimed at preventing mass atrocities are among the toughest foreign policy calls a leader has to make. … The opportunity to curb Bashar al-Assad's sense of impunity was arguably missed last August as Mr. Obama's 'red line' was crossed without response.”

The Daily Telegraph said the speech was disappointing in that it didn’t break new ground.

"Anyone expecting the birth of an 'Obama Doctrine' will have been disappointed. Far from marking a departure, the president's speech yesterday fell squarely within the tradition of American foreign policy since 1945. … The argument that America should only wage war in concert with allies and a skilful combination of money expertise and diplomacy can often solve problems more effectively than military action would have found favor with almost every occupant of the White House since 1945."

In Turkey’s pro-government Star, Nasuhi Gungor wrote that Obama’s words “give the impression that the U.S. is handing the management of certain international issues to Russia.”

And, Gungor wrote, Obama’s “ 'There is not a military solution in Syria' approach will have influences on Turkey's policy toward Syria as well. Turkey's decision to keep the doors open to negotiations with Russia on the Syrian issue will have a greater importance in the future. Turkey is one of the few countries who will play a balancing role in the war of power."

Haaretz noticed the lack of any mention of the Israeli-Palenstinian peace process:

To say that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was conspicuously absent from U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech at West Point on Wednesday is an understatement. Administration officials tried to downplay the significance of the omission, but the facts speak for themselves: Obama devoted almost 5000 words to outlining America’s foreign policy in the coming years, none of them touching on what was described until recently as one of its primary, strategic objectives. And the Palestinians? Nothing. Gurnischt. Not a peep.

Yet not everyone found fault with Obama's address on U.S. foreign policy.

Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst, wrote that Obama's speech can be summarized as limiting the use of American power to defending the nation's core interests and being smart enough to avoid the temptation to use such power when it embroils the country in costly mistakes such as the decision to invade Iraq.

The President's answer is the foreign policy equivalent of medicine's Hippocratic oath "first do no harm." Without directly saying so, it amounts to a cautious but firm repudiation of the decisions made by presidents such as George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson, who ordered massive commitments of American military power against perceived enemies. A foreign policy of judicious restraint that doesn't sacrifice core American interests is not the sort of foreign policy that lends itself well to emotional rhetoric. But that's exactly Obama's point; it is American hubris and overreach since World War II in wars such as Vietnam and Iraq that cost the nation dearly in blood and treasure, while doing little to protect America's core interests.

David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote, I applaud Obama for trying to craft a foreign policy for the next decade that avoids the mistakes of the past decade.

However, he said Obama’s speech shows that he has missed some lessons of his presidency:

Obama wisely said he wants “to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty. ... But Obama ignored the “follow-through” part of U.S. power: Surely he can see that al-Qaeda regained control of Fallujah this year in part because America walked away from Iraq in 2010. Surely the president recognizes that terrorism has a deadly new face in Syria in part because he turned down a mid-2012 recommendation to train moderate opposition forces to counter the extremists. And surely he understands that Afghanistan could become a haven once more for al-Qaeda.

The French Daily LeMonde praised the tone of Obama's speech but questioned his  “professorial” and “realist” approach to foreign policy.

Obama’s critics accuse him “of passiveness, of a reluctance to use force, in other words of a wait-and-see attitude that they claim helps the Chinese and the Russians to assert themselves at America's expense. ...

True, there is something professorial about Mr. Obama, and that is a good thing. He learns his lessons from past experiences. Those of a war in Iraq that caused a shockwave for which the Near East is still paying the price. Those of a war in Afghanistan that was neither won nor lost. And the lessons of an intervention in Libya whose consequences are ambiguous, to say the least.

“Mr. Obama gives the impression of shunning difficulties rather than confronting them. This perception is perhaps unfair. But in foreign policy style is as important as action."

Joe Klein wrote for Time: Obama's West Point Speech Was Not Exciting.

And he will be criticized for that. There was nothing “new” in his address to the West Point graduates, some will say. Others - neo-conservatives and blood curmudgeons like John McCain - will say that it was a ratification of the President’s policy of weakness and retreat. And while those of us who generally agree with the President on foreign policy might have hoped for some pyrotechnics, a more passionate defense of his policy, the substance of the speech was solid, just as the net substance of his actions overseas have been.

Victor Beattie contributed to this report from Washington.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Serge
May 30, 2014 4:20 AM
We gonna put Russian missile in black Obama ass and launch him back to Monkey planet!!! Russia forever, America sucks!


by: Anthonybellchambers from: London
May 30, 2014 12:29 AM
This is not a 'risk averse' president! This is the image of a man who, when offered the most important job in the world, had not even the moral fibre to face down the lobby. Instead he became their 'useful idiot' but even then could not retain the support of a congress similarly indebted. This is possibly the greatest blow to democratic government in the history of the United States whereby an elected president has voluntarily abdicated responsibility of high office for reasons that today are inexplicable particularly when he held the hope and trust of so many millions not only in America but around the world. A tragedy of immense proportions.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid