The president appeared before the graduating class at West Point yesterday to deliver what was ballyhooed to be a major foreign policy address. By all accounts the substance failed to meet the hype. Critics on both the right and the left voiced their displeasure over the lack of any significant policy declarations.
The president said that the al Qaeda leadership has been decimated but rising up in its place are a host of like minded splinter groups scattered throughout the world. These extremist groups continue to pose a threat to American interests to the extent that “terrorism still remains the most direct threat to America at home and abroad…we need to develop a foreign policy to meet this threat.”
Rather than offering any new policy initiatives the president chose this moment to defend his belief that the way to defeat terrorism is through alliances with other nations rather than the use of unilateral military power. “Military action cannot be the only or even the primary component of our leadership in every instance…just because we have the biggest hammer doesn’t mean that every problem is a nail…exercising the military option in every instance is both unreasonable and unsustainable.” The president sited the effective use of sanctions to force Russia to withdraw from the Ukraine and Syria’s agreement to remove chemical weapons when he took the military option off the table.
The president’s critics were not convinced. “Feckless”…”weak”…”without direction” were the terms most commonly used. They noted that Islamist extremist groups in Iraq and Syria have grown in strength largely due to the lack of American military presence in the region.
Foreign affairs are like the sands in the desert. Conditions on the ground are constantly shifting. Finding the proper balance between diplomacy and military action is an inexact science and a never ending process. That said no one wants to hear a president six years into his term saying that we need to “develop" a new foreign policy to meet this threat.” With all due respect Mr. President, extremist splinter groups have been springing up since George W. Bush took us to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. What have you been doing these past six years?
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. The problem that we have with those who criticize the president’s foreign policy efforts is that they have no thought out solution of their own. It is easy to beat the military war drum every time a skirmish breaks out in some far off place. But once you’ve gone “all in” it is far more difficult to get out.
Critics are right to note the increase in extremist activity that has erupted in Iraq ever since the president withdrew American forces. The same scenario will undoubtedly occur when we pull out of Afghanistan. This should come as no surprise. The only way to prevent the incursion is to maintain a military presence in the region in perpetuity. The Bush administration was too hell bent on taking revenge for 9/11 to consider an exit strategy. President Obama seems to have learned that lesson. Good for him and good for the country.
We are of the belief that the primary reason that our nation finds itself in the cross hairs of every extremist group in the world is because since WWII we have taken it upon our self to insert our beliefs, our morals, our way of life and our military into everybody else’s business. We have proclaimed our “exceptionalism” as the world’s policeman while often acting like a rogue cop. Imagine our indignation if any foreign power, friend or foe, were to stick their nose in the political debate between our far right and far left. Imagine the outrage if any other foreign power, friend or foe, were to set their military boots on our soil or set up a military base on the Washington Mall. To what extent would we go to remove that incursion from our lives? We are where we are because we put ourselves there. Now we must suffer the consequences.
The president understands that save a small number of even smaller minded neo-cons the country has no interest in engaging our military in conflicts across the globe. He understands that the way to defeat terrorism is by building alliances with other nations designed to combat the ever changing foreign threats. He has kept his promise to get us out of Iraq and he has set in place a timetable to get us out of Afghanistan. He has brought the 9/11 terrorists to justice. He has kept us safe. That’s a pretty good record.
To his critics we would say this. You are entitled to disagree with the president’s foreign policy. But just saying “no” does not resolve the problems that we face. What we need are solutions. And if you are not part of the solution…then you are part of the problem.