President Obama’s speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in which he laid out his overall foreign policy vision over his remaining 2½ years in office, contained enough practical caution for those who believe America should tamp down its role of great protector, while continuing to frustrate those who believe America should ramp up its role of great protector.
Finding a middle ground that satisfies both sides can be difficult for a lame-duck president. (Think negotiation and not war with Iran and a new climate change accord). Obama does not have to please everyone. He just has to offer an effective foreign policy plan that balances America’s safety and freedoms against its responsibility as a world leader. Not so easy.
Obama was right on at least one important point: Further involvement in hot spots such as Syria and Ukraine would only have cemented the United States deeper in crisis and lost American lives to no end.
His recent announcement of a pullout in Afghanistan by 2016 signals as much an end to this nation’s longest war as possible. The intent is to leave enough troops to train Afghans in the interim to deal with terrorists on their own. It is a desirable outcome for the soldiers and their families concerned about their safety and well-being on foreign land.
The president is connecting with his constituents who are exhausted with war. But there has to be some acknowledgement that conventional war is becoming a relic of the past and Obama is on the cutting edge of a new style of battle.
Drone warfare is the new frontier and the president has led the charge. Concern going forward should concentrate more on how issues of technology in warfare will be handled. The United States has its share of drones other countries would like to knock out of the sky, and the same can be said of our interest in getting rid of, or disabling, drones from China.
Obama injected a bit of irony in his speech when he called on the United States to be more transparent about its counterterrorism operations. Were it not for leaks by former systems analyst Edward Snowden, Americans would likely know very little about their own country’s spying operations, which appear to be vast and have included surveillance here and abroad.
Obama the Negotiator gave that speech at West Point, and to the cadets and their families it sounded good, as well as to many war-fatigued Americans. In many respects, the president’s middle-of-the-road approach works. Let’s hope that he is able to maintain that tricky balance that keeps us out of harm’s way.