Home/Daniel Larison/The Warsaw Speech

The Warsaw Speech

Nikolas Gvosdev notices the contradictions between Obama’s speech at West Point and the one he gave in Warsaw earlier this week:

The Warsaw address, in contrast, seems to commit the United States to a much more proactive role in world affairs. What does it mean to say, after West Point, that the United States and its allies are committed “not simply to safeguard our own security but to advance the freedom of others”? Obama declared in Warsaw that “the days of empire and spheres of influence are over. Bigger nations must not be allowed to bully the small, or impose their will at the barrel of a gun.” There remains an unreconciled contradiction in the president’s foreign policy approach: the desire for low-cost American leadership, one that superimposes the invocation of stirring liberal internationalist rhetoric combined with the budget instincts of an “America firster.”

The most straightforward explanation is that there is no interest in reconciling the two speeches, because they were delivered to and intended for very different audiences. The White House built up the speech at West Point as something extremely important, which only made a bad speech seem more underwhelming, but there was no question that it was written specifically to address a primarily American audience. Observers rightly noted that it had little or nothing to say to nervous allied governments, because that speech wasn’t meant for them. The Warsaw speech was. To the extent that anyone in the U.S. even noticed the Warsaw speech, the reaction has been poor, but that one wasn’t meant for Americans. It was supposed to be part of Obama’s efforts to “reassure” eastern European governments, which allowed Obama to indulge in more of the usual rhetorical flourishes that were absent from the previous speech.

The Warsaw speech was a more well-crafted one, but there was arguably even less to it than the one he gave last month. It hit many of the right, or at least predictable, notes, but if eastern European governments were expecting much in the way of specific promises they were likely disappointed. While it is all very well to affirm that all members of NATO can expect their allies to honor the alliance’s guarantees, that ought to go without saying. If the West Point speech was supposed to be a rebuttal of his hawkish critics at home, the Warsaw speech was meant to be a sop to anxious foreign allies, and it seems that neither one succeeded in what it was trying to do.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment