As it turned out, there was a little more attention to foreign policy in the president’s speech than I expected. Unfortunately, the content of this section of the speech was also quite annoying and misleading in some important respects. It was a mostly well-crafted speech delivered with enthusiasm, and it will probably be remembered more clearly than Obama’s previous addresses if only because of his jibes and improvisations.
As I hoped, he did repeat his veto threat against new Iran sanctions legislation, and he touted normalization with Cuba as a change for the better, but those were the only sections on foreign policy that I thought held up very well. Even in the section on Iran, Obama had the gall to say this: “The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.” The trouble I have with this is that it is very clearly not how Obama has governed so far. I assume that he won’t launch a preventive war against Iran at this point, but Obama’s record hardly inspires confidence on this score. The U.S. didn’t go to war in Libya as a last resort. Nor has the war against ISIS been waged as a last resort. Nor would airstrikes on Syria in 2013 have been launched as a last resort. Obama has made it a habit in the last few years to order or threaten military action that isn’t necessary for U.S. or allied security, so it is impossible to take him seriously when he says that he won’t resort to the use of force too quickly.
Early on in the speech he asked what must have been intended as a rhetorical question:
Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing?
Obama’s implicit answer to this was no, but what could better describe the U.S. response to ISIS over the last six months than to call it “fearful and reactive”? That is exactly how we have responded to a group that to the best of our knowledge doesn’t threaten us and can’t attack us. The U.S. has been dragged into yet another unnecessary conflict in just the last year, and Obama has volunteered the U.S. for new conflicts in the past when he did not have to. Even when these unnecessary wars do not cost the U.S. a lot, they cost America something that our government shouldn’t have been expending. Elsewhere in the speech he said this:
In doing so, the question is not whether America leads in the world, but how. When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military – then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts [bold mine-DL], and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world. That’s what our enemies want us to do.
All of that sounds very reasonable, and it raises the obvious question: why has Obama committed the U.S. to unnecessary conflicts on more than one occasion? If this is “what our enemies want us to do,” why does Obama keep doing it? Obama is effective at presenting himself as the champion of restraint in his rhetoric, but the pretense doesn’t work very well now that his latest illegal war is entering its sixth month.