Feature

Obama: A foreign policy manifesto

In a speech during his European tour, Obama laid out the thinking behind his foreign policy.

“Should” is such a lovely sentiment, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. During his European tour last week, Obama laid out the thinking behind his foreign policy in a speech whose litany of “shoulds” and dreamy visions of a finer world made Obama sound like “a Miss America contestant asked to name her fondest wish.” Russia, Obama explained, is a mere regional power that seized Crimea out of weakness; viewing Ukraine as “a battleground between East and West,” he said, “should have ended with the Cold War.” With Vladimir Putin now massing troops on the eastern Ukraine border, our “Kumbaya” president offers nothing but halfhearted sanctions, while emphasizing “the centrality of international law”and the United Nations.

Yes, Putin is a thug, and some parts of the globe remain “nasty and brutish,” said Fareed Zakaria, also in The Washington Post. But in recent decades, the world has changed to a remarkable degree. In the “evolving international order,” countries are economically interdependent, and military conflict between nations is increasingly rare. The delusional dictators of remaining rogue states such as Syria, North Korea, and now Russia are only isolating themselves and planting the seeds of their own eventual downfalls. That’s why Obama is smart not to indulge Putin’s fantasy that he’s restarted the “contest between two great powers,” and instead portrayed him as an outlier who threatens every nation’s territorial integrity. “This is what leadership looks like in the 21st century.” It’s also the kind of foreign policy that Americans want, said Michael Cohen in TheGuardian.com. After the fiascoes in Iraq and Afghanistan, few Americans want the U.S. to intervene anywhere, and polls show that 61 percent believe the U.S. has no responsibility to do anything at all about Crimea.

But Obama’s foreign policy has an inherent contradiction, said Walter Russell Mead in The Wall Street Journal. Can the U.S. really build a more peaceful planet with “minor sanctions” and “rhetorical pleading,” while downsizing its military and swearing off any interventions? When dictators like Putin or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad know there is no stick behind our offered carrots, they are free to act like the backward barbarians they are. Sorry, but if Americans really care about people beyond our borders, “we are going to be working harder than we wanted in a world that is more frustrating than we hoped.”

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