Obama timidity in foreign policy strikes fear in America's friends
Let's dispense with the notion that criticism of the president's rudderless foreign policy at home is based on political animosity, or, as some Democrats charge, racism.
The fact is, it's America's closest allies that have viewed with increasing alarm Barack Obama's timidity and indecisiveness overseas as cause for fear and worry.
The Financial Times - no friend of conservatives to be sure - summarizes the dilemma of our allies:
Mr Obama’s election in 2008 reflected a widespread belief at home and abroad that there was “too much America” in the world. Although he still seems to be in tune with the US public, Mr Obama faces the accusation that there is now too little.
Even John Kerry, his secretary of state, appeared to acknowledge this international perception in a speech last week. “We cannot allow a hangover from the excessive interventionism of the last decade to lead now to an excess of isolationism,” he told students at Yale. “Most of the rest of the world doesn’t lie awake at night worrying about America’s presence – they worry about what would happen in our absence.”
In his West Point speech, Mr Obama will lay out how the US intends to “lead the international community but without getting overextended”, as a White House official puts it. But the persistent attacks have left Mr Obama in a defensive crouch, tetchily defending his cautious approach.
“That may not always be sexy. That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows,” he said during a recent Asia trip. “But it avoids errors.”
The rap sheet on Mr Obama has two basic charges: that he is too timid in his approach to foreign affairs; and that the US has begun a process of retreating from its place in the world during his presidency.
“On all these issues, our response has been to do the minimum and no more,” says Bob Corker, the leading Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee. “Every allied government I talk to, I get the same questions about whether we will be there.”
On one level, the claim that Mr Obama is too passive is part of a longstanding intellectual debate in Washington about foreign policy. When he was first elected, many analysts pegged Mr Obama as an idealist – a reflection of his stirring rhetoric, his reaching out to the Muslim world and his longstanding association with Samantha Power, now his UN ambassador and the leading intellectual voice of liberal interventionism.
Is the president's foreign policy "rooted in the realist's traditoon," as FT states? Or is it something different altogether?
A "realist" might see the growing power of Vladimir Putin's Russia as a threat to our interests and act accordingly. The sanctions put in place by the administration are not enough to deter, much less bother Putin very much. And the Russian president has made provocative military moves to threaten Ukraine. The answer does not include sending troops to defend against Russian aggression. No American should be sent to die for the corrupt government of Ukraine. But certainly we have moves on the chessboard that we have not made yet, and we could send an unambiguous message that Russia invading the Ukraine has very serious consequences. Perhaps those moves - like sending more than a token military force to eastern Europe - are being planned in the event of a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine. But the uncertainty has confused our allies in NATO while emboldening the Russians.
Does that sound like a "realist" foreign policy?
It is becoming more and more apparent that not only does President Obama refuse to lead, he doesn't know how. And that may be the most frightening prospect facing the world at the moment.