Charles Krauthammer: West Point speech was a parade of straw men

05/30/2014 5:14 PM

05/30/2014 5:14 PM

It was fitting that the day before President Obama gave his grand West Point address defending the wisdom and prudence of his foreign policy, his government urged Americans to evacuate Libya.

Libya, of course, was once the model Obama intervention – the exquisitely calibrated military engagement wrapped in the rhetorical extravagance of a nationally televised address proclaiming his newest foreign policy doctrine: the responsibility to protect.

You don’t hear that bandied about much anymore. Not with more than 50,000 civilians having been slaughtered in Syria’s civil war, unprotected in any way by the United States. Nor for that matter do you hear much about Libya, now so dangerously chaotic and jihadi-infested that the State Department is telling Americans to get out.

And you didn’t hear much of anything in the West Point speech. It was a somber parade of straw men, as the president applauded himself for steering the nation on a nervy middle course between extreme isolationism and madcap interventionism.

The isolationism of Obama’s telling is a species not to be found anywhere. Not even Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., would withdraw from everywhere. And even members of Congress’ dovish left have called for sending drones to Nigeria.

As for Obama’s interventionists, they are grotesquely described as people “who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak” while Obama courageously refuses to believe that “every problem has a military solution.”

Name one person who does.

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force?” Obama recently and plaintively asked about Ukraine.

In reality, nobody is. What actual earthlings are eager for is sending military assistance to Ukraine’s woefully equipped forces.

That’s what the interim prime minister asked for when he visited the U.S. in March – and was denied. Two months later, military assistance was the first thing Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s newly elected president, said he wanted from the United States – not boots on the ground.

Same for Syria. It was Obama, not his critics, who went to the brink of a military strike over the use of chemical weapons – from which he then flinched. Critics have been begging Obama to help train and equip the outmanned and outgunned rebels – a policy to which he now intimates he might finally be coming around. Three years late.

Obama attributes claims of American decline to either misreading history or partisan politics. Problem is: Most of the complaints are coming from abroad, from U.S. allies with no stake whatsoever in U.S. partisan politics. Their concern is their own security as they watch this president undertake multiple abdications from Warsaw to Kabul.

What is the world to think when Obama makes the case for a residual force in Afghanistan and then announce a drawdown of American forces to 10,000, followed by total liquidation within two years on a fixed timetable regardless of circumstances? If you want not to forfeit our terribly hard-earned gains, why not let conditions dictate the post-2014 drawdowns? Why go to zero – precisely by 2016?

For the same reason, perhaps, that the Afghan surge was ended precisely in 2012, in the middle of the fighting season – but before the November election.

Is this how a great nation decides matters of war and peace – to help one party and polish the reputation of one man? As with the West Point speech itself, as with the president’s entire foreign policy of retreat, one can only marvel at the smallness of it all.

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