Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Obama Stresses Multilateralism over Militarism at West Point

President Barack Obama has announced a plan to fight terrorism through multilateral actions and cooperation with foreign governments rather than U.S.-led military action.

Inter Press Service

U.S. President Barack Obama stressed multilateralism over militarism in what was billed as a major foreign policy address and a rebuttal to an ever-louder chorus of criticism, mostly by Republicans and neo-conservatives, that his tenure has been marked by weakness and retreat.

Speaking at the graduation ceremonies of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York – the same forum at which his predecessor, George W. Bush, set forth his doctrine of military pre-emption nine months before invading Iraq – Obama insisted that the United States remains the world’s “indispensable nation” but emphasised that military force should be used only under very limited circumstances.

“Here’s my bottom line,” he told the cadets, some of whom may soon be deployed to Afghanistan from which Obama recently announced he intends to withdraw all U.S. combat troops by the end of 2016. “America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership.

“But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail,” he declared.

"I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed fixing, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak,” he said.

Citing terrorism as the “the most direct threat to America at home and abroad …for the foreseeable future,” he argued that “a strategy that involves invading every country that harbours terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.”

In that context, he stressed the importance of building the capacity of local security forces and announced he will ask Congress to provide five billion dollars to a proposed Counter-Terrorism Partnership Fund (CTPF).

And he devoted much of his speech to the importance of bolstering and relying on international institutions in dealing with geo-political crises and global challenges, including global warming.

“Sceptics often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions, or respecting international law, is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong,” he said, citing what he depicted as Washington’s successes in isolating Russia after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and in building a great-power coalition that is negotiating curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme.

“This is American leadership. This is American strength,” he declared, adding that Washington must also strengthen institutions, notably NATO and the U.N., that can anticipate and prevent crises.

He also stressed that Washington’s influence in the world “is always stronger when we lead by example.”

While he insisted that he believed in “American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,” he said “[w]e cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else…[W]hat makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions,” he said, adding that he will continue his efforts to close the Guantanamo detention facility.

The speech came amidst what has appeared to be a growing number of international crises – ranging from Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and growing tensions between China and its U.S.-backed neighbours in the South and East China seas to the ongoing civil war in Syria and the proliferation of local Al Qaeda affiliates, including Nigeria’s Boko Haram, across the Middle East and North Africa.

Obama’s domestic critics and some foreign allies, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and France, have argued that Washington has been too passive in reacting to these events.

That criticism was repeated after Obama’s speech by Sen. John McCain, who accused the president of “attacking strawmen” by “suggesting that the only alternative to his policies is the unilateral use of military force everywhere.”

“The real choice is how to combine our tools of soft power and hard power in order to avoid conflict, secure our interests and ideals, and meet our challenges through effective deterrence and diplomacy,” Obama’s 2008 Republican rival said, listing the various crises of the last few months. “None of these challenges are the fault of our President, but nothing he has done has been sufficient to address them.

“There is a growing perception worldwide that America is unreliable, distracted, and unwilling to lead. Our nation’s capacity is not in question, but our resolve and judgement are. Speeches alone did not cause this dangerous development, and more speeches will not correct it,” McCain said.

Analysts who have generally been more sympathetic to Obama’s approach also expressed some disappointment with the speech.

“The speech was strongest on what our foreign policy should not be. It should not be isolationist and it should not be military driven,” said Bruce Jentleson, a former senior State Department official under both Obama and Bill Clinton (1993-2001), who teaches at Duke University.

“At a time in which the world is in flux, we really need to think in terms of core strategic constructs like how to adapt deterrence, what are the requisites of coercive diplomacy and what does it really take to build partnerships not just on our part but on the part of others,” he said. “In these and other respects it dodges the really tough questions.”

Stephen Walt, a Harvard professor and one of the deans of the realism school of international relations, said the speech’s focus on terrorism suggested that the administration remains a prisoner of Bush’s paradigm.

“More than anything else, I thought the speech unwittingly underscored the degree to which the war on terror, the continued reliance on Special Forces, drones, etc., and the preoccupation with lesser but vivid dangers as opposed to more serious long-term problems, continue to drive the administration’s approach to national security policy,” he told IPS.

“Apart from the distinct threat of nuclear terrorism, the conventional terrorism danger to Americans is trivial… Yet he felt compelled to talk about it and to pony up another five billion dollars to train militaries in places we don’t understand.”

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (ret.), who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s long-time chief of staff and now teaches at William & Mary University, largely agreed with Walt.

“This concentration on a less-then-existential threat at the expense of more concrete and possibly formidable threats is wrong-headed and, at least in part, a product of the terrorism-industrial complex we have constructed and that Obama seems unable to escape,” he told IPS in an email exchange.

“What passes for counter-terrorism help today seems a lot like what used to pass for assistance to fight communism during the Cold War,” he noted. “All manner of leaders, dictators prominent among them, used to pay lip service to anti-communist efforts while enriching themselves, staying in power, and oppressing their own people with our assistance as their main support for doing so.”

Indeed, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First, while praising Obama’s renewed commitment to close Guantanamo and respect international law, expressed concern that the proposed CPTF could benefit abusive governments and security forces.

Obama addressed some of those concerns in reference to U.S. drone strikes against alleged high-value Al Qaeda targets and efforts to prevent civilian casualties. “We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield,” he said.

Jim Lobe blogs about foreign policy at www.lobelog.com

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Update was slow, but still no lag in the editor window, and footnotes are intact.     This has been updated – Bernard Lewis, who passed away in May 2018, was a renowned British-American historian of Islam and the Middle East. A former British intelligence officer, Foreign Office staffer, and Princeton University professor, Lewis was…


Bernard Lewis was a renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East who stirred controversy with his often chauvinistic attitude towards the Muslim world and his associations with high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks.


John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is President Trump’s National Security Adviser McMaster, reflecting a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.


Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2006, was once described by neoconservative guru Irving Kristol as the “godfather of modern philanthropy.”


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


In many ways, Donald Trump’s bellicosity, his militarism, his hectoring cant about American exceptionalism and national greatness, his bullying of allies—all of it makes him not an opponent of neoconservatism but its apotheosis. Trump is a logical culmination of the Bush era as consolidated by Obama.


For the past few decades the vast majority of private security companies like Blackwater and DynCorp operating internationally have come from a relatively small number of countries: the United States, Great Britain and other European countries, and Russia. But that seeming monopoly is opening up to new players, like DeWe Group, China Security and Protection Group, and Huaxin Zhongan Group. What they all have in common is that they are from China.


The Trump administration’s massive sales of tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft are indeed a grim wonder of the modern world and never receive the attention they truly deserve. However, a potentially deadlier aspect of the U.S. weapons trade receives even less attention than the sale of big-ticket items: the export of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment.


Soon after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a bus killed 40 children on August 9, a CENTCOM spokesperson stated to Vox, “We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the U.S. sold to them.”


The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.


RightWeb
share