President Obama Defends His Foreign Policy In West Point Speech — But Where Do We Go From Here?

In his commencement address at West Point this morning, President Obama offered a defense of his administration’s foreign policy over the past six years and his vision for the future of American foreign policy.

The speech comes on the heels of an announcement yesterday that the President plans to leave only 10,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year and have all troops out by the end of his presidency.

To this end, Obama said, “We can not only responsibly end our war in Afghanistan and achieve the objectives that took us to war in the first place, we’ll also be able to begin a new chapter in the story of American leadership around the world.”

In response to his announcement, there has already been great criticism of his plan. Many believe that we will not have a large enough presence in Afghanistan to accomplish our goals.

Speaking on MSNBC, a retired army Colonel and West Point graduate, offered that we need around 35,000 troops on the ground to finish the job we set out to do. Indeed, commentators who have served and many who have not are skeptical of what they view as a quick exit from a war that may be our longest, but is not yet a “job done.”

It was clear that the President’s speech this morning marks the beginning of what he views as a new chapter in American foreign policy.

To be sure, we desperately need a new chapter.

Our current foreign policy is confused at best and disastrous at worst.

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the last year we have seen an epic blunder in Syria with the President whiffing on his red line; an inability to adequately respond to a resurgent Russia and an aggressive Putin who illegally annexed Crimea just a few months ago; and failures in the East and South China Sea to contend with a headstrong China that has set its sights on regional domination to the detriment of our long standing allies like Japan.

In spite of these examples – and there are many more I could list – the President said this morning that, “[T]hose who suggest America is in decline are misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.”

Having worked in American and international politics for upwards of 35 years, I consider myself to be a good – and maybe even prescient – judge of geopolitics.

And I can say honestly, with no hesitation, that I do not agree with the President’s assessment of America’s current role in the global order.

The President is right that the world is changing at a rapid pace. And that we have to be engaged. There is no place for an America that sits on the sidelines.

But he also raised an important theme that I have been discussing in much of my work as of late.

When nations around the world are in trouble they look to America for help. We certainly saw this in Ukraine over the past few months. And this is especially true against a backdrop of a fraying Europe.