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Thursday, May 29, 2014

David Brooks, "The Autocracy Challenge": A Pointless Speech at West Point

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Autocracy Challenge" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/30/opinion/brooks-the-autocracy-challenge.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), David Brooks examines Obama's West Point speech. Regarding how the US should respond to chaos instigated by "thuggish radioactive autocracies," Brooks begins by complimenting the Obama administration:

"President Obama laid out his approach in a speech at West Point this week. He argued persuasively that the U.S. will have to do a lot more to mobilize democracies to take effective collective action against autocratic aggression. Moreover, his administration does champion democracy. On the same day Obama spoke, his ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, gave a great commencement speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government explaining why democracy promotion has to be at the core of American foreign policy."

The Obama administration champions democracy? Oh really? In his June 2009 speech at Cairo University (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Cairo-University-6-04-09), Obama declared:

"So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other."

And indeed, Obama remained silent after Egyptian General Sisi staged a coup d'état in July 2013 and threw the democratically elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, into prison.

Samantha Power gave a great commencement speech at Harvard concerning the promotion of democracy? Marvelous. But isn't this the same Samantha Power who wrote a book entitled "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," yet, as America's Ambassador to the United Nations, said nothing about Obama's insistence upon remaining on the sidelines as Bashar al-Assad butchered Syria's civilian population?

Brooks's conclusion:

"For most of the past 70 years, the U.S. had a two-level foreign policy. On top, American diplomats built multilateral coalitions to extend democracy. But at the bottom level, American presidents understood their responsibility as the world’s enforcer, occasionally operating according to the logic of menace and force.

If President Obama departs from that tradition and takes away that bottom level — for fear of overreach, or in a quest for normalcy, or out of an excessive belief in the limits of his own power — then he will undermine the top level that he admires. The autocrats will drag the world into an ungodly mess."

Ah yes, "menace and force," such as when Obama promised to extend "flexibility" during his second term in office to Vladimir Putin. Sorry, but Obama, who has always believed in his persuasive powers over such "misunderstood" autocrats, is incapable of acting in this manner. Moreover, the autocrats have come to understand what little lies behind Obama's "red lines."

In an editorial entitled "President Obama Misses a Chance on Foreign Affairs" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/29/opinion/president-obama-misses-a-chance-on-foreign-affairs.html), The New York Times was remarkably critical of Obama's West Point speech:

"President Obama and his aides heralded his commencement speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Wednesday as a big moment, when he would lay out his foreign policy vision for the remainder of his term and refute his critics. The address did not match the hype, was largely uninspiring, lacked strategic sweep and is unlikely to quiet his detractors, on the right or the left.

. . . .

[H]e provided little new insight into how he plans to lead in the next two years, and many still doubt that he fully appreciates the leverage the United States has even in a changing world. Falling back on hackneyed phrases like America is the 'indispensable nation' told us little."

The Times editorial concluded by observing "what matters ultimately is [Obama's] record in the next two and a half years." This is precisely what worries me. Without foreign policy achievements and desperate for a legacy, Obama might well seek to reach almost any agreement purportedly limiting the development of nuclear weapons by Iran. However, as reported by The Daily Caller (http://dailycaller.com/2014/05/25/irans-supreme-leader-jihad-will-continue-until-america-is-no-more/), Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei declared earlier this week in response to a question by an Iranian member of parliament:

"Battle and jihad are endless because evil and its front continue to exist. … This battle will only end when the society can get rid of the oppressors’ front with America at the head of it, which has expanded its claws on human mind, body and thought. … This requires a difficult and lengthy struggle and need for great strides."

How much more damage Obama can do to America's standing and deterrent power throughout the world during what remains of his time in office? When even Jimmy Carter is now saying of Obama that "He’s done the best he could under the circumstances" (http://parade.condenast.com/222330/markupdegrove/jimmy-and-rosalynn-carter-an-intimate-chat/), we know we're in trouble.

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