Obama used his commencement remarks to give another in a series of speeches meant to define the Obama Doctrine in US foreign policy and especially in the application of US military power in the years to come.
Obama, after declaring that the United States was stronger in relation to other world powers than it has been in a long time, explained that, whereas after 9/11 the Bush Doctrine had established a much more unilateral and interventionist use of the nation's military to obtain national objectives, especially in the War on Terror, the Obama Doctrine would be much less dependent on the direct use of force.
In fact, Obama told the West Point graduating class that:
"You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan."The "may" shows the great uncertainty that hovers over any prediction a leader may make in such unstable and uncertain times. But, Obama insisted that this graduating class of Army officers should be prepared to operate in a much more nuanced and complex world, where international cooperation amongst nations would be of more importance and influence in solving problems than the US unilaterally invading nations with big armies.
"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."Explaining that he was still prepared to use unilateral military action when there was a threat to what Obama called the nation's "core interests", he nevertheless explained that:
"When issues of global concern that do not pose a direct threat to the United States are at stake – when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction – then the threshold for military action must be higher. In such circumstances, we should not go it alone. Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action."The focus on internationalism, and collective action to address shared policy interests, through such organizations as the United Nations and the IMF, Obama said, would continue a tradition since World War II of the USA leading the world, and "shaping" its institutions "to strengthen and enforce international order."
This of course sounds like what it always has—US imperialism—which has varied over the decades in terms of the American willingness to employ open and blatant force versus the "softer" use of political and economic coercion, and covert operations intended to achieve US policy objectives more subversively.
In the West Point speech today, Obama repeated many of the themes he used in late August of last year, as he spoke in defense of his decision at that point to unilaterally go to war against Syria. At that time also, Obama talked about the need to defend "international order", in other words, the order imposed by the United States on the world. The failure to promptly blow things up in Syria, Obama told the American people, would result in nations losing respect for the USA. The fact the world had already lost respect for the USA, precisely because it had become so militaristic, was not mentioned by Obama.
The president used a rhetorical trope in his August speech, which he repeated in a similar form today, to explain why it was so necessary for the USA to attack Syria.
"We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us."And today, rephrasing this a bit, Obama said:
"I believe we have a real stake—an abiding self-interest—in making sure our children grow up in a world where school-girls are not kidnapped; where individuals aren’t slaughtered because of tribe or faith or political beliefs."In August, Obama was prepared to go completely against what he now says is the proper, measured, course of international consensus-building and cooperative military operations. Regarding Syria, for a time, Obama was even prepared to go to war without Congressional approval of his actions. Of course, under the pressure of withering criticism from all sides, particularly from the American people who vehemently opposed any attack on Syria, Obama backed down from attacking Syria, and reached out for international cooperation from: Vladimir Putin and Russia.
I mean, that probably worked, huh? Maybe not so much.
Meanwhile, "an abiding self-interest" has not produced any new holy wars against Boko Haram to get back "our girls" for the sake of "our children".
Hmm...well, maybe the new Army Second Lieutenants will have more competent American leadership coming soon to their chain of command.
But, given the track record of American voters on that count for decades now, that seems very unlikely.