The problem with Obama's foreign policy

The problem with Obama's foreign policy
Illustration for the article "The problem with Obama's foreign policy".

The United States is in the midst of a "Let's Reassure Our Allies" campaign.

Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel has spent the past few days in Singapore telling his Asian security colleagues that America's pivot to their region "is not a goal, not a promise or a vision - it's a reality".

And tomorrow, President Barack Obama is flying to Poland to shake the hands and pat the backs of Eastern European leaders who feel threatened by Russia's current military moves.

Yet, the very fact that such demonstrative acts are needed is in itself an indication of the problem facing the US.

Although Mr Obama is now making strenuous efforts to explain his foreign and security policies, the longer he talks, the more anxious America's allies get.

As a former top Pentagon official neatly put it, the US President is conducting "a very nuanced narrative" - so nuanced that at times people struggle to find its substance.

West Point speech

The speech that Mr Obama delivered last week at the West Point military academy is a case in point.

The White House billed it as a major restatement of America's foreign policy, refuting accusations that Mr Obama's foreign policy is either listless or weak.

But the effort flopped at every level: It did little to reassure Mr Obama's supporters, and nothing to silence his critics.

The problem was not the fact that some of the key strategic challenges facing America - and especially those emanating from Asia - went unmentioned in Mr Obama's latest foreign policy statement.

After all, not every presidential speech needs to read like a supermarket shopping list, encompassing all the ingredients of the world's security problems.

Nor is there much to quibble over in terms of the President's fundamental message - that force, and especially the unilateral use of force, cannot be the first instrument in solving foreign policy problems, that wars are always easier to start than to end, or that the strength of the US cannot be measured by its military assets alone.

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