President Obama took aim at the warmongers and the conspiracy theorists in his West Point speech on Wednesday. It was quite the speech, and he has successes to back it up.
Some of the high points:
- On decisions to go to war:: "Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures – without thinking through the consequences; without building international support and legitimacy for our action, or leveling with the American people about the sacrifice required. Tough talk draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans."
Refining his point further, the President said "But I am haunted by those deaths. I am haunted by those wounds. And 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."
- On Syria, and similar situations: "For our actions should meet a simple test: we must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield."
- For the skeptics who think diplomacy and sanctions are signs of weakness: "Of course, skeptics often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions, or respecting international law, is a sign of weakness." Ahem. See Tom Friedman's column entitled "Putin Blinked." Take THAT, Dick Cheney.
- On Iran's nuclear capability and multilateral action: "But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement – one that is more effective and durable than what would be achieved through the use of force. And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side."
Summing up the neocon smackdown section, the President said, "This is American leadership. This is American strength. In each case, we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge." Memo to those calling the President weak: He just made liars out of you.
- Attention John Birch/Americans for Prosperity UN haters everywhere: "Likewise, the UN provides a platform to keep the peace in states torn apart by conflict. Now we need to make sure that those nations who provide peace-keepers have the training and equipment to keep the peace, so that we can prevent the type of killing we have seen in Congo and Sudan. We are deepening our investment in countries that support these missions. Because having other nations maintain order in their own neighborhoods lessens the need for us to put our own troops in harm’s way. It is a smart investment. It’s the right way to lead."
That sound you hear in the distance is heads exploding all over deep red areas in the country.
- For global warming deniers and Kochheads: "That spirit of cooperation must energize the global effort to combat climate change – a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we’re called on to respond to refugee flows, natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food. That’s why, next year, I intend to make sure America is out front in a global framework to preserve our planet.
You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else. We can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if so many of our political leaders deny that it is taking place.
It’s a lot harder to call on China to resolve its maritime disputes under the Law of the Sea Convention when the United States Senate has refused to ratify it – despite the repeated insistence of our top military leaders that the treaty advances our national security. That’s not leadership; that’s retreat. That’s not strength; that’s weakness. And it would be utterly foreign to leaders like Roosevelt and Truman; Eisenhower and Kennedy."
The UN, Law of the Sea, and global warming all mashed up together! Oh, how they must have been shaking their fists.
- Hate foreign aid? Well, here's a message for you. "Foreign assistance isn’t an afterthought – something nice to do apart from our national defense. It’s part of what makes us strong."
This was one of the most pointed speeches Obama has made in recent times, and it wasn't just lofty rhetoric. Everything he said was backed with actual action already taken and provable historic success. This isn't to say that everything is just fine, but comparing Obama's vision for America's place in the global puzzle to right-wing warmongers' idea about how to resolve these issues is instructive.
Compare and contrast what Obama said with what Dick Cheney, the crew at Fox & Friends, pundit Stephen Hayes and the straw man chorus and think tankers like Charles Krauthammer had to offer by way of criticism of his speech. They had nothing rational to say, so they resorted to the fallback position: Criticize with vague epithets and grouse. That is what simpletons do, after all.
Obama sees a world with multilateral solutions, where we use the power we have to exert pressure on governments to back away from trajectories like the one Russia was on in Ukraine. The right sees unilateral violence as the only solution worth considering.
History will prove Obama to be the wise one.