The surface reason for President Barack Obama’s West Point speech on Wednesday was to reiterate his commitment to pull out all the remaining 33,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2016. But, according to senior administration officials, he had two critical underlying purposes:
One was to begin sketching out his new national security strategy for the post Afghan/Iraq war era as the United States faces the need to combat terrorists in the Middle East and Africa while checking Russia and China.
The other was to counter-attack against domestic critics while reassuring uneasy foreign leaders.
So, the speech was a mouthful. Officials said Obama stayed up late Tuesday night, adding point after point and re-polishing others. It seems he knows well that his potency as commander-in-chief and chief foreign policy maker hangs by a thread at home and abroad—and that he must fix his standing now or, inevitably, slide downhill.
With this speech, Obama simply and finally jumped out of the Afghan frying pan only to leap back into the Mideast fire, and beyond that, to the ever-smoldering terrorist and tribal horrors of Africa. (Whatever happened to the “Asia pivot” policy?)
He was bidding a final farewell to the 9/11 nightmare and the odyssey to kill Osama bin Laden. The new danger from terrorists, he was saying, derived far less from the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants in Afghanistan and far more from the Middle Eastern birthplaces of terrorism and, now, also from new terrorist haunts in Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and other spots barely known to most Americans.
Obama also stressed to the West Point cadets that he was saying goodbye to large-scale land wars as the means to fight these “new” terrorists.
Alas, Obama’s “new” strategy sounded much like the old one. Look at his Wednesday words: “In such circumstances, we should not go it alone. Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action. We must broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law and—if just, necessary, and effective —multilateral military action. We must do so because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, and less likely to lead to costly mistakes.”
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