Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

The Sad Irony of Obama’s ‘Big’ Foreign-Policy Speech

The White House has been advancing for days a major foreign policy speech by the president, intended as a "turning point" in American foreign policy. According to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, "our foreign policy is going to look a lot different going forward than it did in the last decade." If only it ...

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The White House has been advancing for days a major foreign policy speech by the president, intended as a "turning point" in American foreign policy. According to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, "our foreign policy is going to look a lot different going forward than it did in the last decade." If only it were so.

President Obama's speech today at West Point was not a break with the foreign policy practices of his administration these past five years. It was instead a discouraging reminder of how glaringly wide the gap is between what the administration claims for its success and the reticent choices it actually makes.

The president speaks of the United States as the world's indispensable nation and cites three examples: "when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or girls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine -- it is America that the world looks to for help." But in two of those crises, the United States has done next to nothing. We are by no means the only nation that could do so little. Those girls were kidnapped on April 14; on May 7 we sent an "experts team" from the FBI, and are finally getting around to special forces and drones. Britain has sent hundreds of troops. It is Ukrainian military forces -- armed with U.S. meals ready to eat -- that forced masked men out of occupied buildings in Donetsk. The Obama administration declined other requests for military assistance. While White House diplomacy has been active on Ukraine, it clearly failed in preventing Moscow's seizure of Crimea or irregular Russian forces doing violence in eastern Ukraine. Nor has it galvanized NATO to greater defense efforts or Europe to significant sanctions, much less causing Russia to cower under its powerful global leadership.

The White House has been advancing for days a major foreign policy speech by the president, intended as a "turning point" in American foreign policy. According to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, "our foreign policy is going to look a lot different going forward than it did in the last decade." If only it were so.

President Obama’s speech today at West Point was not a break with the foreign policy practices of his administration these past five years. It was instead a discouraging reminder of how glaringly wide the gap is between what the administration claims for its success and the reticent choices it actually makes.

The president speaks of the United States as the world’s indispensable nation and cites three examples: "when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or girls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine — it is America that the world looks to for help." But in two of those crises, the United States has done next to nothing. We are by no means the only nation that could do so little. Those girls were kidnapped on April 14; on May 7 we sent an "experts team" from the FBI, and are finally getting around to special forces and drones. Britain has sent hundreds of troops. It is Ukrainian military forces — armed with U.S. meals ready to eat — that forced masked men out of occupied buildings in Donetsk. The Obama administration declined other requests for military assistance. While White House diplomacy has been active on Ukraine, it clearly failed in preventing Moscow’s seizure of Crimea or irregular Russian forces doing violence in eastern Ukraine. Nor has it galvanized NATO to greater defense efforts or Europe to significant sanctions, much less causing Russia to cower under its powerful global leadership.

Read the rest here.

Kori Schake is the director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a former U.S. government official in foreign and security policy, and the author of America vs the West: Can the Liberal World Order Be Preserved? Twitter: @KoriSchake

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.