All the national security and foreign policy news in Washington revolved mostly around what the President “said” a lot more than what he “did.”
President Obama spoke at a meeting of the United Nations, giving a speech that fell short in many respects—not the least of which was the President’s failure to adequately address the dangers of nuclear proliferation. “As expected, President Obama touched on one of his favorite subjects in his lengthy address to the United Nations General Assembly today: nuclear disarmament,” wrote Heritage analyst Ted Bromund.
“Like most of the rest of the President’s speech, this portion of it checks the expected boxes: a world without nuclear weapons (which will not happen, and which would endanger the security of the U.S. and its allies if it did); the security of nuclear materials (clearly an important goal, but one that cannot be achieved without cooperation from bad actors like Iran and North Korea); the New START Treaty (which among its other flaws limits U.S. missile defense options); a new national security strategy (which fails to make a clear commitment to defend the U.S. and its allies); and the NPT (where the U.S. has shot itself in the foot by assenting to the theory that, if non-proliferation fails, the U.S. must respond by disarming further).”
Grabbing even more headlines was the excerpt from Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book in The Washington Post. Among its many revelations, Woodward’s book discusses how politics influenced the President’s decision over how many additional troops to send to Afghanistan and the timeline for withdrawal—a revelation that only reinforces the impression that the President is uncomfortable serving as a wartime president. “The book apparently details how Obama is desperately seeking to get out of the war in Afghanistan, regardless of the consequences for U.S. national security,” writes Heritage foreign policy expert Lisa Curtis.
Over the past few months, the White House’s foreign policy agenda has appeared stuck in the summer doldrums, with Obama failing to demonstrate forceful leadership on any front. While summer ended last week, the President’s lackluster run has not. What can explain this ongoing lethargy? Certainly, as the Woodward book reveals, the White House is weary of worrying about foreign policy. Furthermore, the President’s domestic policies are under siege. The economy continues to struggle. Key advisors, mostly on domestic policy, are lining up to leave. In short, the President has a lot on his plate.
Yet, what has hurt the White House most, however, is the nature of the President’s strategy for engaging with the rest of the world. It is mostly passive—relying heavily on America’s adversaries, from Iran to North Korea, to cooperate with him. On virtually every front this approach has failed. In response, the President has done little other than default to old Bush policies or grind into neutral. Indeed, the President’s uninspired foreign policy has failed because it has ignored the oldest rule of war and diplomacy: The enemy gets a vote.