Only some of each president’s speeches are billed as “major,” and today’s is one of them for President Obama. His commencement address at West Point is a “major” foreign policy speech at a time when America’s friends and adversaries are questioning U.S. leadership.
The Obama approach has weakened the world’s superpower, creating a dearth of leadership that is increasingly being filled by hostile, dictatorial nations from Moscow to Beijing. If he is serious about turning around U.S. foreign policy, here are five things the president should do in his West Point address today.
1. Acknowledge the Russian reset is dead.
As Moscow’s invasion of Crimea amply demonstrated, the much-hyped “Russian reset” has been a foreign policy disaster. The Obama administration’s reset, designed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was built on the idea of Russia as a partner with the United States. Supposedly hand in hand, the former rivals would address the major international crises of the day. This initiative, however, will be remembered as one of the biggest foreign policy follies of the modern era — a staggeringly naïve exercise in appeasement that encouraged Moscow at Washington’s expense.
2. Announce U.S. withdrawal from the New START Treaty.
The president should announce the immediate withdrawal of the United States from the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty. New START is a fundamentally flawed treaty that dramatically undercuts the security of the U.S. and its allies. It is an extraordinarily good deal for the Russians, as it significantly limits Washington’s ability to deploy an effective global missile defense system. It does nothing at all to advance U.S. security while handing Moscow a significant strategic edge.
3. Shore up America’s alliances.
The West Point speech is an important opportunity to reiterate America’s commitment to the NATO alliance, as well as to the Anglo-American Special Relationship, the U.S.-Israeli partnership, and key allies in Asia, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
If it sounds like that’s a lot of catching up to do, that’s because it is. The first five and a half years of Obama’s time in office have been marked by a striking indifference toward America’s most important alliances, as well as an open disdain — and even outright hostility — toward America’s most important ally in the Middle East, Israel. In Eastern and Central Europe, key allies including Poland and the Czech Republic have been thrown under the bus to appease Russian interests over missile defense. Even America’s closest friend and ally, Great Britain, has been slapped in the face through Washington’s support for Argentina over the Falkland Islands.
4. Pledge that the United States will halt the rise of a nuclear-armed Iran.
The president should make it clear that Washington will strengthen, not weaken, sanctions against Tehran while deploying a comprehensive missile defense system to defend the U.S. and key allies from the growing Iranian threat.
The U.S. should advance a long-term goal of regime change in Iran, coupled with forceful condemnation of human rights violations by the Islamist tyranny. Last year’s flawed deal between the P5+1 group of powers (the U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) and Iran sends the wrong signal to Iran and has been rightly described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “historic mistake.” Tehran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and continues to build its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
5. Be bold.
The Obama Doctrine has been a monumental failure because it fails to protect and advance U.S. interests. Farming out America’s foreign policy to the United Nations, European Union or to the likes of Paris and Berlin will never be a recipe for success. It is the antithesis of Ronald Reagan’s bold approach, which was based on powerful American leadership on the world stage, including a willingness to firmly stand up to America’s adversaries. This robust stance was reinforced by a strong investment in America’s defenses, including a commitment to missile defense, a factor which was crucial in convincing the Soviets that they could not win the Cold War. Reagan also championed the ideal of economic freedom across the globe. President Obama needs to commit real time and real assets to the same priorities.
American leadership matters on the world stage. The alternative is American decline and a vacuum of leadership that will be filled by hostile powers. A president who believes in apologizing for his country, appeasing his nation’s enemies, undercutting U.S. national sovereignty, and sidelining America’s traditional allies cannot hope to operate an effective foreign policy, one that commands respect both at home and abroad.