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By President Barack Obama
Review by Gwen Clare

Where’s the Strategy?

For a speech supposedly weeks in the making, President Obama’s address to West Point’s graduating class on September 28 found few, if any, admirers across the political spectrum. Rather, it unleashed a torrent of criticism. At a time when Americans are increasingly worried about our place in the world and the prospects for successive generations, there was little to reassure us that these worries are baseless. Nor was there any call to unite our fractious body politic to work together for a brighter future.

We, of course, are part of the problem, since as a nation we respond best to great challenge as when we geared up to win World War II, to send a man to the moon, and to recover from the horror of 9/11. We also perform well when we have a clear understanding of the enemy and the strategy for defeating it. No one can seriously look back fondly on the Cold War, a time of great peril for our country and the world at large. While the average American might not have been able to explain all the nuances of containment, she did know who the enemy was and understood that we were in an existential battle with Soviet Communism, one we finally won.

The period of the War on Terror following September 11, 2001, once again gave us an identifiable enemy—Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda—and united us again with a strategy. But, even by the time Osama was finally found and eliminated, Al Qaeda had already morphed from a single threat to a diffuse group of loosely linked terrorists spread around the Middle East and Africa. And the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, supposedly undertaken to defeat this terrorist threat, had spawned many new groups hostile to the United States. While the new jihadists generally were focused on securing power in a specific country or region and had no ability to threaten the United States directly, concern grew as huge regions fell under their sway.

The President’s announced plan to create a $5 billion fund to support counterterrorism partnerships with countries under siege, while a good approach to the problem, is something the average American can understand but not get excited about.

The irony is Obama’s handling of Russia’s naked aggression in the Ukraine and illegal seizure of the Crimea has, so far, worked about as well as any other option he might have employed. Should the Iranians prove sincere in working with the U.S. and international community to open it’s nuclear capability to full inspection and monitoring—something that even this administration believes is far from a sure thing—Obama again will be vindicated.

Despite all the criticism of President Obama’s handling of foreign affairs, I believe that the problem is not what he’s done—with the notable exception of the red line drawn in Syria and then quickly withdrawn—but his inability to convince his citizens and allies that he does have a grand strategy that we all can understand and get behind. This speech did not meet that goal.bluestar

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