Posted by on June 02, 2014 in Blog

By Emily Cooke
Summer Intern, 2014

If the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York agreed to accommodate all those who might feel the impact of  President Obama’s commencement speech on Wednesday, graduation coordinators would be tasked with acquiring a few million more seats.

When President Obama celebrated West Point’s 2014 graduates last week, he simultaneously addressed the nation, redefining his foreign policy doctrine goals for the remaining two and a half years of his term. The considerable hype that existed before the President’s speech was only amplified in its aftermath.

The President drew condemnation from pundits who qualified his tendency to successfully address critics and portray what he is against, but honed in on his propensity to falter when it comes to following his words with action. While separating the purely spiteful from more constructive criticism is no small feat, this task pales in comparison to the myriad of foreign policy considerations that will continue to test President Obama in his role as Commander in Chief.  

President Obama spurred foreign policy discussions on Tuesday before his address when he announced the reduction of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a military withdrawal that will leave just 9,800 troops at the beginning of 2015. This announcement was, however, a mere prelude to the “bottom line” foreign policy approach he announced on Wednesday.

In the midst of what the president declared “a changing political landscape”, President Obama argued that the United States must uphold its leadership role on the international stage. While he affirmed the military as the enduring backbone of American leadership, President Obama proved that he is committed to forging an entirely new path in his foreign policy approach. For perhaps the first time, the front lines of American international action will be manned by diplomats instead of soldiers, as the U.S. will confront the world with diplomacy rather than military force.

In line with his vision of American leadership that boasts more than military might, President Obama proposed official partnerships with foreign nations as the best method of combatting increasingly decentralized terrorist groups. The president addressed Congress explicitly, calling upon the U.S. legislature to endorse a new “Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund” that allocates as much as $5 billion to training forces overseas. While President Obama designated the “critical focus of this effort” as the crisis in Syria, he left the nation to ponder what this “critical focus” will mean in terms of future U.S. involvement in the conflict.

Speculators predicted the president’s endorsement of this new training program even before he appeared on stage, and framed his announcement as a renewed attempt to increase support to a moderate Syrian opposition. What remains abundantly clear, however, is President Obama’s plan to offer U.S. support to countries like Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Mali - nations that will serve as vital partners in furthering the American effort to combat terrorism and as allies in the campaign for international peace.

In a more explicit reference to Syria, President Obama reaffirmed what appears to be the only certainty, that “there are no easy answers” to the conflict. For now, the president pledged increased aid to Syria’s neighbors, and vowed to engage in his own battle with Congress to increase support for moderate opposition forces in the war-torn country. President Obama was resolute in his decision to reject U.S. military intervention, but was equally as adamant in his call for a resolution to the crisis that relies exclusively upon collective international support.

A similar opposition to U.S. military engagement in Syria was echoed by the seven Arab nations surveyed as part of the latest Zogby Poll. In line with President Obama’s call for a carefully negotiated resolution, the poll revealed that these countries espoused support for a political solution to the conflict.

If speculations prove true and the president’s address at West Point defines the future course of foreign policy under his administration, then Americans should expect a surge in U.S. diplomatic efforts abroad. President Obama is intent on weaving an intricate patchwork of international coalitions over the course of the next two years—a collective of amiable partnerships, among which the U.S. remains the “indispensable” leader.

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