Obama to take on foreign policy critics in address this week | South China Morning Post
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  • Jan 31, 2015
  • Updated: 11:47pm

Obama to take on foreign policy critics in address this week

Speech will aim to counter those who say his aversion to military action has sold the US short

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 6:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 6:03am

Confronting critics of his foreign policy, President Barack Obama will soon outline a strategy for his final years in office that aims to avoid overreach as the second of the two wars he inherited comes to a close.

The president's commencement address on Wednesday at the US Military Academy will come amid growing frustration in the White House with Republicans and other critics who contend Obama has weakened America's standing around the world and faltered on problems across the Middle East, Russia, China and elsewhere.

That criticism has mounted over the past year following Obama's decision to pull back on a military strike in Syria and his inability to stop Russia from annexing territory from Ukraine.

In a world where no one will lead except America, he has abdicated ... leadership
Aaron David Miller

A White House official said Obama would specifically address both situations and the status of ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. He is also expected to discuss how he views shifts in the counterterrorism threat from al-Qaeda and other groups.

Obama came into office vowing to end the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and seeking to keep a war-weary nation out of unnecessary conflicts. The war in Iraq ended in the closing days of 2011 and the Afghan conflict will formally conclude later this year, though the White House is seeking to keep a smaller contingent of troops behind to train Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism missions.

Some foreign policy analysts argue that Obama's aversion to military action makes it harder for the US to levy credible threats that force international foes to change their behaviour.

"He's far too risk-adverse a president," said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East adviser to Republican and Democratic administrations. "And in a world where no one will lead except America, he has abdicated and surrendered much of the leadership."

The White House official said Obama would argue that the US remained the only nation capable of galvanising action and would make the case that American power needed to be part of a sustainable international system. He would argue that his foreign policy philosophy was not isolationist, but rather "interventionist and internationalist".

The president is expected to expand on remarks he made last month in the Philippines, when his frustration with his critics boiled over. He specifically targeted those who were quick to call for US military action, arguing that they had failed to learn the lessons of the Iraq war.

"Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we've just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?" he said. "And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?"

Ahead of the president's speech, Obama's top advisers have been meeting congressional lawmakers to address their specific foreign policy concerns. But the outreach appeared to accomplish little, according to some participants, with a Republican senator calling one meeting "bizarre" and another saying the White House refused to provide specific answers to questions.

The White House official said Obama also would build on his remarks during an early June trip to Europe, where he'll give a speech about the US commitment to the continent while in Poland and meet Group of Seven leaders in Brussels. Obama's top foreign policy advisers, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and national security adviser Susan Rice, are expected to follow the president's address with events of their own.


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