Last week, I wrote
that perhaps the best part of President Obama's West Point speech was his
robust recitation -- for the first time in his presidency -- of America's
unparalleled contributions to global peace and security. In part it
was so welcome because it was so unexpected. In most of his major
addresses throughout his first 10 months in office, the president had fallen
into the unfortunate habit of appearing before foreign audiences and dwelling
excessively on his own country's faults and transgressions -- a style that,
while sure to win him plaudits from the likes of those deciding the Nobel Peace
Prize, was unlikely to prove particularly productive in advancing concrete
American interests around the world. In my comments after the West Point address, I'd
urged the president to take his newfound appreciation for American
exceptionalism and make it a centerpiece of his riff at Oslo.
Well, that's just what he did. I thought the president's sober defense of the essential role of force and military power -- and specifically American military power -- in maintaining global order against the predations of those who would destroy it was extremely important. It was important most of all because it's the truth, perhaps the central truth of international affairs for the last 60-odd years. It was important because it was this particular president saying it, who at times has seemed more focused on currying favor with the world's pacifist left than on fully embracing his role as America's commander-in-chief at a time when our forces are engaged in two major wars and the threat of a nuclear-armed Islamist tyranny looms ever closer on the horizon. And it was important because these hard truths were spoken to an audience of European elites who, as the president bluntly said, have increasingly come to question whether any cause at all is worth fighting for, and whose reflexive anti-Americanism has grown increasingly strident.
There were things here and there to quibble with in this speech, both stylistically and substantively. But at its core, what really mattered -- and what I think people will remember about the address -- is that President Barack Obama went before an international audience for the first time in his young presidency and, rather than giving them what they wanted to hear, told them what they needed to hear about the enduring indispensability of American power and principle in a deeply troubled and flawed world. That's a potentially important -- and welcome -- evolution in the Obama presidency, one that could have real significance for U.S. national security going forward.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.