President Obama's big foreign policy speech Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., isn't likely to offer big changes from his current attempts to keep international affairs from interfering with his real job: getting Democrats elected in November.
The speech is more likely to be a larger response to the criticisms that led Obama to lash out in frustration April 28 during a news conference in Manila while on a trip to Asia to reassure jittery allies.
Despite the criticism, poll numbers showing Americans trust him less and less on the issue, and despite clear signs that his policies aren't working -- most recently the State Department's Libya-travel-warning.html">warning Tuesday night for Americans to leave Libya immediately -- Obama has balked at changing his approach.
As I've written before, it's because he is the problem -- or, more accurately, his worldview, which has been remarkably resistant to the influences of realities outside the partisan concerns that seem to control everything he does.
Obama's Tuesday announcement Afghanistan/article/2548933">on his plan to end the U.S. military role in Afghanistan is a good example of how that worldview leads to the preventable foreign policy problems plaguing his administration. Some 9,800 U.S. troops will remain in the country through 2015, and half as many into 2016, focusing on training and advising Afghan forces and counterterrorism -- a timetable-driven, politics-based plan that ignores the multiple risk factors which remain in spite of recent progress, including the regeneration of al Qaeda forces in the region.
"The bottom line is, it's time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," Obama said, echoing a pledge he's made repeatedly since taking office.
"When I took office, we had nearly 180,000 troops in harm’s way. By the end of this year, we will have less than 10,000. In addition to bringing our troops home, this new chapter in American foreign policy will allow us to redirect some of the resources saved by ending these wars to respond more nimbly to the changing threat of terrorism, while addressing a broader set of priorities around the globe."
First of all, anyone paying even the slightest attention knows that the conflict in Iraq that flared up after the U.S. invasion in March 2003 is far from being over, and it's highly unlikely that the Taliban in Afghanistan will just give up when Obama declares it's time to finish that war, either. The president isn't ending anything -- he's just passing off responsibility for the war to the locals. That didn't work very well in Iraq or Libya, and likely won't work well in Afghanistan, either.
As for the "resources saved," Obama's Pentagon budget cuts have ensured most will not go to maintaining U.S. military strength as the world becomes more dangerous, not less, but rather to feed the Democratic electoral coalition's insatiable desire for government benefits.
And anyone who's served in a war — which most of Obama's White House advisers have not done — understands that the best measure of peace and security is a decline in the number of American civilians in harm's way, not the number of troops.
What's needed to ensure that outcome isn't another campaign speech aimed at deflecting criticism or helping Democrats win in November, but a real policy for the real world.