President Obama promised a powerful speech on national-security policy on Wednesday to the graduates of the United States Military Academy. Instead, the chief executive reinforced the notion that in an increasingly dangerous world, he is in over his head.
Obama's principal argument was that U.S. national security must not be based solely on military power, and that America cannot go it alone in the world.
But this was no grand revelation; every recent president has believed the same thing. Even George W. Bush, falsely criticized for unilateralism, assembled a larger international coalition than any Obama has put together.
At West Point this week, the president claimed he was responding to unnamed “critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.”
However, our real challenge is not the appearance of weakness, but the reality of fading U.S. global power and leadership.
Obama said that “by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.” But what measures did he have in mind?
The intelligence community suffered the worst counterintelligence failure in history, thanks to Edward Snowden.
Adversary states no longer fear the United States, and friendly states no longer trust us. And, while 15 years ago, the U.S. confidently projected an era of space dominance, we are now reduced to begging Moscow for rockets.
America's adversaries understand the nature of this decline far better than the president. When “masked men occupy a building in Ukraine,” Obama intoned, “it is America that the world looks to for help.”
He maintains with “every fiber of [his] being” that America is an exceptional nation, but only to the extent that the U.S. conforms to the norms imposed by other countries.
Obama wants the United States to focus more on soft power, but his diplomatic efforts leave much to be desired.
He claimed success in ongoing negotiations regarding the Iranian nuclear program, even as Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that those who support continuing the negotiations are traitors and jihad will continue until the U.S. is destroyed.
The president brought up his pet cause of global climate change, another issue on which he has failed to build international consensus.
And he reiterated his intention to close the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, which he promised to do his first day in office. At this rate, Gitmo will close when the remaining detainees die of old age.
Ironically, Obama can point to more success through using force rather than diplomacy. His most noteworthy achievements - killing Osama bin Laden and dismantling the core al Qaeda network through drone strikes - were kinetic and mostly unilateral.
Few would argue that, as American global military clout declines, it makes sense to shift emphasis to other elements of national power.
But Obama has yet to demonstrate that he is capable of managing a complex, multifaceted global strategy. He has no strong track record of success even by his own metrics. Maybe he should stick to drones.
James S. Robbins is author of "Last in Their Class: Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point" and the forthcoming "The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero."