Obama To World: We’re Back

on September 12, 2014 at 2:51 PM


WASHINGTON: While the talkerati focused intently on the fairly narrow issue of the presidential strategy to degrade and destroy ISIL, they may have missed the larger message President Obama sent: America is preeminent economically and militarily and has not backed away from the world stage.

For almost two years — from the time he declared a “red line” in Syria and then did nothing when the regime used chemical weapons again — Obama has been accused by many of having withdrawn from the world, of having begun to abdicate America’s leading position in the world.

His speech made clear that is no longer the case.

“It is America,” he said, “that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian people’s right to determine their own destiny. It is America – our scientists, our doctors, our know-how – that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people – or the world – again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”

And he reminded Russia, Europe’s leaders and the Chinese of an unanswerable fact: “Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world.”

But the president knows we Americans all feel a bit battered, a bit gun-shy and are still recovering our national confidence.

“My fellow Americans, we live in a time of great change. Tomorrow marks 13 years since our country was attacked. Next week marks 6 years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression,” Obama said. Then he got to what I think was the meat of the speech: “Yet despite these shocks, through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back – America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.”

While I’m sure that message will be overlooked very deliberately by Republicans — who wouldn’t want a positive message to mar their pursuit of a majority in the Senate — surely it’s a message that was noted in diplomatic cables about the speech from allies and competitors alike.

After months of calls from Republicans to do more to fix Bashar al Assad’s very broken country, Obama has pledged to do just that. The response from House Speaker John Boehner was not surprising. He’s glad the president is acting but “there are still questions and concerns that remain. For example, I support the president’s plan to train and equip Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian opposition. But I remain concerned that those measures could take years to fully implement at a time when ISIL’s momentum and territorial gains must be halted and reversed immediately.”

Some Democrats and Republicans believe that the president must seek a declaration of war or at least comply with the much-ignored War Powers Act. Of course, that would require every member of Congress to actually commit themselves to a course of action that would follow them for decades, so it is unlikely that the calls for a declaration of war or much more than the course Obama is already following will come to much — unless ISILkills a large group of Americans or invades Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Turkey. Should they invade any part of Turkey, that would become a NATO crisis, since collective defense would doubtless be invoked.

Regardless of those scenarios happen, we must watch to see how the Pentagon and Intelligence Community make the president’s declared strategy real — and effective.

This post was originally published on Breaking Gov’s sister site Breaking Defense.


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