President Obama offered his foreign policy vision at West Point today. David Rothkopf finds a great deal to dislike about it (the critique is long and thorough, so I wouldn’t do justice to it by excerpting; you should just read the whole thing). Additionally Admiral James Stavridis points out that for all of the talk about cooperation and partnership in the crafting and implementation of foreign policy, the president’s speech
left out two vital components of how we can best create security: the power of interagency cooperation, and — above all — private-public partnerships. As we approach deeply challenging situations in Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Iran, East Asia, and Yemen, among others, we need not only the international approach laid out by the president, but the immense power that coordinated interagency and private-public efforts can provide, as well.
Let me just add that the lack of intellectual rigor and thoughtfulness in the president’s speech–and in the formulation and implementation of the president’s foreign policy vision–stems at least in part from the fact that this administration has not tried to field an A-team in foreign policy and national security. Hillary Clinton was a celebrity secretary of state who accomplished nothing of note (quick, name a Clinton achievement while she presided over Foggy Bottom, and do it without Googling. Bet you can’t, can you?). Chuck Hagel has been all but invisible as secretary of defense, and he certainly cannot be counted on to bring intellectual candlepower to bear in transforming the armed forces to prepare America’s defense structure to respond to the threats of the twenty-first century. John Kerry got played by the Russians regarding Syria, and has nothing to show for his efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East. To be sure, the latter task in an extraordinarily difficult one to accomplish; I am not sure that I will see the implementation of a just and lasting peace in my lifetime, though I hope to be proven wrong. But despite the fact that Kerry has been preparing for all of his life to serve as secretary of state (that is, when he wasn’t preparing all of his life to serve as president of the United States), he has little to show for his tenure. It’s early yet, but there is no indication whatsoever that this State Department, or this national security team as a whole has any sense of a comprehensive, rigorous, imaginative and bold grand strategy that will serve American interests.
I don’t want to make too much of personnel issues, as I am a realist and as I believe that the formulation and implementation of foreign policy and national security choices depend mostly on third-image interest perception on the part of nation-states. But even realists will tell you that at some level, personnel matters, and the foreign policy/national security personnel of the Obama administration have hardly been up to their respective jobs. The result is a listless, formless, shapeless, substance-free foreign and national security policy. You heard all about it today in President Obama’s speech.