Leading by Cliché

Inaction speaks more softly than words

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The Obama White House thought it wise to sum up its foreign policy approach with the puerile expression, “Don’t do stupid stuff.”

Not exactly Theodore Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” For all its implications about being cautious and restrained, not doing “stupid stuff” has failed as a means of conducting foreign affairs and asserting American interests.

To that end, Commentary‘s Peter Wehner wrote an article outlining President Obama’s proclamations and clichés of foreign policy that have been debunked as he unwillingly faces realities created in part by his passivity and an ever-changing, straw man-attacking Obama doctrine.

“The tide of war is receding,” Obama has claimed several times. Yet, as the Wall Street Journal reported, this summer he’s faced civil wars in Iraq and Syria, a Hamas-engineered conflict with Israel, and the aggressive Russian president Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine, among other world crises. Obama’s soft-power approach and withdrawal of American influence abroad are not attaining his desired results.

Relatedly, Obama’s spoken repeatedly of bringing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a “responsible end,” if not necessarily victory for the United States. But with the terrorist group ISIL’s rampage across Iraq and potential takeover of the country, Obama had to order air strikes and again initiate U.S. involvement in Iraq. After criticism that the vacuum left there by U.S. absence allowed ISIL to flourish, Obama actually claimed it was not his decision to pull out American troops despite campaigning in 2012 on keeping that promise.

On Wednesday, Obama condemned ISIL as a “cancer” just seven months after dismissively comparing the group to a junior varsity basketball team pretending it was the Los Angeles Lakers.

In Afghanistan, where Obama continues plans to pull all troops out by the end of 2016, the New York Times reported in June on a “troubling new chapter as coalition forces prepare to depart” when the Taliban assaulted police outposts and government facilities amidst a Kabul electoral crisis.

In 2012, Obama infamously set as his “red line” in Syria seeing chemical weapons being moved around or used there, saying that would “change my calculus.” Faced with that reality in 2013 after a chemical attack by the Bashar al-Assad regime on its own people, Obama claimed last September that “the world set a red line” amidst a national debate on ordering military strikes. Ultimately, the Assad-allied Russians brokered a deal for Syria to hand over its weapons, and Obama was again left in the background.

Additionally, Obama’s repeatedly spoken of al Qaeda being “on the run” or “on the path to defeat” when it clearly remains as great a threat as ever. He arrogantly declared opponents to be “on the wrong side of history” as if that would win or settle a debate. They are all hollow words, sounding rich but bathed in cliché.

With record-low approval ratings on foreign policy this month, Americans seem to agree that U.S. affairs abroad are going anywhere but forward.