Elliott Abrams says that "Obama just accidentally explained why his foreign policy hasn’t worked." He writes in the Washington Post:
At West Point today, President Obama marched out his army of straw men and continued his ungracious habit of taking credit for successful actions attributable to his predecessor. But at bottom, the policy he outlined will be of little comfort to our allies and to the cause of freedom in the world.
There were as many straw men as cadets. The president railed against “critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak” and insisted that “U.S. military action cannot be the only—or even primary—component of leadership.” He kindly informed us that “a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.” He thanked himself for the decision “that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war” in Syria, as if anyone anywhere had suggested doing so.
Once again, the president caricatures the views of his critics rather than addressing them fairly—not much of a contribution to a good national debate over foreign policy. And on Syria, the new plan he announced—vaguely saying he’ll “work with Congress to ramp up support” for some Syrian rebels—is precisely the proposal that many members of his own Cabinet, and scores of analysts outside the administration, have been making for two years. He offered no explanation whatsoever for why he is now accepting advice he has been rejecting for all that time.
Max Boot, writing at Commentary:
In his much ballyhooed West Point address, President Obama employed what in the 1990s was known as “triangulation”–but not an effective or convincing form of triangulation, rather one that appears to be mainly rhetorical instead of policy oriented.
The president set up a conflict between “self-described realists” who warn against “foreign entanglements that do not touch directly on our security or economic well-being” and “interventionists on the left and right” who claim “that America’s willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos, and America’s failure to act in the face of Syrian brutality or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience, but invites escalating aggression in the future.”
Naturally Obama claimed that his policy is equidistant between these extremes: “It is absolutely true that in the 21st century, American isolationism is not an option. … But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution.”
Yet who says “that every problem has a military solution”? Obama is punching at a straw man, and he continued to do so throughout his address.