Posts Tagged ‘risk averse’

Obama retreats – “Yes, We can” has become “But, We won’t”

May 29, 2014

Barack Obama’s two terms in office will come to be remembered for high expectations and his many good intentions let down by his aversion to risk, his caution and his indecision. Yesterday at a speech at West Point he reconfirmed my perceptions when he laid out his vision of a US foreign policy which would be less brash, more focused on diplomacy, more engaged with partners and – above all – cheaper. It could be considered a return to considered prudence after the knee-jerk, costly and ineffective Bush adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in this case I think this is more a reflection of cost pressure, indecision and risk aversion rather than prudence.

He still wants the US to lead – but from the back.

Katy Kay – BBC:

But Mr Obama ducks the trickiest moment of his foreign policy – the red line in Syria and the decision to go to Congress for a vote on force, which ultimately fell apart. This is unsurprising, as the American public has zero interest staying a day longer than planned in Afghanistan, much less committing to another large-scale military mission.The speech reflects the confusion of a country that is fed up with intervention but still likes the idea of being the world leader

The Washington Post report is not very enthusiastic.

Coming more than six years into a presidency devoted to winding down the wars, the speech featured a firm defense of his administration’s handling of foreign crises — including those in Nigeria, Syria and Ukraine — and a suggestion that many critics are out of step with a nation tired from 13 years of war. ….. 

“Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead,” Obama said. “If we don’t, no one else will.” …….. 

But Obama’s speech appeared to be less about changing the terms of the foreign policy debate in Washington than about appealing to a war-weary electorate, which twice chose him as president on platforms of steady withdrawal from foreign military operations. The address echoed Obama’s earlier defenses of his foreign policy — stressing such themes as multilateralism, Muslim outreach and ending torture — as a corrective response to the approach of the George W. Bush administration.

The US is tired with all the interventions George Bush led them into. In that sense Obama’s retreat from intervention as the “first step” is welcome. But the retreat is enforced and cutting cost is one of the key drivers. It appears to me that Obama is more reactive than pro-active. His driving from the back seat is very close to an abdication of leadership.

The heady days and great expectations of “Yes, We can!” have evaporated and Obama will be remembered for “But, We won’t”. 

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