Obama’s Inaugural Stance on Global Engagement and Strategic Posture: The Debate is Now Commenced!

The most significant part of President Barack Obama’s inaugural address dealing with foreign policy is the quote:               

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. ………we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends — and we must carry those lessons into this time as well. We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

It is within this framework that the outlines of Obama’s second term global outlook and policies will be shaped. He further said that these are not rigid positions, but rather the direction he wants to take a nation that has experienced brutal war for more than a decade at great cost in lives and resources. It is a position that is tested by both experience and hard analysis of the strategic landscape America is facing. It is not, as some have suggested, an abandonment of global engagement. In fact, it is just the contrary!

But even before the inaugural address and immediately afterwards, the neo-conservatives and “war party” types, including  in think tanks and the media, accused him of softness and of “cutting [our] military.” Examples abound in the Washington Posts’ two editorials, ‘Obama 2.0‘ and ‘Mr. Obama reboots‘ (January 20th and 22nd respectively). The latter seems to call for continued endless war and engagement in a vast array of dangerous places with armed troops. The same can be said for the article by Richard Cohen in the paper’s January 22nd edition or the article by Jim Hoagland from January 18th. These views are backed up by others from the far right like John Bolton of AEI in his speech to the Chatham House recently. We can expect more of this from those who think sending our troops to fight their wars seems to be their main passion in lock step with the military industrial sector’s push for more and more weapons (and large profits) that are of no real use to those who have to serve in hard places in asymmetrical warfare conditions.

Obama set forth an ambitious and broad foreign affairs agenda yesterday, including in the mix the critical climate change, which in reality will have a far more devastating impact on our nation and the globe in the coming decades than any foreseeable act of terrorism. He has already made the “pivot” to Asia, which is the opposite from “withdrawal.”

Obama also heralds a more judicious use of our military might and a redeployment of our defense assets towards present and future threats. He furthermore challenges the buying of expensive and unneeded systems, rather than a mindless continued escalation of these useless purchases for the dangers of the old “cold war” and past conflicts. As we have posited from this blog, the basic forward strategy is the use of what many call “smart power” and “soft power”  This means especially early significant multilateral preventive intervention in emerging areas of unrest and conflict before military force is needed.

A statement by defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on the ABC’s Martha Raddatz show said, “I think it does mean that we’re going to have to work with other countries to develop the kinds of alliances and partnerships that bring other countries into the challenge of how we preserve peace. It just can’t be the U.S.”

The same must be said of the active involvement of international organizations like the UN and even NATO/EU in empowering these institutions, and perhaps new ones that build the capability of civic society, humanitarian intervention, and economic development, as well as peace making: this includes peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy.  Much of this has to be on the ground conciliation and negotiations involving neutral parties and NGOs. It also calls for more funding for our international development programs, for support of international peacekeeping efforts, for public diplomacy, and, as noted, for old-fashioned early intervention diplomacy.

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!

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