Five Straw Men Obama Used in West Point Foreign Policy Address

President Obama outlined his foreign policy on Wednesday during a speech at the graduation ceremony at West Point.

Throughout his speech, Obama used “straw man” arguments, setting up “critics” or “skeptics” that existed to disagree with the president before being knocked down by his rhetoric. While some of these positions are held by political figures such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) or Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), these politicians chafe at having their views presented in a narrow context. For the sake of his speech, Obama presents these positions as the extreme, while carefully positioning himself in the middle.  

Here are five examples:

1. Those who believe America is in decline

Obama assured West Point graduates that “America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world” and those who think differently are just wrong.

“Those who argue otherwise – who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away – are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics,” he said.

2. Those who warn against foreign entanglements

President Obama pointed out that throughout history, foreign policy has fallen into two camps, one of which were “self-described realists” who were reluctant to go to war.

“[T]here have been those who warned against foreign entanglements that do not touch directly on our security or economic well-being,” he said. 

Remember when President Obama was in this camp? Not anymore. 

3. Those who want to intervene around the globe

“A different view, from interventionists on the left and right, says we ignore these conflicts at our own peril,” Obama said.

Not surprisingly, Obama believes that “neither view fully speaks to the demands of this moment.” 

4. Those who will send troops into war to avoid looking weak

Obama boldly knocks down this straw men with a swift stroke. 

“I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed fixing, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.”

Key word is “simply” - it’s not that simple. 

5. Those who are skeptical of multilateral action

These straw men think that going to NATO and the UN is futile and a waste of time. Not Obama.

“Of course, skeptics often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions, or respecting international law, is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong.”

Even President Bush believed in the importance of multilateral action and searching for allies within the United Nations and NATO.


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