Obama's U.S. leadership... on climate change

If you’re sitting in Tel Aviv or London or Riyadh or Tokyo or Seoul or New Delhi, and you learn that Obama has just given a big speech on climate change, what inferences might you make? But the fact is that Obama's idea of "global leadership" is to focus on climate. ISIS must be terrified

Blinding him to the world?
Taylor Dibbert
On 24 May 2015 08:19

President Barack Obama delivered the commencement speech at the United States Coast Guard Academy last week. The speech has foreign policy implications. Unfortunately, what you’re about to hear, is far from encouraging.

Obama’s speech focused on “the urgent need to combat and adapt to climate change.” During the speech, he went on to note the following:

That’s why confronting climate change is now a key pillar of American global leadership. When I meet with leaders around the world, it’s often at the top of our agenda -- a core element of our diplomacy. And you are part of the first generation of officers to begin your service in a world where the effects of climate change are so clearly upon us. It will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip, and protect their infrastructure, their capabilities, today and for the long term. So let me be specific on how your generation will have to lead the way to both prepare ourselves and how to prevent the worst effects in the future.

What ‘American global leadership’ could Obama be referring to?

The White House has also released a report titled, “The National Security Implications of Climate Change”. It appears that, having entered the fourth quarter of Obama’s fantasy world, we should expect no significant course corrections for the remainder of his presidency.

That’s right, the administration is out there making the case for rethinking…climate policy. Climate change is a serious issue which merits attention, although the emphasis on climate change this week seems misplaced.

From a partisan political perspective, I suppose it’s understandable that Obama would want to avoid talking about the panoply of other (more pressing) foreign policy issues currently facing the nation.

Where to begin?

The U.S. is ostensibly leading a coalition against the Islamic State, although things are not going very well. Syria, a humanitarian catastrophe with profound national security implications, continues to bleed and an end to the conflict is nowhere in sight.

With boots on the ground in Iraq, Iran has a far greater ability to control events there. With the recent fall of Ramadi to the Islamic State one must face the fact that, whatever it is we are doing, that isn’t working.

More specifically, Obama talks about wanting to defeat the Islamic State, but has no interest in committing the resources required to achieve that objective. Obama defenders may argue that the American people don’t want another war, that there’s no appetite for more extensive military engagement abroad.

Perhaps, though if Obama himself never makes the case to the American people, how would we really know? Furthermore, even if that were the case, shouldn’t the administration be more straightforward about what’s actually happening?

Alas, we haven’t even gotten to the Iranian nuclear deal yet. (The latest article by Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens is a nice précis of recent developments in the Middle East.)

Of course, these are complex problems which may require complex solutions. Nonetheless, shouldn’t it at least look like Washington is prioritizing and thinking strategically about these issues?

If you’re sitting in Tel Aviv or London or Riyadh or Tokyo or Seoul or New Delhi, and you learn that Obama has just given a big speech on climate change, what inferences might you make?

To his credit, Obama is on the right side on international trade. And, while one could argue that he’s not made the case for free trade forcefully enough, at least he appears to understand the importance of both the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Admittedly, since World War II U.S. foreign policy has seemed to oscillate between excessive engagements abroad and periods of retrenchment. Nevertheless, Obama remains a retrencher par excellence and would still like for allies to share more of the burden. Yet haven’t we seen what the absence of American global leadership looks like?

Historians will be analyzing the Obama presidency for decades to come, but there are still many early takeaways. Let’s look at a couple.

First, when it comes to the presidency, intelligence is overrated. Nobody is debating whether or not Obama is a smart guy. It’s his judgment, worldview and arrogance that are so problematic.

Yes, it’s important that the president be intelligent, though other qualities -- and surrounding oneself with a solid, intellectually diverse team -- seem far more important.

Second, the abdication of American global leadership remains a clear and present danger, to America, its allies and the world. Like action, dithering is a choice too.

Irrespective of who wins the White House in 2016, we can only hope that he (or she) has learned these lessons.

Taylor Dibbert is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. and the author of Fiesta of Sunset: The Peace Corps, Guatemala and a Search for Truth. Follow him on Twitter @taylordibbert

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