Obama’s “blind rhetoric”: Making speeches instead of foreign policy

The Observer has the impression that President Barack Obama has decided to take the easy route in foreign policy, and just go around the world delivering fine speeches articulating his visions of desirable developments in international affairs, but with little attention to the views of other critical countries, or the hard work of negotiating with adversaries and allies to develop effective initiatives that have any realistic chances of success.

It is intellectual speech-making divorced from the realities and requirements of building an effective foreign policy manifested in actions, and not just words.

Obama’s recent Berlin speech on the need for a reduction in nuclear weapons offers an important case in point. Arms control agreements require above all a minimum level of trust–between the nations that sign on to their provisions, and also among the two-thirds of the members of the Senate whose affirmative vote is required for their ratification.

That trust doesnot exist today between Moscow and Wasington, or among the members of the Senate, who only recently failed to ratify a United Nations covention to protect the rights of handicapped individuals.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry appears embarked on a similar journey of making the case for good actions and negotiated solutions, most recently on the Israeli-Palestine issue, but without a strategy for sustained use of U. S. power and inluence to achieve the desired result.

See “Editorial, ‘Blind Rhetoric,’ The Daily Star (Beirut),
June 27, 2013.

One almost has the sense that there are two groups of people in Washington: 1) those who have followed developments closely in a country or region for a number or years (e.g., Afghanistan, Syria), and 2) those who have only recently become interested in the country or subject in any detail, and whose understanding is limited to what they hear from others or read in their briefing papers.

And, as luck would have it, it is the second group, led by Obama himself, that seems to be making the decisions–and charting America’s foreign policy in the maelstrom of current events. They appear to be like sailors, cast about on storm-tossed seas, without a compass or even a sextant, or a course laid out before they left home port.

As The Daily Star put it, in the Editorial cited above,

Kerry, like his predecessor Hillary Clinton and others, appears to ignore the idea that a foreign policy based on making statements and performing positive spin control can run into trouble when people discover there is no actual vision or urgency behind such rhetoric. As a result, Washington’s credibility sinks even further, while the perception that the Obama administration has no true foreign policy steadily gains ground. The only question is whether U.S. officials are truly aware of the damage they are doing to their country’s interests.

Obama and Kerry are making great speeches. But after four years of words not backed by actions, is anybody listening?

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.