In a concerted effort to revive the feelings of hope and promise felt globally during his worldwide tour as a presidential candidate in 2008, President Barack Obama gave a major foreign policy speech in Berlin this morning, promoting transatlantic partnership, global unity, democracy, and peace around the world.
The major staple of Obama’s speech was a proposal for a joint, negotiated reduction in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapon stockpiles.
This is a logical step for an Obama administration which is seeking to repair deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations and continue the work started by the New START treaty which limits U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles.
A smaller, yet arguably more relevant part of Obama’s address, focused on the many criticisms of the administration's foreign policies.
"…last month I spoke about America’s efforts against terrorism. And I drew inspiration from one of our founding fathers, James Madison, who wrote, 'No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.' James Madison is right — which is why, even as we remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism, we must move beyond a mindset of perpetual war. And in America, that means redoubling our efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo. It means tightly controlling our use of new technologies like drones. It means balancing the pursuit of security with the protection of privacy."
This short paragraph is densely packed with promises. Let’s examine them one by one.
1. Perpetual War:
Obama called for "mov[ing] beyond a mindset of perpetual war."
In 2011 we saw the end of the Iraq War and as the war in Afghanistan winds down, America has an opportunity to shift away from the mindset of "continual warfare." The prospects for such a change in the mentality of our global outlook, however, remains bleak.
During the Libyan Civil War, the United States — and allies — sided with the opposition, providing naval and aerial support to the rebels and using military intervention to attack the Gaddafi regime.
Now, as the Syrian Civil War begins to spiral out of control, President Obama has vowed to provide weapons and military equipment to the Syrian rebels as part of a larger plan to officially join the conflict and involve the U.S. in another foreign war.
2. Guantanamo Bay:
In today’s speech, Obama specifically called for "redoubling our efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo."
In 2008, Obama assured the American people he would close the Guantanamo Bay Prison. Five years later, Guantanamo Bay remains fully operational. He continues to struggle to answer the question he posed himself during his 2008 speech in Berlin when he asked, "Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law?"
He has partially answered that question by juxtaposing his rhetoric to close the prison camp with his inaction to actually do so.
The same president that is proposing "…tightly controlling our use of new technologies like drones" is the only man in the world not doing so. In the administration's first term alone, the number drone strikes has already increased six times and continues to rise.
For the recorded first time in American history, the president authorized the killing of an American citizen overseas, which has stirred a national debate about the president's ability to execute an American citizen without any trial or due process. This unconstitutional practice has drawn the ire of the American public, with a majority of Americans opposing the U.S. government's ability to target American citizens abroad.
It even took a 13-hour filibuster from libertarian Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to gain clarification and insurance from Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama that drone strikes could not be used against noncombatant American citizens accused of terrorism on American soil.
Obama's call to balance "the pursuit of security with the protection of privacy" is the most egregious claim of them all. On the same day he promised protecting privacy, he unabashedly rebuked criticisms of the NSA's surveillance program and defended the federal government's indiscriminate collection of our personal data.
Obama's justification and support of these policies completely invalidates any claim to work towards "the protection of privacy" and negates efforts to calm a distressed public. We cannot take these claims of respect of privacy seriously, even if they fall under the pretense of security, as long as such extensive practices of the NSA occur.
This type of rhetoric from the president is nothing short of misleading and frustrating. These words are only empty promises of change. These are the same promises and assurances we heard in 2008 from then-candidate Obama and are the same promises and assurances he has failed to deliver on.
While his proposal to work with Russia in reducing nuclear arsenals has some support, the rest of his speech has left many shaking their heads, wondering if Obama will deliver on his assurances and back his rhetoric with cogent action.
Already into his second term, Obama's talk of peace, privacy, democracy and transparency — the same talk that "earned" him a Nobel Peace Prize — has yet to be substantiated. He has failed time and time again to support promise with action and doctrine with legislation.
Whether you support his policies or not, his speech left me wondering if he will ever take his own advice and suggestions seriously.
Will this president deliver on the tenets he preaches or will he disappoint us for another four years?