President Obama’s foreign-policy address last week at West Point must be read for its timing as well as its content.
Mr. Obama still has 2½ years until he leaves the White House. Despite the consistent recalcitrance he encounters in Congress, and whatever the outcome of this year’s congressional elections, he can use his executive authority with no more elections of his own to face.
The West Point speech showed less vigor and originality than might have been expected from a president who campaigned on “change you can believe in.” The United States remains the exceptional, necessary leader in world affairs, whether it wants to be or not.
Mr. Obama suggested that America also can work to lead the world through collective relationships with institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, through cooperation with Asian and other Pacific nations, and through the United Nations and other international organizations. That has not worked awfully well in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya.
Europe remains generally faithful to U.S. leadership because of America’s military might. It might need us again if Russia under Vladimir Putin’s leadership becomes too aggressive. Yet voters showed themselves in the recent European parliamentary elections to be turning more isolationist in their national policies.
President Obama’s attempt to set out his foreign policy for the rest of his term is useful. But his speech was not something that would work on a banner — or a bumper sticker — as a rallying cry for the United States to going forward in the world. Perhaps the worst part is that Americans know Mr. Obama can do better.