President Obama’s forceful speech to the United Nations last week appeared to mark a sharp—and welcome—turn in his thinking about Islamist terrorism and the wisdom of U.S. retrenchment.
Rather than dwell on the things a war-weary United States can’t do, Obama spoke with resolve and passion about what America must do. He called out Russia for its aggression against Ukraine and the patent mendacity of its propaganda, promised U.S. help in rolling back the Islamic State, and said Washington would play a leading role in in combating Ebola and climate change.
Gone was the ambivalent note that often creeps into the president’s meditations on American power and the global responsibilities that go with it. Nothing in this speech smacked of “leading from behind.”
Crucially, Obama also brought a new and deeper sense of realism to America’s approach to Middle East turmoil. Up until now, his foreign policy has revolved around the conceit that his administration is “ending America’s wars.” Six years later, it’s glaringly apparent that wars don’t end and terrorists don’t stop killing just because we’ve decided to pack it in.
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