We are experiencing the foreign policy President Obama wants us to experience. On Thursday afternoon, when a reporter asked him if America would use force to help restore order to Iraq, the president said, “I gave a very long speech about this” at West Point. That “very long speech” was almost universally panned. Ranging from Boko Haram to the Law of the Sea Treaty, its argument was one Obama has made since the beginning of his presidency: that America should not act unilaterally unless our “vital” interests, as defined by Obama, are threatened. On all other “issues of global concern,” we “should not go it alone,” but rather “broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development, sanctions and isolation, appeals to international law, and, if just, necessary, and effective, multilateral military action.”
Broadened tools, soft power, carrots and sticks in the form of sanctions, and international law are the means by which liberal internationalists such as Obama limit the range of forceful U.S. action on the world stage. They are the ingredients in the foreign-policy recipe that has brought chaos to the Middle East—including more than 150,000 Syrians dead and an empowered Iran—and has given us the Russian annexation of Crimea, guerrilla war in eastern Ukraine, a bullying China, a degraded U.S. military, and a disapproving American public.