By Matthew Rothschild on May 29, 2014

President Obama’s speech to the West Point graduates on Wednesday revealed a less adventurous military policy than Bush-Cheney’s. But he still endorsed unilateral action, he bowed before the dangerous doctrine of American exceptionalism, and he hinted at the possibility of major power confrontations to come.

Taking an only slightly veiled stab at his predecessor, Obama said, “Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences, without building international support and legitimacy for action, without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.”

But then he admitted that he’d go to war unilaterally under certain circumstances: “when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger.” If the American people face a direct and imminent threat, then the United States has the right under international law to use force. But “when our livelihoods are at stake” is a lot murkier. If, for instance, there was a revolution in Saudi Arabia affecting the price of oil, a President could say our livelihoods are at stake, but it would not be legitimate under international law. Nor would going to war to defend a threat against “the security of our allies.”

He minimized the threat of a major power conflict at one point, only to allude to that possibility later on in his speech. “The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War,” he said. But minutes later, he said: “Regional aggression that goes unchecked—whether in southern Ukraine or the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world—will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military.” To suggest that the U.S. military might confront Moscow over the Ukraine or Beijing over the South China Sea is highly provocative and alarming.

Like Bush before him, Obama equated “democracy and market economies,” and he saluted “the World Bank and IMF” as “force multipliers.”

And he genuflected on the altar of American arrogance. “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” he said. He also repeated the haughty phrase that was popular both in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Said Obama: “The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.” He vowed that it would remain so for 100 years. “That has been true for the century passed, and it will be true for the century to come,” he said.

Such rhetoric only aggravates the American superiority complex, and in an increasingly multipolar world, it surely will be an affront to billions of people the world over.

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Comments

You can have American exceptionalism without military interventionism. You can also stll be the one indispensable nation without getting all superior about it. The key is finding the balance between being the largest, most powerful western capitalist nation in the world without being dicks while we're at it. That's what Obama is trying to do.
does your computer skip when it plays video? Kind of a half reading of the president's remarks don't ya think? I think that we need to file this under the "Because one of them was George W Bush... All of them are George W Bush" I suppose your first draft of this speech would have been, "We Suck, We have always sucked, and no matter how much we may try we will continue to suck" P.s. That phrase or some variant of it has been popular since.. um... always and many other countries have the nerve to say that about themselves as well... Good Grief
I am pissed of becuase as I'm all excited to subscribe to your magazine afterrecievng a mailing from you ( which I'm sure must have been sent over from Mother Jones list?) and THEN i read this BULL ISH article bad mothing Obama for his speech at West Point last week or so and You start NIT PIcking and Trying to intellectualize and COMPARING HIM TO BUSH?!?? this is where i get PISSED- i don't know how old you are , perhaps you don't recall, but say what you WANT but President Obama is NOT LIKE BUSH at All. There are a LOT of things SERIOUSLY wrong in this country now, BUT FRaNKLY, OBAMA is NOT a SERIOUS problem in this countryand if that is where you're coming from you're magazine YOU will NOT be too successful in the US. Just go to another country. seriously, and bitch about the usa.. i can't beleive HE is who you are writing about with all these f'ing Crazy, f'ed up SiCK REPUBLICANS seriously ruining this country with their Gun laws, putting women back to the 40's, wanting people to DIE in half the states in this country rather than have healthcare, and people LIVE ON DUST. rather than pay a living wage- I was going to purchase FoUR SUBS- you idiots. Get your act together and i might reconsider. I will check back. write some good stuff and get off POTUS- he's FAR BETTER THAN what we've had and COULD end up with! you writers need to SMELL THE coffee ...please.
Regarding Ms Greens comment. Pres Obama is just as bad as Bush. And hes like Reagen too. A great orator, smlilng at you and all, and behind the scenes, the empire is failing! He's expanded our incursions with his drones, killing not only "terorrists," but women children and other innocents too! And all to the tune of 2 billion dollars a week! Not counting VA costs for many years to come! Its no wonder that people are mad at us and want to attack us! Maybe he should visit the areas he's bombed to view the damage he's wrought! See, Obama has never been to war, along with Bush and Clinton. Iam a Vietnam veteran, and Ive have seen the horrors of war first hand. The stench of the dead piled up for days along the roads to warn others, the destruction from our bombs, and of course, people shooting at you on a daily basis! And I see the damage of these wars at home here when ever I visit the VA Hospital. Young men, and now women too, damaged for life...for what..oil? Our "interests?". Ms Green. Take a trip to a VA Hospital. You may not get in, but you can stand outside and watch them come in. Or, better yet, become a reporter and or a photographer and get imbeded with an Infantry unit. You'll see your tax dollars at work! It might make you feel different towards the empty suit named Obama!
Rather he bow to our exceptionalism than to the King of Saudi Arabia!

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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