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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

President Obama at West Point - military leadership by empowerment

President Obama told West Point graduates about how future military leaders will no longer be judged on how many wars they fight, but by how many allies they lead.

A Christian Science Monitor (CSM) reports: Obama's vision of US as 'empowering partners'

In his West Point speech, President Obama firmly plants a vision of US leadership as a 'hub of alliances' with the task of 'empowering partners' – not as a global cop. The US can refocus itself as a world coach mainly because humanity has made progress in shared ideals that promote peace.

Although I'm not a expert on presidential speeches, I doubt the concept of  peace isn't exactly what West Point graduates study during their four undergraduate years. I wonder if anyone interviewed the graduates, to get their opinion, after President Obama spoke?

Hopefully, President Obama's focus on peace rather than on the strategies of war will resonate with future military leaders in the graduating audience. I doubt the future military leaders who graduated this year will face a world intent on building peace.

Coalition building is obviously essential for any military leader. Nevertheless, the last time America won a declared fighting war was when our nation was closely allied with the Europeans in World Wars I and II, and with the Australians, New Zealanders and British in the Pacific front. Warfare has changed dramatically since the evil of terrorism has influenced the ambitions of developing nations. American officers are increasingly strategic politicians, while the fighting of wars is led by tactical fighters and high tech equipment.

Moreover, President Obama has spoken often about his vision for America’s role in the world. His speech Wednesday at the West Point graduation was different. It firmly planted the idea that the US is the global leader simply for its ability to persuade other nations to join it in solving global issues.

Well, it's certainly altruistic to believe in the power of persuasion; but President Obama's vision requires strong leadership. Right now, a global power struggle is going on between President Obama and Russia's President Putin while the world closely watches the dynamics and words spoken by both leaders. 

It's doubtful Russia's President Putin can be be persuaded to do anything outside of supporting his ambitions. Persuasion will require the dynamic leadership in the spirit of Winston Churchill, to summon a tight coalition capable of pushing back on President Putin's ambitions.

Remarkable, President Obama called for “empowering partners.” To be sure, the US will always act on its own against a direct threat to itself. But in tackling world problems, such as the Syrian war or the standoff in Ukraine, the US must act simply as the “hub of alliances,” as it has steadily done over the past century. This leader-as-coach role has made the US an exceptional nation, although sometimes Britain or France have led interventions in world trouble-spots. “If we don’t [do it], no one else will,” he said.

To put meat on the concept, he asked Congress to provide up to $5 billion for a “counterterrorism partnerships fund.” The money would be spent to aid countries at risk of becoming outposts for jihadists who might attack the US or its allies. The list of potential countries ranges from Pakistan to Nigeria.

He also hinted at reform of institutions designed by the US after World War II to keep and promote peace. These include the United Nations and World Bank. “Evolving these institutions to meet the demands of today must be a critical part of American leadership,” he said.

He did not say so, but Mr. Obama’s vision is based on an assumption that humanity has made rapid progress over the past 70 years on human rights, rule of law, equality, and freedom. With more nations adopting such ideals, the US leads more by persuasion than military action, by asserting right over might. Tyranny still exists – such as Russia taking Crimea – but Obama’s vision of leadership implies that global progress has elevated human nature to an advanced state. 

Noble words, but, as the CSM surmises, "Such a promise has been proclaimed in the past only to be disapproved by major war".

I wonder who, among the West Point graduates in the audience when President Obama spoke about peace, will be the leader who must prepare our nation for war. Surely, these young men and women graduates will be empowered to lead wars as well as peace.

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