WASHINGTON — Syria, Russia, al-Qaeda and climate change will all be discussed Wednesday during a landmark speech delineating US President Barack Obama’s foreign policy for the remainder of his term in office. Addressing the United States Military Academy at West Point’s graduation Wednesday, Obama is expected to discuss the balance between US leadership and international cooperation, but the administration’s recent failure to broker an Israel-Palestinian comprehensive accord was not among the list of topics mentioned for inclusion by administration officials.
White House staff have described the foreign policy vision to be projected by the speech as “interventionist and internationalist, but not isolationist or unilateral.” The internationalist themes will include fostering increased cooperation on international trade and climate change.
During the speech, the president is expected to address a number of specific foreign policy challenges for the administration, including the ongoing situation in the Ukraine, the civil war in Syria, and US strategy for Iran. The president reportedly will describe the US as moving from a period of war in Iraq and Afghanistan to a new type of engagement.
According to multiple senior administration officials, counterterrorism will be a significant theme in the speech, and the president will describe how the US can confront a changing threat from a decentralized al-Qaeda.
The president’s announcement Tuesday regarding the gradual reduction of American forces in Afghanistan is in concert with the counterterrorism outlook that the speech will convey. According to a senior White House official, the withdrawal of troops from the central Asian country will “assure that we have resources to allocate in terms of counterterrorism across the region.”
“We’re not looking at Afghanistan in isolation; we are looking at this challenge as it extends from Afghanistan and Pakistan all the way to [the] Sahel, and how do we build a strategy that is matched to the threat of today, which is a threat that is less rooted principally in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is more prevalent in some of the other affiliates and extremist groups who have merged or sought to take advantage of instability in other parts of the region,” the senior official said Tuesday afternoon.
Wednesday’s speech will also address the still-mounting tensions between the United States and Russia, as the Russian-sponsored separatist movement in the Ukraine continues to destabilize that country. It will not be the president’s final word on the topic, however. In early June he is scheduled to make a major speech in Warsaw that will reinforce Washington’s commitment to its NATO allies.
The face-off with Russia will be addressed not just in relation to the Ukrainian crisis on Wednesday, but also through Obama’s anticipated message that Washington will step up its support of forces opposing Syrian President Bashar Assad. In recent days, the administration has indicated a willingness to actively train “moderate” anti-Assad opposition groups, likely in anticipation of a public acknowledgment of the plan during the speech at West Point.
Russia and China have vetoed several US-supported attempts for international action on Syria, most recently defeating an attempt last week by UN Security Council members to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In advance of his speech, Obama had a lengthy lunch Tuesday with a handful of America’s leading foreign policy journalists. Obama uses such meetings with senior correspondents to preview his messaging before key policy announcements. The meeting included a number of columnists who frequently reflect upon – and sometimes critique – the administration’s Mideast policy, including Peter Beinart, Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Goldberg.
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