At a joint press conference with President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines earlier today, Fox News Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry asked President Obama to “answer those critics” who say his foreign policy doctrine “is weakness.” The President delivered a sharp, lengthy rejoinder to critics of his foreign policy, while also taking shots at Fox News and the broader news media, and concluding by telling Henry “You got me all worked up” on the subject.
“As you end this trip, I don’t think I have to remind you there have been a lot of unflattering portraits of your foreign policy right now,” Henry said. “And rather than get into all the details or red lines, excedera, I’d like to give you a chance to lay out what your vision is more than five years into office, what you think the Obama doctrine is in terms of what your guiding principle is on all of these crises, and how you answer those critics who say they think the doctrine is weakness.”
“Well, Ed, I doubt that I’m going to have time to lay out my entire foreign policy doctrine,” the President responded, adding “And there are actually some complimentary pieces as well about my foreign policy, but I’m not sure you ran them.”
The President then went on to attack those criticisms, point by point, noting that “Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force,” and asking “why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget? And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?”
“My job as Commander-in-Chief is to deploy military force as a last resort, and to deploy it wisely,” he continued. “And, frankly, most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests.”
On Syria, the President pointed out that his critics “say, no, no, no, we don’t mean sending in troops,” and asked “Well, what do you mean?”
“Well, you should be assisting the opposition — well, we’re assisting the opposition,” President Obama said, then asked “What else do you mean? Well, perhaps you should have taken a strike in Syria to get chemical weapons out of Syria. Well, it turns out we’re getting chemical weapons out of Syria without having initiated a strike. So what else are you talking about? And at that point it kind of trails off.”
On Ukraine, the President asked of those critics, “What else should we be doing? Well, we shouldn’t be putting troops in, the critics will say. That’s not what we mean. Well, okay, what are you saying? Well, we should be arming the Ukrainians more. Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army? Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we’re applying?”
“The point is that for some reason many who were proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again,” the President said. “Why? I don’t know.”
President Obama went on to take another shot at the political media, telling Henry that the U.S. doesn’t take actions “because somebody sitting in an office in Washington or New York think it would look strong. That’s not how we make foreign policy. And if you look at the results of what we’ve done over the last five years, it is fair to say that our alliances are stronger, our partnerships are stronger, and in the Asia Pacific region, just to take one example, we are much better positioned to work with the peoples here on a whole range of issues of mutual interest.”
“And that may not always be sexy,” the President concluded. “That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good arguments on Sunday morning shows. But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.
When Henry circled back to an earlier question, the President joked “You got me all worked up on the other one.”
Here’s video of the exchange, via The White House: