We read so many stories about this “critical juncture” or that “pivotal moment” in foreign policy that it’s hard to know which to take seriously. “Whither NATO?” has been a hardy if sleepy perennial since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in 1949.
But this time the credibility of NATO, the international order in the Middle East and Europe, and the foreign policy legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency are all genuinely on the line.
If that’s not enough, so is the role of the United States in the world. Can we lead anymore? If we can’t lead the NATO alliance on this, what can we lead on?
So when the president leaves Wales after this week’s NATO summit, he must leave as the leader of a unified, disciplined, and determined “West”—to use the old term. Then he needs to explain to the world in stark language how the United States will build a coalition to crush the barbarous ISIS insurgency and stand up to the schoolyard bully known as Vladimir Putin.
This is a tall order, especially for a president even Sen. Dianne Feinstein calls “too cautious.” But if Obama leads now, we’ll soon forget his recent history of being buffaloed by Putin. We’ll forget that press conference gaffe where he said he had no strategy yet to fight what he calls ISIL. We may even stop noticing that the president and the press can’t even agree on which acronym (ISIS or ISIL?) to use for 13th-century barbarians.