One year ago Thursday, President Obama delivered a commencement speech at West Point that aimed to lay out his foreign policy vision for the remainder of his second term.
Although the Syrian conflict seemed to be worsening and Russia was continuing its incursion into Ukraine, the president talked about a more judicious use of military force and instead, relying more on diplomacy and U.S. alliances.
"[W]hen issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake, when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us, then the threshold for military action must be higher. In such circumstances, we should not go it alone. Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action," the president told the graduating cadets.
Americans at that moment still knew little of ISIS, and in fact, the president did not mention the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) by name in his speech. Since then, these insurgents have grown to dominate the concerns of U.S. foreign policy.
Less than a month after the address, the president began sending military advisers to assist the Iraqi army as Islamic militants seized the Iraqi city of Mosul and began moving closer to Baghdad. In August, the U.S. conducted airstrikes to stop the ISIS advance and, later that month after the group beheaded American journalist James Foley, the president called for a "common effort to extract this cancer."
The rapid rise of ISIS to the forefront of America's foreign policy problems is emblematic of how much has changed in the year since the president spoke. He has removed troops from Iraq - a decision that has been criticized given ISIS' rise and one that some lawmakers are pushing to reverse, given the group's most recent territorial victories. He talked about winding down the war in Afghanistan - a process that has been slowed to allow Afghan security forces more time to prepare. The Iran nuclear deal the president touted in 2014 is moving forward, but faces opposition from Congress and U.S. allies. The U.S. has made no progress in pushing Russia out of Ukraine despite ongoing sanctions against key leaders and companies.
A year ago, the president insisted, "U.S. military action cannot be the only, or even primary, component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail."
However, for those who were critical of the president's attempt to recast U.S. foreign policy, the changing world order is evidence that his policy prescriptions were insufficient.
"One problem with this president is he gives very good speeches, he describes concepts well, but he doesn't address real problems with real solutions," Center for Strategic and International Studies Analyst Anthony Cordesman told CBS News. "You sometimes have to say this problem is too difficult to address now, in ways which we can easily afford or where we have a reasonable case for intervening, but you do not then assume that allies or anyone else is going to do it."
Offering a frank assessment of the Middle East as it stands now, Cordesman said there was little clear progress in Iraq, scarcely any in Yemen, a far worse situation in Syria, no engagement in Libya, and an Afghanistan in which no partners are filling the void left by American withdrawal. He also argued that there is no unity of action in NATO, something that Mr. Obama did not address in his speech but that is critically important.
"We haven't led from behind, we haven't seen allies move forward, in a lot of ways we really haven't led at all," he said. "The president's speech essentially did not really in any realistic sense address any of the problems we face then, and it doesn't face any of the problems we face now."
A major focus of the West Point speech was to lay out a strategy to fight terrorism, which Mr. Obama identified as "the most direct threat to America at home and abroad."
"A strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable. I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy -- drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold," the president said at the time.
Mr. Obama emphasized diplomacy and reliance on regional allies to do the ground work of battling extremist groups, which could allow the U.S. to avoid further combat in the Middle East.
CBS News Senior National Security Analyst Juan Zarate said that a year ago, ISIS was not central to the national security debate or the fight on terrorism - and that it shows the limits of the strategy the president laid out.
"The threat itself has quickened in a way that has overtaken, in many ways, this speech and the strategy," Zarate said. "As we've seen in Iraq recently the reality is that our proxies and our friends on the ground frankly may not be able or even willing in some cases to take on the fight."
That was an issue raised by Foreign Policy Group CEO and Editor David Rothkopf after Mr. Obama's 2014 speech.
"You can't fault a president who was elected to undo the mistakes of steroidal unilateralism by seeking to embrace partnership. Indeed, leveraging U.S. power with that of engaged, committed allies has been an essential element of most major U.S. international triumphs of the past century," he wrote. "But calling someone a partner doesn't make them one -- nor does it make them a useful ally. And one of the big lessons of the crises of the Obama years has been that Washington has either not had good partners or has not been able to motivate the good partners it does have to do enough to help achieve long-term goals."
That problem has been on full display in recent weeks as ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi and then the Syrian city of Palmyra. After the militants had driven Iraqi troops out of Ramadi, Defense Secretary Ash Carter complained that the Iraqi troops "showed no will to fight."
"What do you do in the case of a festering or growing threat where our allies just aren't able to actually contain the threat or to defeat it and where you actually do need American military power in advance to try to degrade - if not defeat - a threat like the Islamic State," Zarate said.
Foreign policy analysts who were more forgiving, such as the Wilson Center's Aaron David Miller, argued that the 2014 speech was an exact reflection of the priorities for which Obama had advocated his entire presidency, and those who were dissatisfied had not been paying attention. "We whine and pine for the foreign policy president we want rather than the one we have. And we refuse to accept the possibility that Obama's view of the world -- visionless, minimalist, and focused far more on the middle class than the Middle East -- is well-suited to the times and, in certain respects, quite productive," he wrote in Foreign Policy after the speech.
But today Miller says the strategy cannot solve the problems facing the U.S.
"Obama is trapped between a unilateral approach to fighting terror with thousands of U.S. ground forces that he's abandoned and a mulitilateral approach that relies on regional partners that really isn't working," Miller told CBS News in an email. "He's groping for an approach against ISIS and [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] that finds the balance between being all in and not in. And so far, he hasn't found it."