by Barry Rubin
Yes, children, there is an Obama Doctrine. The administration has now produced a National Security Strategy.
I’m tempted to say that in this document the Obama Administration does a Dr. Kevorkian on
Yes, the worldview looks good on paper, at least to those who put it together and the groupthink they represent. The main theme is that
Of course, every power has very distinct limits as to what it can do. The
In a sense, the Obama Administration's strategy for getting sanctions against
Oh, and a good strategy also involves acting as if you are stronger than you are sometimes. If you keep running yourself down your friends and enemies might believe you.
By understating what the United States can and should do--arguably in an equal and opposite way to how the Bush Administration overstated it--is, to put it bluntly, like placing a big "kick me!" sign on America's derriere. In relative terms, Reagan got it right for his time,
“The burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone,” Mr. Obama writes in the introduction to the strategy document. “Indeed, our adversaries would like to see
Yet that point is missed. If you don't want all the burdens to fall on your own shoulders, you have to press others to do their job and pressure them when they don't do so. By giving up your power to push them, by just asking them politely for help and giving up too much of the initiative, you assure that they do less, not more.
Equally, you don’t overextend precisely so you can concentrate on what’s important, say, pull out of
A lot of this Obama era world view is intended to counter all the things that the Obamites hate about George W. Bush. Yet while one can certainly argue Bush did not wisely use the resources of American power that doesn’t mean American power itself isn’t there. The remedy for excessive unilateralism isn’t excessive multilateralism, or of going from drawing friend/enemy lines too sharply to seeing them vanish entirely.
While there might be times or situations where such a response did little harm, the present day—with threats from revolutionary Islamism, an aggressive Iran-led alliance, anti-American leftists, and resurgent Russian and Chinese ambitious powers—makes the Obama Doctrine a very dangerous course indeed.
How can one not think of the historical precedent. World War One was bloody and horrible. So
Americans were horrified by the Vietnam War and thus became allergic to having a policy that was tough enough, thus leading to paralysis about dealing with the Iranian revolution and ensuing hostage crisis along with other problems.
What's needed is a smart and balanced policy, not more swings of the pendulum!
Obama argues that
Moreover, Obama’s doctrine calling for bringing in potential competitors (and countries that are either enemies or troublesome) as partners is a case of hiring the foxes to guard the chicken coops.
Think of that sentence. The
We’re going to be seeing a lot more of this.
Moreover, it isn't just a matter of being "responsible" but of analyzing the nature of regimes, their aims, and their self-perceived interests, too.
But reading this doctrine has allowed me to understand something I never fully grasped before. Why does the Obama Administration focus on engaging enemies? Because it is precisely, according to the Obama world view, the “bad boy” powers which must be appeased. After all, since the
That is why "appeasement" is a correct word here, more than I ever realized before. These countries are being offered partnership from a standpoint of weakness, a situation in which even if their price is very high they must be paid off because there is no alternative. What saves the United States and perhaps the world here is that the real enemies (and neither China nor Russia belong in that category) are so confident and extremist that--as we have seen in Iran's case--they will inevitably set the price too high for even the Obama Administration to meet.
Imagine a Western town full of outlaws and with a weak sheriff. The sheriff can deputize the criminals in the belief that this would make them “responsible actors.” Of course, as you probably guess, they would use their badges to rob, rape, and murder even more effectively. Some of them--like
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, following orders and perhaps biting her lip, explained the doctrine this way: “We are shifting from mostly direct application and exercise of American power to one of indirection, that requires patience and partners, and gets results more slowly….In a world like this, American leadership isn’t needed less, it is needed more. And the simple fact is that no global problem can be solved without us.”
Hillary, judging from the opposition to
That's why it is so important to study the words being spoken so closely. Just listen to that sentence again: "No global problem can be solved without us." Yet isn't this like saying, to pick an example, a British prime minister in 1938 saying: Peace in
If Obama and his colleagues feel the
This is dangerous claptrap. Without denying a threat posed by any of these, one could point out that there is no big threat from nuclear weapons (especially compared to the 1950-1990 period); that climate change as a threat is not yet proven nor is the ability of countries to do anything about it given the realistic options they have; that a combination of drilling and technology can deal with the energy problem; and that cyber warfare is still a very speculative threat.
Compare that with
In a move that fully qualifies him for the Nobel Prize for Chutzpah, Obama warns that the high budget deficit is a major threat to
There’s a lot more of interest. The paper says:
“While the use of force is sometimes necessary, we will exhaust other options before war whenever we can, and carefully weigh the costs and risks of action against the costs and risks of inaction.”
Sounds great. But how about the use of power politics, threats, leverage, sticks? Well, once you assert
“Indeed," Obama writes, "our adversaries would like to see
Yes, but those adversaries are equally happy to see you voluntarily throw away
One day there might be another president who is neither a Bush nor an Obama, who will stand up straight, get rid of the wheelchair and canes, and say--to paraphrase Mark Twain--reports of
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.