The Emerging Obama Doctrine

Every President has a doctrine regarding foreign policy. As we mark President Obama’s first 100 days, I am thinking of this today, since it has been a subject which has fascinated me because of the legacy it leaves behind. It’s created by initial, overt actions and later formalized by statements and then long after their term however it tends to haunt the President’s entire reputation far beyond their term in office. Of course, Obama has not quite yet defined his doctrine but it is taking shape and I am sure it will be one of engagement and negotiation.

I think it can be best imagined by this quote posted on The Prospect which began evaluating what his foreign policy doctrine might look like one year ago.

“I don’t want to just end the war,” he said, “but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place.”

By contrast, the Bush Doctrine was defensive as could be, focused on “preemptive strikes against potential enemies and promoting democratic regime change”. This got us into big trouble in the past because it was too idealogically focused on myopic American Values. Bush Doctrine.

The Clinton Doctrine seems to be less formal, and of a different sort of intervention, a humanitarian one. Perhaps meaningless today in the retrospective view of our lack of response to Rwanda.

It’s easy … to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread. We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.

The G.W. Bush Doctrine was clearly one of containment.

The policy of containment, first outlined by diplomat George Kennan in “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” represented the second pillar of U.S. foreign policy. It argued for the use of diplomacy backed by sufficient strength in conventional military forces to protect U.S. interests and prevent the USSR from expanding its realm of influence. (See Thematic Essay: History of American Foreign Policy.)

Today it is not that different a world with N. Korea and Pakistan pushing the envelope regarding nuclear proliferation and we still have exposure in Dafur.

So far, Obama hits somewhere in-between. How to help people without starting a war with a country who aims to exploit the situation for their own benefit and who does not value its own citizens. On top of these sparks, places like Iran and N. Africa which are unstable, we must consider the impact of China as a member of the U.N. Security Council. I don’t think this helps anyone with humanitarian intentions since they are behind the times, as a rapidly and squirrely developing nation and whom we treat with preferred nation status.

Yet, I am confident because Obama is not cowering from these issues, and he is aware of them. He’s not gettin’ all Texas on them either. I just hope what he has done so far in outreach prevents a reactive desperate default regarding his doctrine, like some in the past, and that he can continue to shape it gradually and diplomatically so that it accurately reflects the work he intends to do and seems quite equiped to handle.

If Nagin had a Doctrine it would be be, “Pull one over on the people of New Orleans, collect a huge salary, run up a lot of floral delivery bills and high-priced lunches, sign on all my unqualified friends as contractors for no documented outcomes, while travelling to other cities and embarrass residents with my racist comments and do as little as is humanly possible to actually help rebuilding.”

2 Comments so far

  1. termite on April 30th, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

    i hope for many things with our new president.

    i just hope he comes threw on his promise to help us.

    we’ll see.


  2. Traveler (gimbal) on May 21st, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

    "Of course, Obama has not quite yet defined his doctrine" — indeed.

    I suppose that his genuflecting to so many reasonably disliked world leaders has been just a matter of parlor tricks, after all — having nothing to do with his intentions for foreign policy and our national image? (Does he even have any clear intentions, in this regard? "Embrace change", is that it?)

    I’m afraid that the president is, in an awful lot, an idealist — as would be contrasted with, a useful realist. I simply hope he doesn’t sell the nation into the crapper. Adio.



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