What is the Obama Doctrine?

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Charles Gibson attempted to lecture Sarah Palin on the “Bush doctrine” in foreign affairs, but managed to get it wrong himself while Palin got it mainly correct.  At least Bush had a “doctrine” in foreign policy.  Can anyone identify an Obama doctrine?  Ken Allard, formerly NBC’s military analyst, can’t suss one out at all:

President Barack Obama dithers over Libya with the predictable result that things have become even worse. Earlier administrations might have sent cruisers, but we managed a commercial ferry to evacuate Americans in fear for their lives. The Brits, however, secretly sent inmilitary aircraft to evacuate 150 of their nationals from harm’s way. Even the Dutch sent in three of their Marines — who were promptly taken prisoner by armed Libyan forces.

Meanwhile, the emboldened Moammar Gadhafi set about making three-hour speeches and sending his ragamuffin air force to bomb rebel strongholds — close to strategic oil terminals. …

The serious point — from the Gulf oil disaster to just about five minutes ago — is that we have a continuing failure of presidential leadership.

Elections certainly have consequences, but what exactly is the Obama Doctrine? Assuming there is anything more substantial to his foreign policy than “smart diplomacy,” then what is it? Speak softly to the Muslim world and hoping that it will love us in return? Speak more firmly to Iran and then try to remain calm when it ignores everything we just said? Or North Korea: How’s that working out for us, Mr. President?

On our last NARN broadcast on Saturday, I brought up this very point.  So far, the Obama “doctrine” appears to be that American power should not be used at all.  The ferry issue is one case in point.  Instead of flexing American muscle as a signal to Gaddafi that we will not stand idly by if the regime threatens our people or interests, Obama’s State Department hired a commercial ferry — and selected an inadequate one for the job at first.  That mistake left Americans waiting at the dock for days, while our mighty navy was given no role to play at all.

One cannot claim surprise at this outcome.  During the campaign, Obama made no secret of his distaste for exercises of American power, blasting the Bush administration for its “arrogance” and promising to restore our relationships with allies and opponents alike overseas through greater “humility.”  While readers puzzle over Allard’s question, allow me to ask another — which international relationship has Obama improved in the past two years in real, tangible terms?  Where has his exercise of “smart power” produced measurably better results in increased security or prosperity over that of his predecessor’s much-maligned (and mythical) “unilateralism”?

If there is an Obama doctrine at all — and the vacillating White House responses to various overseas crises strongly suggest there isn’t — it’s that our allies will love us more and our enemies respect us more if we refuse to use our power for our own interests.  That’s a standard belief in academia, but as we can see, what works well in theoretical environments doesn’t necessarily make sense in the real world.

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David Strom 12:31 PM on December 08, 2022