James Foley and the end of the Powell doctrine

It’s not entirely his fault. The Obama administration would argue, rightfully, that these conflicts are complicated and not easy to solve. It didn’t intervene forcefully in Syria to arm the moderates because it was complicated. It didn’t follow-up in Libya because it was complicated. Ukraine is REALLY complicated, and Putin’s intimidating in person.

That’s been the entire problem with Obama’s foreign policy and with the Powell Doctrine from the beginning — most problems are complicated. That’s why they’re problems. Unless you have an enemy who’s read the script, like Saddam in 1990, the result of your doctrine is going to be doing a lot of nothing. When you’re the superpower, nothing feeds disaster. Nothing in Syria fed the Islamic State (ISIS), which grew and metastasized until it massacred Yazidis and beheaded the American journalist James Foley, and thus couldn’t be ignored any more.

The White House finally understands this, and has, however post-iceberg, begun to change course. President Obama’s announcement that the Iraq operations were going to be a “long-term project” to ensure that Islamic State militants could not “cripple a country” was a welcome dose of reality. Not because anybody wants a war, especially a long war; but simply because some problems are complicated. In crises like Rwanda and Darfur and now Iraq, the Powell Doctrine doesn’t help us much. America can be hurt anyway. That’s why Obama has – rightfully – moved on.

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