What is the Obama Doctrine? M. Frindéthié (first published on March 30, 2011)

obama-bowsMost American presidents have had some strategic vision driving foreign policy. Clinton had his doctrine: President Clinton believed that in an interconnected world, nothing was absolutely isolated, and therefore, events apparently geographically far from America could indeed have deep implications on the lives of Americans. Terrorism and wars breeding instability on all fronts, America’s role was, Clintonians would argue, to police the world in order to prevent—notice that “prevention” is the operative word—the festering of foreign conflicts from reaching the coasts of America. President Bush’s doctrine was preemption: hit America’s enemies even before they had the opportunity to act; and when it came to America’s security, cumbersome negotiating, such as habitual at the UN or even in Congress, could be circumvented. Bush would strike first and ask other leaders to either fall in line or to dissent and assume the consequences of their choices, such as not having any claim in the loot sharing. Rightly or not, Bush’s strikes on Afghanistan and Iraq were predicated on his firm belief that these countries constituted threats to the US. Even those who question his true motives in Iraq would remember that Bush said once of Saddam: “After all, this man wanted to kill my Dad;” which verifies the preemption doctrine: Get them before they get your kin. So, there seems to be some strategic vision driving foreign policy with the immediate predecessors of Obama, Clinton and Bush.

On the other hand, I have yet to figure out what President Obama’s doctrine is. Is there one? Has anyone figured it out yet? In light of the recent crises in Africa and the Middle East, Obama’s principles guiding foreign policy seem nebulous to me, like one of these metaphysical conjectures that are meant to efface their own traces as soon as they are posited. Anything and its contrary are possible at the same. One can lead by being led at the same time. One can be sure and uncertain at the same time. One can speak now or later at the same time, for time can be and not be of the essence at the same time. This, I confess, is a complicated political polka the steps of which I have yet to figure out.


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