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Thread: The Obama Doctrine

  1. #1
    To vex the world rather than divert it. Villerar's Avatar
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    The Obama Doctrine

    As mention in the Libya topic, there is a humongous article about Obama's foreign policy in The Atlantic.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/...ctrine/471525/

    Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.

    Obama, in whose Cabinet Kerry serves faithfully, but with some exasperation, is himself given to vaulting oratory, but not usually of the martial sort associated with Churchill. Obama believes that the Manichaeanism, and eloquently rendered bellicosity, commonly associated with Churchill were justified by Hitler’s rise, and were at times defensible in the struggle against the Soviet Union. But he also thinks rhetoric should be weaponized sparingly, if at all, in today’s more ambiguous and complicated international arena. The president believes that Churchillian rhetoric and, more to the point, Churchillian habits of thought, helped bring his predecessor, George W. Bush, to ruinous war in Iraq. Obama entered the White House bent on getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan; he was not seeking new dragons to slay. And he was particularly mindful of promising victory in conflicts he believed to be unwinnable. “If you were to say, for instance, that we’re going to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and build a prosperous democracy instead, the president is aware that someone, seven years later, is going to hold you to that promise,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, and his foreign-policy amanuensis, told me not long ago.
    Some important highlights:
    - Atypically for an American Christian, Hobbes figures a lot in Obama's thinking.
    - The American president expresses at several times contempt for the Washingtonian foreign policy complex and their fetish for strongmanship.
    - He apparently struggles a bit with his Spockian reputation and with giving more visceral responses to fear, but thinks that unresponsiveness to hysteria and not fuelling it is the better weakness (and he is probably right - it keeps resources where they should).
    - Obama really loves East and Southeast Asia, which he regards as the future. Possibly, but it clearly isn't the area where the most committed allies of America are.
    - Surprising is his optimism about Latin America: certainly, he has had his successes there and there are many new opportunities there for the. This doesn't seem to be strongly informed by a historical perspective of American domination there, but it is to some extent. Obama regards a couple of interventions under Reagan there as important failures, but does not seem to take a particularly systematic approach to American overreach in the region (unlike someone like Sanders).
    - Europe doesn't figure a lot in the interview, but he doesn't seem very interested in it and takes the position, American privileged I note (as a Eurofederalist), that the European NATO allies are free loaders. That is one view, another view is that the European allies (and a few from elsewhere, such as Asia) graciously aided the States in Afghanistan out of solidarity, a few stupidly defended the quagmire in Iraq, and that they were overstretched by bellicose US policy (really the neoconservatives' fault, not Obama's).
    - Obama is confident, vis-à-vis his staff, especially John Kerry, that Russia overextended itself in Syria (which is interesting, he likely knows some things that we don't). Overall, he is not extremely anti-Russian and gets along reasonably well with Putin, despite Putin seeing his dead hand behind the great dictator's hardships with Europe. Putin is paranoid that the United States might try to unseat him in a violent regime change, using democratic results or popular protests as a justification.
    - In the end, China is his main concern apart from climate change, he really hopes that China becomes a confident country that will be a reliable partner for the USA.
    - The importance of the Middle East has been downgraded and it is not the region itself, but the time it could detract from other areas that is Obama's main concern. He is rather fatalistic about the region, which leads to some uglier, stereotyping aspects of his thinking in my mind.
    - Pakistan is regarded by the White House as an untrustworthy ally and a failed state. That seems an important justification (rationalisation) for the Obama administration to violate its sovereignty time after time.

    Obama's rather stereotypical, perennialist views of the Middle East has some advantages (no facile interventionist plans to plant democracy) but it is on some levels lazy (look at how much US foreign aid is geared to geopolitics, not improving conditions in target countries), and it causes him to actions in Pakistan and Yemen that if anything exacerbate the current state of affairs (drone strikes, violation of sovereignty, unknown numbers of civilian deaths that are likely a lot higher than what the administration claims because their criteria are positively frenetic). It is entirely reasonable that many Muslims hate such deeds, but seeing it as a mix of a Hobbesian free-for-all, a battle for the Muslim soul (unfortunately this is echoed by Clinton and Sanders) and simply the slugging grounds of Saudi Arabia and Iran (that is on the money) isn't going to lead to a critical investigation of that causal factor. Long-term determination and involvement in actual improving a country and eliminating corruption probably could entrench a much more civilian, tolerant and lawful regime (but money strings do not attempt that at all). And realistically, Pakistan is a rare example of an Islamic country where semi-functional democracy has resurged several times despite the odds. That country deserves more respect for that.

    To Obama's credit, he steers clear of the abject senselessness that is Huntington's thesis. In calling him perennialist, I don't imply he thinks there are perennial conflict between the West and Islam, just that he thinks that the Middle East will be a more or less perennial mess.
    Last edited by Villerar; March 12th, 2016 at 04:52 PM.

  2. #2
    To vex the world rather than divert it. Villerar's Avatar
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    Re: The Obama Doctrine

    Obama's statements on Syria were sharply criticised by a British academic. To be honest, I think that Obama's statements are presented so bluntly and caricatured that it's almost a misconstrual, but then I have little love for the liberal interventionists of course.

    https://theconversation.com/obama-bl...nterview-56224

    In the last months of his administration, US President Bill Clinton tried to resolve the Israel-Palestine dispute. The effort fell short, but it was the closest anyone came to resolving the conflict since the creation of the Israeli State in 1948.

    In the last months of his administration, President Barack Obama is giving interviews to explain how everyone else is to blame for the five-year Syrian conflict – which has supplanted the Israeli-Palestinian issue as the region’s destabilising centre and shows no sign of receding.

    Rather than evaluate what could be done to mitigate the damage, Obama has chided allies such as Britain, Germany, and France. He has implicitly lashed out at his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as she campaigns to succeed him. And he has shown little regard for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have been killed and the millions who have been displaced, and who will continue to die and flee in his final months in office.

  3. #3
    To vex the world rather than divert it. Villerar's Avatar
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    Re: The Obama Doctrine

    I think this article is similarly uncharitable of Obama on his Syrian decision and on Libya, but it does a nice job of shaking up the American exceptionalist "free riders" trope.

    https://theconversation.com/obamas-d...tic-trip-57994

    Barack Obama’s visit to Britain, brings with it plenty of chatter about the so-called “special relationship” between the US and the UK. Coming as Britain prepares for a referendum on European Union membership, the visit has already kicked off a political bunfight about the Americans “ordering” Britons how to vote on June 23, with Obama to weigh in explicitly on why a Brexit would be a seriously bad idea.

    But this neurosis about being bossed around by Washington misses the bigger point about how Obama sees Britain and its neighbours. Whenever he swings through Europe, he makes a public show of friendship and unity – but he clearly thinks the US is being exploited by a troublesome continent that relies on American power to shore itself up.

    This is a misdiagnosis on his part. The issue here is not European fecklessness, but Obama’s imperative to gloss over his own foreign policy failings.

    He can rightly claim credit for achievements such as the rapprochement with Cuba, a steady, pragmatic relationship with China, and a step back from the confrontation, aggression and abuse of the George W Bush years. The problem is that he wants the catastrophes that unfolded on his watch dismissed as beyond his control.

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