Monday, March 21, 2011


Doctrine: a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated. This is a definition that President Obama would be wise to delineate with respect to his foreign policy positions. Parameters of American leadership count insofar as anticipating America’s engagement in world affairs. After over two years into his presidency is this too much to ask?

Recent events in Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and the resurgent protests in Iran have forced this issue and presented an odd challenge to the President in that a foreign policy doctrine does not appear to exist with any profound and categorical unity of purpose. Why the protests toward democracy? Perhaps the Bush doctrine advocating democracy in these regions, baptized in "Operation Iraqi Freedom", influenced these revolts. A debatable doctrine, but a doctrine nonetheless. 

The president's foreign policy positions to date are a patchwork quilt of ad hoc dithering that has confused and confounded America and the rest of the world. The only significant enthusiasm he has exhibited addressing matters of foreign engagement was his "Apologize for America" world tour, criticizing past presidents for having a clear set of principles on foreign matters. Beyond that, indecisiveness, inactivity and sheer boredom seem to be his guiding principles. Even his decisions to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and continue drone missile strikes against terrorist cells in Pakistan appear to be more of a convenient and tacit affirmation of George W. Bush’s policies than a long-term foreign policy strategic vision.

A clear and concise foreign policy doctrine sets expectations on the part of Americans and the world community. It signifies strength of purpose as America consistently aligns around its principles. Absent this America's homeland safety and its interests abroad are jeopardized, not to mention causing a Carter redux-like blemish on Mr. Obama’s presidency. These warnings came forward in an essay in Political Policy over a year ago entitled "Will Obama's Foreign Polices Be "Carter Redux"?, citing the sage advice of Walter Russell Mead on this topic.

To this point erstwhile Ambassador to the UN John Bolton summed up the dangers of President Obama’s lethargic efforts towards a transparent foreign policy doctrine by saying,
"Weakness in American foreign policy in one region often invites challenges elsewhere, because our adversaries carefully follow diminished American resolve. Similarly, presidential indecisiveness, whether because of uncertainty or internal political struggles, signals that the United States may not respond to international challenges in clear and coherent ways. Taken together, weakness and indecisiveness have proved historically to be a toxic combination for America's global interests. That is exactly the combination we now see under President Obama. Obama is no Harry Truman. At best, he is reprising Jimmy Carter."

Charles Krauthammer went as far to review the president’s foreign policy moves as “… amateurishness, wrapped in naiveté, inside credulity".

As Mr. Bolton’s and Krauthammer’s perspectives on the president’s deficiencies play out in the revolutionary ridden regions, the question remains as to why the president’s inattentiveness to foreign policy. The president’s collectivist ambitions towards re-engineering America’s domestic political systems as a progressive, social democracy could explain his disinterest. The collectivist has a short horizon on international issues, relegating policy attentions primarily to that of the state. Frederick Hayek aptly depicts the profile of the collectivist in his treatise The Road to Serfdom by writing,
"Indeed, the very concepts of humanity and therefore of any form of internationalism are entirely products of the individualist view of man, and there can be no place for them in a collectivist system of thought."

This neatly explains the president’s apathy, but it begs the question “does President Obama care?”. He has no choice in the matter and the time is well past offering up inchoate dithering as an American stance on international relations. World events now demand his undivided attention to such matters and require foreign policy leadership that addresses the big questions—the big questions that are the stuff of a cohesive doctrine.

Will Inboden provides a good first start for the president in his Foreign Policy piece entitled, "Waiting for an 'Obama Doctrine". Mr. Inboden outlines five considerations that could inform a foreign strategy, to include (1) involving the GOP, (2) maintaining a display of American power, (3) exploiting the Arab revolution’s blow to Al Qaeda’s worldview, (4) coordinating a regional strategy with Israel and (5) implementing strategic plans to assist in a new economic order in the revolutionary states.

A good first start indeed, since the world is tired of playing the president’s hide and seek game when it comes to his convictions on foreign policy.

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