The Obama Doctrine


David Remnick looks at Obama's 'none doctrinal' foreign policy doctrine:

Part of Obama’s anti-doctrinal doctrine is that it insists on the recognition of differences in a way that Bush’s fixed ideas did not. Complex as Libya was, and remains, Syria is infinitely more so. Qaddafi had been despised in the Arab world for decades; support in the region for his removal was hardly impossible to conjure. Bashar al-Assad is proving himself no less a despot, but Syria, because of its relationship with Iran, has ties to countries on the Security Council (Russia, for one) that Libya did not. Obama has tried to embolden the opposition; he has urged countries like Turkey to cut off trade, and pushed for tougher sanctions, to make it clear that displays of tyranny will not be without cost.

With what results? There are no sure outcomes in foreign policy, only a calculation of consequences, guided by an appraisal of national interests and values. The trouble with so much of the conservative critique of Obama’s foreign policy is that it cares less about outcomes than about the assertion of America’s power and the affirmation of its glory. In the case of Libya, Obama led from a place of no glory, and, in the eyes of his critics, no results could ever vindicate such a strategy. Yet a calculated modesty can augment a nation’s true influence. Obama would not be the first statesman to realize that it can be easier to win if you don’t need to trumpet your victory.

I think there are two equally valid views of Obama's politics - the first is the institutional analyis that looks at American policy as a whole. In this regard, Obama fits the mold of a centrist Democrat beholden to the banks, historical allegiences to all sorts of nasty dictators and an imperialist agenda set by economic interests stemming from the late 1940's (when America emerged as the world's major super power).

The other is a more subtle understanding of Obama's movement within the confines of the political system - and in this regard, Obama deserves a lot of praise. He is contending with a horrific economy, a lunatic opposition, and the remnants of two disastrous foreign wars. And he has managed to do quite a bit over the past three years - much of it without grand standing or tooting his own horn.

Remnick's take on Obama's foreign policy isn't the only valid perspective, but it is a useful and insightful one that should give progressives and realists at least a certain degree of comfort. Obama adapts to changing circumstances, a big deviation from the past President and an absolute necessity in keeping the country together in such trying times.

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