Onthe 14th of March, 2016, The Atlantic published Jeffrey Goldberg`sstory entitled, "The Obama Doctrine." In this account,Goldberg documents his wide-ranging chain of interviews withPresident Obama and his chief national security advisors on thepresident`s opinions on national security as well as America`s rolein the international security setting. Through the lens of Goldberg`snarration, I will give my critical assessment of what I believe arethe "fundamentals" of the "Obama Doctrine." Toaccomplish this, I will employ the Merriam-Webster`s definition ofthe word "doctrine," which is "astatement of fundamental policy particularly in internationalrelations."
TheaterSecurity Decision Making
PresidentObama, just like all the other United States Presidents, inheritedinternational relations concerns from his predecessors. According toObama, it is this "Washington playbook" that prescribes ourcountry`s responses to different international events which oftentend to be militarized responses. Therefore, it is this "playbook"that guided all of President Obama`s predecessors when taking oninternational relations issues depending on what was "urgent"and what was "important". Employing the "Washingtonplaybook," President George W. H. Bush, with the backing of hisgovernment`s national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, detachedSaddam Hussein`s army from Kuwait in 1991. In addition to this,President Bush’s administration managed to dismantle the SovietUnion and grill the Chinese leaders shortly after the TiananmenSquare slaughter. According to Obama, it is this playbook that guidedhis predecessor, George W. Bush, to engage himself in an enlargeddestructive war in Afghanistan and Iraq an issue he inherited whenhe took office.
Whencampaigning for the presidency, one of Obama`s goals, as well-definedin his foreign relations policy, was to defuse the Afghanistan-basedterror group Al Qaeda. Playing by the rules of the "Washingtonplaybook," President Obama successfully managed to eliminate AlQaeda`s supreme leader, Osama Bin Laden. To Obama`s administration,this was one international relations problem "liquefied."However, a new international relations issue was brewing in Syriaunder President Obama`s vigil. In August 2013, Assad`s army murderedmore than 1,500 innocent civilians using sarin gas in the suburb ofGhouta. This event triggered strong sentiments in the premiers ofObama’s administration to a point of stating that Assad hadofficially earned himself dire punishment (Goldenberg, 2016). In manysituation room meetings, the only action canvassed for by thenSecretary of State, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry (Secretary of State),and Samantha Power (Obama`s close advisor), among many otherinfluential people in Obama`s administration, was to play by the"Washington playbook" and launch a military attack onGhouta.
However,President Obama chose to issue threats against Assad`s regime overmilitary intervention by defining a "red line" which whencrossed, would warrant the intervention of the United States.According to Obama, the "red line" would be crossed whenAssad`s regime started to use chemical weapons against humanity inSyria. As Assad clung onto power, still perpetrating crimes againsthumanity, the pressure of the international community built onPresident Obama to act despite his initial resistance to intervening.Obama was over time, compelled to engineer an offensive on Ghoutawhich the Pentagon commissioned and immediately set the CIA to starttraining. Nevertheless, on the eve of the attack, President Obama"retrenched" the idea sparking out roars in theinternational community that was bolstering his militaryintervention. The word retrenched, in this context, is employed todenote "cutting the risk, pulling back, spending less andshifting the burdens to the allies." For drawing this sterndecision, President Obama was heavily criticized by the internationalcommunity for not enforcing the "red line" that had beenclearly violated by Assad`s regime. When Obama took office, his planwas to retract from Iraq and Afghanistan. In the fulfillment of hiscampaign promises, Goldenberg (2016) notes that Obama neutralizedOsama Bin Laden to live up to his promise which according to him, hewould be held accountable for. Apparently, President Obama played bythe "Washington playbook" in his first term againstAfghanistan. With the development of the Syrian crisis during hissecond term, President Obama decided not to abide by the "Washingtonplaybook" and not give in to the pressures of the internationalcommunity. Syria, to Obama, was a slippery slope just like Iraq wasto President Bush. Obama did not want to end up like the secondPresident George Bush, who tragically overextended in the MiddleEast, whose illogical military resolutions filled the Wards of WalterReed with severely wounded American soldiers.
Inhis account, Goldenberg (2016) quotes that Obama`s first task as a“post-Bush” President in the contentious international arena was"not to do stupid things." To Obama, the decision to invadeSyria over matters that did not directly affect the national securityof the United States was a stupid thing to do. According to him,risking the life of an American soldier over international issuesthat did not directly compromise the national security of the UnitedStates was a "stupid stunt." And this explains why Obamadecided not to enforce the "red line," and instead,referred the matter back to the Congress for their authorization.Also, President Obama bypassed the "red line" execution toconsult the U.N. so that if he was to perform the Syrian offensivehe would at least have the international community supporting hisbid.
Itis Obama`s opinion that Al Qaeda is a direct threat to the nationalsecurity of the United States. The obliteration of Israel wouldthreaten international security because the United States and itsallies had tightly knit economic ties with Israel warranting U.S.`sarmies intervention (Goldenberg, 2016). However, ISIS and ISIL andtheir involvement in the Syrian conflict are not direct threats tothe United States according to President Obama. In distinguishingwhat is "urgent" and "important," Obama mentionsthat climate change is more "important" because it is apotential threat to the entire world if nothing is done about it. Itis a concern that warrants the attention of each and every country.However, President Obama cites the more "seemingly urgent"issues entail the Syrian conflict, the North Korea aggression threatsor an ISIS/ISIL planned offensive on U.S. soil. Therefore, asPresident Obama notes, it is a challenge for him, and otherpresidents, to distinguish between the important from the urgent, andact on the latter.
PresidentObama views the dependence of the world`s nations on the leadershipof the United Sates with regard to sensitive international relationsissues a test on the presidency set by its adversaries, allies andthe international community. In his account, Goldenberg (2016) makesit clear that Obama complains privately to his advisors and friendsthat our country`s allies seek to exploit our "American muscles"for their "sectarian" objectives. In other words, PresidentObama was rallying against the "foreign policy think tanks"that were placing their bids on the Middle East. It is apparent thatPresident Obama`s "guiding" doctrine is different from thelegendary "Washington playbook." The subsequent section ofthis paper analyzes what according to me are the "fundamentals"of the "Obama Doctrine."
Fundamentalsof Obama Doctrine
InGoldenberg`s (2016) account, President Obama refers to himself as an"idealist" because insofar as he believes, his governmentshould be promoting values like human rights, democracy, and normalvalues, because not only do they serve our country`s best interests,but because they make the world a better place. President Obama is ofthe idea that continents like Africa and Asia need more attentionfrom the United States for the reason that these continents, althoughheavily burdened by poverty, corruption, diseases and poorinfrastructure, are filled with active individuals sweating toimprove their lives through constant innovation not planning onannihilating humanity. To President Obama, focusing on building tieswith these continents is more "important" than the more"urgent" issues of ISIS, ISIL, and North Korea nuclearweapons threats because supporting the development of Africa and Asiawill create a general good for all humanity not the United Statesalone. President Obama notes that Africa and Asia are part of theworld`s greatest significance to the future of America because theyoung people in these continents are concerned about getting a bettereducation and creating things of value rather than thinking abouthow to kill Americans. To echo his assertion, Obama talks about howthe U.S. intervened in Africa when there was an Ebola outbreak. He isquoted saying that his country`s intervention in the epidemic wasbecause the interests were for the common good of everyone not onlythe United States (Goldenberg, 2016). In addition to this, Obamamentions the fact that his government believes that climate change isa direct threat to the world if nothing is done about it.
Therefore,Obama`s administration esteems climate change as more important thanthe more urgent ISIS, ISIL, North Korea, and Syrian issues because itis a concern that needs the intervention of all the continents in theworld since we all stand to be direct beneficiaries of a climaticallycontrolled environment but not a suppression of radical Islamists(Goldenberg, 2016). The negative implication of this approach is thatit has led to the worsening of the situations is the Middle Easebecause as Hillary Clinton puts it, "the gap the U.S. was tofill in the Middle East has been occupied by insurgents escalatingthe already deprived situations" (Goldenberg, 2016).
Itis apparent that in Goldenberg`s (2016) account, President Obama morethan once refers to himself as a "realist." President Obamais a realist in the sense that he acknowledges that the interventionof the United States in the Middle East will not help solve thedeeply rooted "tribalism" that has divided the region. Thetribal division of Islamic states manifested in the regression tosect, creed and village division along unclear lines, is what makesIslam`s attack the people who are "seemingly" differentfrom them including differently oriented Islamic States. In hismemoir, "DreamsFrom My Father,"President Obama reveals his deep reverence for tribalism by depictinghow tribalism in post-colonial Kenya crumbled his father`s life. ToObama, much of the Middle East`s troubles are occasioned bytribalism and the intervention of the U.S. and the internationalcommunity will not help change the situation.
PresidentObama realistically believes that it is the occupants of the MiddleEast that can appropriately sort out their tribal division issues byaccepting the reconstruction of Islamic religious concepts intomodernized doctrines just like the way Christians converted theirreligious ideas that have yielded a never ending union across allChristians worldwide. According to Obama, a change in the Islamicdoctrine is the "real" solution to the Middle East turmoilwhich explains President Obama`s government`s inaction to reinforcethe "red line." Echoing Hillary Clinton`s remarks, JohnKerry, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (crown prince of Abu Dhabi),Abdullah II (King of Jordan), among many more presidents, criticizeObama`s "realist" approach citing it as insensitive to thesuffering of the people in the Middle East (Goldenberg, 2016).
Aftergoing through Goldenberg`s account, I noticed that internationalismis yet another fundamental of the Obama doctrine. The fact that Obamafailed to enforce the "red line" because he did not havethe backing of Germany, Britain and the United Nations is proof thathe Obama is indeed an internationalist. Obama`s action of visitingCuba after an extended sour relationship is evidence that Obama is aninternationalist because he’s action is repairing the UnitedStates’ economic ties with Cuba. In addition to this, Obama`sadministration`s involvement in international relations is proof thathe is an internationalist. For instance, Obama`s participation in thenegotiation of the possession of nuclear weapons by states led to thenuclear arms treaties which have by far, kept the usage of weapons ofmass destruction at bay. Furthermore, Obama`s acknowledgment ofAfrica and Asia as great continents that need more attention from theUnited States is proof that President Obama is an internationalist.
Wereit that he was otherwise, he would have no interest whatsoever insuch developing countries. Neither would Obama`s administration beinterested in taking part in the creation of the nuclear weaponstreaty. Just like all the other approaches employed by Obama`sadministration in tackling international issues, "internationalism"is criticized for being partial in the sense that it is selective.John Kerry argues that if Obama`s administration is indulging itselfin internationalism, then it should also consider sorting issues inthe Middle East as well for them to be part of the "internationalcommunity," instead of sidelining them by not intervening.Through the lens of Goldenberg’s account, these are the elements Iconsider to be the “fundamentals” of the “Obama Doctrine.”
Goldenberg,J. (2016, April). TheObama Doctrine.Retrieved May 06, 2016, fromhttp://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/