If you can’t get Iran or North Korea to talk to you, if Russia has not exactly pushed the reset button you sent them, if China is not a country you can antagonize (if you want to continue to sell Treasury bonds), the next best thing may be to land on Honduras.
Rick Richman, Chicago Democracy In Honduras, September 3, 2009
[T]he pattern of poor relations with close allies is disturbing. Currently embroiled in a quarrel with Israel over Jewish housing construction in East Jerusalem, the administration recently angered the EU by refusing to attend a summit in Madrid, embarrassed Britain by seeming to side with Argentina over negotiations over the Falklands Islands, canceled an invitation to Afghanistan’s President Karzai, and cheesed off Brazil when President Obama made his last minute, ill-fated dash to Copenhagen to snatch the 2016 Olympics from Rio.
Walter Russell Mead, Kicked By The Great White North, March 31 2010
The days leading up to Obama’s decision [on Libya] were perplexing to outsiders. American Presidents usually lead the response to world crises, but Obama seemed to stay hidden that week. From the outside, it looked as though the French were dragging him into the conflict. On March 14th, Clinton arrived in Paris, but she had no firm decision to convey. According to a French official, when Clinton met with President Nicolas Sarkozy she declined to endorse the no-fly zone, which Sarkozy interpreted as American reluctance to do anything. “We started to wonder where, exactly, the Administration was going,” the official said.
The New Yorker, How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy, May 2, 2011.
But let's forget about the last 2 years (um, including last month). All that matters is now.
And now Obama has a policy. I know, because that same New Yorker article says so:
The one consistent thread running through most of Obama’s decisions has been that America must act humbly in the world. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Obama came of age politically during the post-Cold War era, a time when America’s unmatched power created widespread resentment. Obama believes that highly visible American leadership can taint a foreign-policy goal just as easily as it can bolster it. In 2007, Obama said, “America must show—through deeds as well as words—that we stand with those who seek a better life. That child looking up at the helicopter must see America and feel hope.”Wow, it's not just a policy--it's a doctrine: leading from behind!
In 2009 and early 2010, Obama was sometimes criticized for not acting at all. He was cautious during Iran’s Green Revolution and deferential to his generals during the review of Afghanistan strategy. But his response to the Arab Spring has been bolder. He broke with Mubarak at a point when some of the older establishment advised against it. In Libya, he overruled Gates and his military advisers and pushed our allies to adopt a broad and risky intervention. It is too early to know the consequences of these decisions. Libya appears to be entering a protracted civil war; American policy toward Mubarak frightened—and irritated—Saudi Arabia, where instability could send oil prices soaring. The U.S. keeps getting stuck in the Middle East.
Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.” [emphasis added]
Is that something like using the West as a human shield?
That may be the only consistent part of the new Obama Doctrine, because whether you are leading from behind or in front, leadership implies consistency and reliability.
Obama's policies so far appear to supply nothing consistently so much as confusion:
In Syria and Lebanon, there is confusion about the American position. Many believe we are Assad well-wishers, and certainly Obama’s policy for 2009 and 2010 lent credence to that view. Now, the administration is coy: It talks of new sanctions but does not impose them yet. It talks of U.N. action but it is the U.K. and France that introduce the resolution, not the United States. It will not recall the U.S. ambassador who was so foolishly dispatched to Damascus late last year. The White House issues a statement in the president’s name, but in that statement he does not once use the pronoun ‘I’ and he does not say anything on camera — a live statement that al-Jazeera could usefully broadcast into Syria.So what is all this talk about the ideas behind Obama's "unspoken beliefs" and the Obama Doctrine?
Isn't this the kind of talk normally reserved for an election year?
Hat tip: Jennifer Rubin
Technorati Tag: Middle East and Obama.