September 8, 2009
The Emerging Obama DoctrineBy Joseph Ashby
With casualty counts rising in Afghanistan and generals calling for a change in strategy, our attention is being pulled from political threats to our freedom at home to violent threats to our freedom abroad. Nearly eight months into the Obama Administration, the campaigner who was long on rhetoric and short on particulars is beginning to fill in the details on what will be known as the Obama Doctrine.
America the Transgressor
The first aspect of the Obama Doctrine is a natural outgrowth of his lifelong associations. Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s repeated anti-American screeds, William Ayers’ Vietnam era exploits (which were lionized in Obama’s political and academic circles), the communist leanings and affiliations of Obama’s family and friends have led Obama to the belief that America must apologize for its many evils.
American contrition has always been a central tenet of the Obama agenda. With recent news coverage focusing so heavily on domestic issues, it’s easy to forget Obama’s feverish quest for foreign forgiveness. During his first 100 days, he traveled to Europe and South America in what many aptly dubbed “apology tours.”
Similarly, during a trip to Russia in July, Obama softened U.S. stances on several important issues, effectively apologizing to Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the hard-line diplomacy of the Bush Administration. Perhaps more important than Obama’s diplomatic back-peddling, was the trip itself. The meeting needlessly re-elevated the newly hostile and expansionary Russia to a status not seen since the days of the old Soviet Union. By holding a Soviet-style summit, complete with arms negotiation, Obama stopped just short of apologizing for the U.S. victory in the Cold War.
This “transgressor” line of thinking is what makes Obama believe in direct talks with rogue states like North Korea and Iran and was the underlying strategy of his Cairo speech. It is a belief that the credibility lent by a sincere apology, coupled with the magic of the president’s oratory will change the minds of even the worst characters on the world stage.
Pacifying the Base
The second tenet of the Obama Doctrine is to set American defense policies which appeal to his political base. Obama first used this strategy when announcing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The president provided no plan for the terrorists’ alternative detention or trial, but sent a message to his base that he was undoing Bush-era counterterrorism policies, even if only in spirit.
The much more transparent use of his pacify-the-base strategy is the current investigation of CIA interrogation officials. As the political opposition began to build against a government insurance option in the health care legislation, Obama hinted that he was willing to drop the provision. The absence of government insurance (the promised precursor to socialized medicine) was unacceptable to the president’s leftist base. Worried about losing his political foot soldiers, Obama pulled an ace from his sleeve by appointing a special prosecutor to investigate potential CIA interrogation abuses. The move was welcome news to the left. Obama is hoping the special prosecutor will make a watered-down health care bill easier to swallow for his base.
The victory of U.S. troops in Iraq has shifted the central front in the War on Terror back to Afghanistan. Thus making Afghan strategy the great question of the Obama foreign policy.
For the past several years, the Afghan front has provided a kind of political cover for Democrat candidates and office holders. The Democrat presidential primary campaigns of 2004 and 2008 were, in large part, a contest of who could denounce the Iraq War more forcefully. In 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid famously proclaimed the war “lost.” The rampant Democrat defeatism played well with their base but gave the general public pause when weighing whether to put a Democrat in the White House. To calm worried voters, Democrats talked tough on Afghanistan. "Nobody will work harder to go after those terrorists who will do the American people harm" declared then-candidate Obama, adding that we must engage Al Qaeda on the “right battlefield.”
Inherent in the muscular rhetoric about Afghanistan was the idea that fighting there would not be as difficult as in Iraq. Most news reports came from Iraq. Iraq had far higher troop levels and casualty rates. Iraq was the quagmire, the lost cause. Conversely, Afghanistan was the purposeful war, dominated by Coalition Forces until the Iraqi “distraction.”
Obama took a calculated risk that by being hawkish on Afghanistan he would appear credible on national security and that following through would not be too difficult. For Obama, Afghanistan ceased to be a national security concern and became a pawn in a political chess game.
The difficulties in Afghanistan have put the president in an unexpected position. The fight was more than he bargained for. Al Qaeda and the Taliban don’t know Afghanistan is a political game, they think it’s a war. How we fight the war will likely become the most important plank of Obama’s foreign policy.
As it has thus far manifested itself, the Obama Doctrine is a mix of contrition, petty politics and question marks about the president’s resolve in fighting what he personally described as America’s central war front. Obama’s policies are characteristic of a society in the sun-setting stage of its hegemony; a situation that, if Obama gets his way, may not be far from reality.