The Obama Doctrine: Feckless or Logically Coherent?

Marcia Sielaff
Between a stagnant economy, the debt crisis, and the antics of a certain congressman, foreign policy hasn't gotten much attention. Most Americans are comfortable with the assumption that, agree or disagree with specific policies, this administration, like all previous administrations, is pursuing the national interest.  

Douglas J. Feith and Seth Cropsey, writing in the July issue of Commentary, suggest that assumption no longer applies. Never in our history has there been a president who wanted to weaken America's position relative to the rest of the world: until now. The Obama Doctrine Defined by the authors is that "American leadership serving American interests abroad are not a proper guide for future conduct.... The United States should drop its obsession with its own national interests and concentrate on working for the world's general good on an equal footing with other countries, recognizing that it is multinational bodies that grant legitimacy on the world stage."

The authors dispute critics who describe the president's Libya policy as feckless, clueless, or just plain inept. Rather, Feith and Cropsey assert "the administration's approach has logic and coherence in the service of strategic considerations that extend far beyond Libya."

In my view, these "strategic considerations" are so inimical to America's future (and the world's) that the authors' article ought to be served with breakfast every morning from now until the 2012 election. They write:

The key to impeding U.S, unilateralism-and to implementing Obama's strategic vision generally-comes through deepening American involvement with multinational institutions. That is how Obama can bind the United States beyond his own term. He favors cooperation with the International Criminal Court, and pledges "rededication" to the United Nations organization. He champions progressive treaties and has declared it a priority to win Senate approval of the nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the UN treaty for the rights of women.

Obama's priority, when the Libya revolt developed, was to make sure the United States had the approval of the UN Security Council and the Arab League before acting. The contrast between the President's obeisance to the UN and the Arab League and his disdain for Congress by violating the War Powers Act is breath-taking.

Obama's skewed view of history, articulated in his 2009 Cairo speech and elsewhere, is that America is not a force for good in the world; rather, America owes the world an apology for its arrogance and its many mistakes.

Among other examples from like-minded Obama appointees, the authors' quote a 2003 article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the State Department's head of policy planning.

 "It will be time for a new president to show humility rather than just talk about it. The president must ask Americans to acknowledge to ourselves and to the world that we have made serious, even tragic mistakes in the aftermath of September 11-in invading Iraq, in condoning torture and flouting international law, and in denying the very existence of global warming until a hurricane destroyed one of our beloved cities...[W]e should make clear that our hubris, as in the old Greek myths, has diminished us and led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths."

The President has vowed to transform America's relations with the rest of the world. He envisions an America guided by multinational institutions and committed to "transnational law." Such an America would be committed to internationally defined rights and laws, not to a democratically elected legislature (nor, need it be said, the Constitution). It requires putting the interests of the 'international community before the national interest.  

At the heart of this internationalist fantasy, Charles Krauthammer explained in a 2010 lecture, is the concept of a "community of nations:" 

"Unfortunately, it is a fiction. There is no such thing. Different countries have different histories, geographies, necessities, and interests. There's no natural, inherent, or enduring international community. What community of interest is there between, say, the United States, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Burma?

"The international community is a Hobbesian state of nature with no universally recognized norms. Anarchy is kept in check not by some bureaucracy on the East River, not by some inchoate expression of world opinion, not by parchment promises adorned with disingenuous signatures, but by the will and the power of the Great Powers and, most important in our time, the one remaining superpower: namely, the United States."

Obama's utopian world vision is an extension of the progressive view that the individual should be subordinated to the needs of the group. Thus must  

American interests be subordinate to global needs. In this vision, a combination of diplomacy and a more equitable distribution of wealth will result in a better world for all.

So, as Feith and Cropsey explain, it is not that Obama's Libya policy lacks consistency. It is that Obama is engaged in attempting to square a circle. His pursuit of internationalist goals is unwavering as is his desire to limit American sovereignty. However, he knows that most Americans reject his interpretation of history, and his goals, so if he wants to be re-elected he is forced to equivocate, for now.  And he wants to be re-elected.

Marcia Sielaff blogs at What Would the Founders Think?

Between a stagnant economy, the debt crisis, and the antics of a certain congressman, foreign policy hasn't gotten much attention. Most Americans are comfortable with the assumption that, agree or disagree with specific policies, this administration, like all previous administrations, is pursuing the national interest.  

Douglas J. Feith and Seth Cropsey, writing in the July issue of Commentary, suggest that assumption no longer applies. Never in our history has there been a president who wanted to weaken America's position relative to the rest of the world: until now. The Obama Doctrine Defined by the authors is that "American leadership serving American interests abroad are not a proper guide for future conduct.... The United States should drop its obsession with its own national interests and concentrate on working for the world's general good on an equal footing with other countries, recognizing that it is multinational bodies that grant legitimacy on the world stage."

The authors dispute critics who describe the president's Libya policy as feckless, clueless, or just plain inept. Rather, Feith and Cropsey assert "the administration's approach has logic and coherence in the service of strategic considerations that extend far beyond Libya."

In my view, these "strategic considerations" are so inimical to America's future (and the world's) that the authors' article ought to be served with breakfast every morning from now until the 2012 election. They write:

The key to impeding U.S, unilateralism-and to implementing Obama's strategic vision generally-comes through deepening American involvement with multinational institutions. That is how Obama can bind the United States beyond his own term. He favors cooperation with the International Criminal Court, and pledges "rededication" to the United Nations organization. He champions progressive treaties and has declared it a priority to win Senate approval of the nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the UN treaty for the rights of women.

Obama's priority, when the Libya revolt developed, was to make sure the United States had the approval of the UN Security Council and the Arab League before acting. The contrast between the President's obeisance to the UN and the Arab League and his disdain for Congress by violating the War Powers Act is breath-taking.

Obama's skewed view of history, articulated in his 2009 Cairo speech and elsewhere, is that America is not a force for good in the world; rather, America owes the world an apology for its arrogance and its many mistakes.

Among other examples from like-minded Obama appointees, the authors' quote a 2003 article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the State Department's head of policy planning.

 "It will be time for a new president to show humility rather than just talk about it. The president must ask Americans to acknowledge to ourselves and to the world that we have made serious, even tragic mistakes in the aftermath of September 11-in invading Iraq, in condoning torture and flouting international law, and in denying the very existence of global warming until a hurricane destroyed one of our beloved cities...[W]e should make clear that our hubris, as in the old Greek myths, has diminished us and led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths."

The President has vowed to transform America's relations with the rest of the world. He envisions an America guided by multinational institutions and committed to "transnational law." Such an America would be committed to internationally defined rights and laws, not to a democratically elected legislature (nor, need it be said, the Constitution). It requires putting the interests of the 'international community before the national interest.  

At the heart of this internationalist fantasy, Charles Krauthammer explained in a 2010 lecture, is the concept of a "community of nations:" 

"Unfortunately, it is a fiction. There is no such thing. Different countries have different histories, geographies, necessities, and interests. There's no natural, inherent, or enduring international community. What community of interest is there between, say, the United States, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Burma?

"The international community is a Hobbesian state of nature with no universally recognized norms. Anarchy is kept in check not by some bureaucracy on the East River, not by some inchoate expression of world opinion, not by parchment promises adorned with disingenuous signatures, but by the will and the power of the Great Powers and, most important in our time, the one remaining superpower: namely, the United States."

Obama's utopian world vision is an extension of the progressive view that the individual should be subordinated to the needs of the group. Thus must  

American interests be subordinate to global needs. In this vision, a combination of diplomacy and a more equitable distribution of wealth will result in a better world for all.

So, as Feith and Cropsey explain, it is not that Obama's Libya policy lacks consistency. It is that Obama is engaged in attempting to square a circle. His pursuit of internationalist goals is unwavering as is his desire to limit American sovereignty. However, he knows that most Americans reject his interpretation of history, and his goals, so if he wants to be re-elected he is forced to equivocate, for now.  And he wants to be re-elected.

Marcia Sielaff blogs at What Would the Founders Think?