Unveiling the Obama Doctrine

December 11, 2009

NOBEL-OBAMA/President Barack Obama did more than collect his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Besides the trumpet fanfare, the black-tie festivities, the pomp, the circumstance and of course the speech, he unveiled what Washington-watchers are calling the Obama doctrine. But what is it, exactly?

A quick online search shows an early mention of the Obama doctrine in March 2008, when Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were still slugging it out for the Democratic presidential nomination. The American Prospect cited Obama speeches starting in January of that election year and talked to Obama’s foreign policy team to get an idea of what the future president’s world view might be. One key quote from the candidate on the Iraq war was seen as defining the doctrine: “I don’t want to just end the war, but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place.”

“An inextricable part of that doctrine is a relentless and thorough destruction of al-Qaeda,” The American Prospect said. “Is this hawkish? Is this dovish? It’s both and neither — an overhaul not just of our foreign policy but of how we think about foreign policy. And it might just be the future of American global leadership.”

More of the doctrine emerged, according to a column in The Washington Post, after Obama’s handling of the rescue of a U.S. ship captain from Somali pirates in April 2009, in which Obama said little and relied on Navy SEALs to free the captive: “The Obama Doctrine seeks to regain the world’s sympathy by acknowledging that while the United States is a great nation built on worthy principles, it is not perfect.”

Fast-forward to Oslo and Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech, which is winning praise from perennial Obama critics Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.

The Atlantic’s political blog called it “multilaterlism with teeth” and described it this way:  “Obama sought to move past the liberal sentiment that Americans felt as a backlash to the Iraq War: the idea that America was engaged in an imperialist enterprise, militarily and culturally. His answer: we do not seek to impose our will, but we will stand for global security and rights.”

It’s not the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, but it’s not what some of Obama’s anti-war critics want either.

So is this a successful middle way, or a compromise that’s likely to draw fire from hawks and doves alike? Let us know what you think.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Chris Helgren (Greenpeace banner outside Oslo city hall where President Barack Obama accepted Nobel Peace Prize, December 10, 2009)


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Both Jefferson and Franklin stated “War is folly”. Washington stated in his farewell address that we should cherish public debt. He went on to say “In the event of an unavoidable war use debt to prosecute it to a successful conclusion. Then once the war is over pay that debt down as rapidly as possible”. He never said anything about a “just war”.

While nations may or may not sign the Geneva convention all modern warfare brings injustice to civilians. The destruction of homes, cities and societies cannot be avoided. Civilians are at best made refugees and subject to all forms of degrading treatment. The unlucky are maimed or killed. There will be more civilian casualties than military personnel.

Wars are fought because rulers who have the power to wage war care not that a negotiated settlement is far less costly in treasure and blood. They merely covet that which there foe possesses. All wars are fought over resources.

Posted by eddieblack | Report as abusive

War is simply the conduct of politics through other means. It is the manner by which a nation enforces its rights, will or interests against another nation. Or to prevent such rights, will or interest being imposed on them.

It is the government which determines the rights, will and interests of the state. The people vote for the government. The military fight for the government.

Negotiation is held as the alternative to war: that two parties in conflict can reach some form of accord to avoid the tragic and expensive effects which war brings.

But war must still remain a viable alternative. If there was no threat of war when negotiation fails, then no nation would feel the need to negotiate. War, in essence, reminds people why negotiation should be taken seriously.

Obama should realise that in issues involving terror or rogue nations such as Iran, war must always remain a possibility. Or negotiation with those enemies will mean nothing.

What enemy would negotiate with a superpower that seems unwilling to enforce interests with force? There would be no need. War may breed hate and defiance. But pacifism and weakness only breeds contempt.

Even Russia realised, with its decaying power and military, that a failure to act in Georgia would be a terrible blow. So they fought, even when it caused an international outrage and complete lack of support from its own allies.

The manner in which Obama confronts Iran will soon indicate the doctrine of his administration.

Depending on his choice, it will either be a disappointment to a anti-war idealist minority, or a disappointment to the rest who expect their nation to enforce its interests.

Posted by Anon86 | Report as abusive

Anon86, war is never a viable alternative. It is the remedy of last resort. I am curious. Where does it say in the Constitution that we can use the military to enforce our will or our protect our international interests? No such argument exists in the Federalist papers. Hamilton and Jay seemed more concerned about making it difficult for the commander and chief to initiate hostilities outside of our borders. The situation with Russia and Georgia is similar to the drug wars on our Mexican border. I see no comparison with Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. I just see oil.

Posted by eddieblack | Report as abusive

War is a viable alternative, or it wouldn’t be so well established as a means of protecting the interests of a nation.

It is not a remedy of last resort, but an option available among others. The only remedy of last resort is known as capitulation. And history has proven capitulation to be a poor remedy for those who rely on it.

The constitution gives the government the ability to control and maintain a military force and to use that military force to protect the interests of the nation.

And even if it did not, the source of military power of the nation itself is established with the declaration of independence:

“And that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

In essence, the ability to declare and conduct war is one of the defining rights that make a nation a sovereign one.

And never, in the history of warfare, has it ever been believed the the military power of a nation ends at its borders. A war, by its definition, involves an attack by one nation over the borders of another.

Posted by defcon86 | Report as abusive

War is a means to a end. Those in power and in command of fighting forces will use those forces to get what they want. War happens when communication breaks down, or when one or both parties are hostile towards each other for emotional reasons.

Iraq was about oil. Afghanistan is no different. Bin Laden is no longer on the agenda. The taliban only need to be gotten rid of because they will not negotiate deals with us. They are not concerned with doing business with the US so they have to go. As a predominantly Christian nation, we should remove the log from our own political eye so that we can see clearly enough to remove the specs from the eyes of those we deal with.

When we as a nation learn to care for our own fellow citizens then we can talk about “human rights” in other countries. Then we can talk about the “liberation” of people in suffering. Just because we treat our citizens like well fed cattle it doesn’t mean we are any better than countries that treat their people like poorly fed cattle.

War is a waste of life, money, and time. Especially when there is so much work to be done.

Posted by Benny_Acosta | Report as abusive