The Obama Foreign Policy Doctrine

For all the talk about Obama being “all talk,” I hope that people more journalist begin to pay closer attention to the potential policy positions he’s taking, or is likely to take, based on who his advisers are.

The American Prospect gives the first detailed analysis of the “Obama Doctrine,” especially as it relates to an anti-terrorism policy. It’s an interesting position–the cynical side of me wants to call it “neoliberal”, but it seems a little more nuanced that. It makes me realize I need to read Samantha Power books to get a better sense of what his influences are in terms of international policy.

Here’s a segment of the story (worth the full read), which frames the Obama foreign policy as a policy of “dignity.”

What’s typically neglected in these arguments is the simple insight that democracy does not fill stomachs, alleviate malaria, or protect neighborhoods from marauding bands of militiamen. Democracy, in other words, is valuable to people insofar as it allows them first to meet their basic needs. It is much harder to provide that sense of dignity than to hold an election in Baghdad or Gaza and declare oneself shocked when illiberal forces triumph. “Look at why the baddies win these elections,” [Samantha] Power says. “It’s because [populations are] living in climates of fear.” U.S. policy, she continues, should be “about meeting people where they’re at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That’s the swamp that needs draining. If we’re to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we’re not [providing].”

This is why, Obama’s advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise — because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. “It’s about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe,” Gration says. “Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I’m concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years.”

Obama sees this as more than a global charity program; it is the anvil against which he can bring down the hammer on al-Qaeda. “He took many of the [counterinsurgency] principles — the paradoxes, like how sometimes you’re less secure the more force is used — and looked at it from a more strategic perspective,” Sewall says. “His policies deal with root causes but do not misconstrue root causes as a simple fix. He recognizes that you need to pursue a parallel anti-terrorism [course] in its traditional form along with this transformed approach to foreign policy.” Not for nothing has Obama received private advice or public support from experts like former Clinton and Bush counterterrorism advisers Richard Clarke and Rand Beers, and John Brennan, the first chief of the National Counterterrorism Center.”

Alot of my good ole lefty friends have critiqued Obama for his talk of going into Pakistan to “take out” Al Qaeda if he had evidence of their location. While I agree that I am not interested in pursuing more US military misadventures, and would hope Obama would resist pursuing military actions at all, I wonder can the Left also develop a nuanced critique of Al-Qaeda–beyond the fact that they had been supported by previous Republican administrations?

I’m interested to know what folks think.

8 thoughts on “The Obama Foreign Policy Doctrine

  1. Pingback: Barack Obama News » Blog Archive » The Obama Foreign Policy Doctrine

  2. I am not sure about Obama. As a non-American, the US elections are very important for us. I think I started out as an Obama supporter, then he made those statements back in the summer about Pakistan. Then again Hillary’s policy towards the country may not be all that different.

  3. I have been volunteering a bit at my local Obama stop in Ardmore, PA. During my first visit, the lead organizer/manager informed me that because my county is densely populated with Jewish folks, Obama’s foreign policy regarding Israel will be an important message to rally support. This immediately made me uncomfortable. I told the lead organizer that I would happily call up voters to gauge their interest in the candidacy of Senator Obama, but would not appeal to the community waving a Zionist flag. The lead organizer mentioned something about spending a couple years in Israel and how important that was to shaping his identity. He showed me a kind of good-luck charm he wore around his neck with an etching of the Torah. I said that I was not entirely certain of Obama’s Israel policies, but I knew that he strongly supported the state of Israel and refused aid to Palestine under a “terrorist” regime — the result of which has been and continues to be the starvation of tens of thousands of people. Now, somewhat alarmed, the lead organizer told me that none of the volunteers would ever be expected to know (or recite) any of Obama’s policies, and that I could stick to phone-banking or voter registration, no problem.

    In this situation, immediately identifying as an “anti-Zionist” closed all doors of communication with this organizer. I’ve been phone-banking ever since.

  4. I often wonder why Obama does not talk about foreign policy more. Clearly from reading this, this seems to be a very intelligent plan, and one that is different from most other that are being discussed. If it is necessary to go into Pakistan, I think it should be done. Not as an invading force of course, but should the new Pakistani government approve what I would like to call “help” to control regions that are not currently under control of the democratic government and are harbouring Al-Quaeda members then I see no reason for the US, the UN, NATO or whatever force international law OKs not to help take control of it.
    And of course the left will be critical of this. However, it is important to note that the advisers that Obama has and will consult with are simply giving advice at the moment and I don’t think we yet know who Obama will appoint to what position if elected. Regardless, these advisers all have their areas of expertise and should they come into power I do not think Obama should get fire for taking advice from a former Bush adviser, as these are the people that have had the most impacts in the last 8 years with regard to US foreign policy. Not taking their advice and not listeneing to them would result in an entirely new group of people who have no experience in the areas bringing new ideas that will diverge sharply with the current policies. And while I agree with the left that the current policies are very bad moves in general and as a whole, the left needs to acknowledge that a transition needs to be made that involves consultation with both groups so that valuable information ad expertise is not lost during the transition. I certainly hope that this plan of Obama’s comes to fruition, but the reality is that there needs to be an exchange of information so current initiatives are understood and either kept, changed or terminated in an appropriate way.

  5. a lot of folks at my local obama headquarters are happily chirping words like “hope” and “change”, and they are often referring to the US’s foreign policy in iraq. its not pleasant but it should be pointed out that even if obama is elected, he wont be able to simply swing the pendulum “back” toward diplomacy, dignity, and order in the face of chaos. i agree with david that there has to be an exchange of information w/ former advisers that fosters understanding and evn compassion, because a new and “fresh” perspective in the oval office is not enough to actually make change just happen, one-two-three… that really frustrates me about the folks who kick it at obama headquarters. but i guess they’re there to build support, not critique.

  6. I like Obama. I really do. Hell, I may even vote for the guy if I can convince myself that leadership and the ability to unite the country is more valuable than policy and platform. I really do struggle with that decision. I’d still rather Obama be doing the talking with foreign powers or to foreign peoples than McCain and Clinton, but I still am baffled by what I perceive to be an inability by almost anyone on the left to come to grips with the problem that is Islam.

    Sam Harris (a liberal and atheist) gets it. (http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20060207_reality_islam/). Given liberals’ willingness to take on fundamentalist Christianity in America (and that’s a good thing), I cannot believe the timidness shown in taking on fundamentalist Islam.

    What’s unfortunate about “The Obama Doctrine”, is that it puts forth a viable foreign policy strategy for almost any situation, save dealing with the Islamic world. I don’t believe Islamic fundamentalism and extremism is spreading because people live “in a climate of fear”. Nor is it spreading to alleviate poverty or oppression. I don’t believe the phenomenon of Islamic extremism can be explained by Ms. Power’s explanation of the root causes of why baddies win elections.

    One only needs to realize that a great number of Islamic suicide bombers are not the uneducated, downtrodden masses of society to realize we’re dealing with a different kind of threat here. Or perhaps realize that speech, in the form of books or cartoons, is grounds for killing; this not from extremist terror groups, but from government leaders. I seriously want to know why…given that the left has indeed recognized and reacted to religious extremism in Christian America…why won’t the left recognize and react to the religious extremism in the Islamic world? Will promoting the dignity of fundamentalist Christians help solve that problem in America? Why on Earth does anyone believe it’s going to work with Islam?

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