The Obama Doctrine: Alliance and Collaboration Replace Swaggering Cowboy

Aug 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Libyans thank the "Fab 4"

Gadhafi seems done, and Libyans are thanking the “Fantastic 4”: Obama, Sarkozy, Cameron, and Rice. This third victory for Obama leaves his critics on this issue proven wrong, yet again.

From Left to Right, Obama’s critics don’t seem to get this President. He is criticized for being weak and “leading from behind” by the Right and a war-monger by the far Left. And yet, the Obama Doctrine seems to work. Maybe it’s time we asked, you know, because it works and everything, just what is the Obama Doctrine?

Let’s use David Gergen, senior political analyst for CNN and adviser to four U.S. presidents a well as the director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, as a lens through which to understand this President’s foreign policy. Gergen has been critical of Obama’s approach in Libya, but conceded yesterday that Obama’s critics should admit that the President’s approach has worked. We’ll start with Gergen’s analysis of Obama’s Libya speech from March 29:

Did the president enunciate a new Obama doctrine about the uses of U.S. military power that you find appealing? As CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said after the speech, we clearly heard Monday night the beginnings of an Obama doctrine — the clearest enunciation he has provided so far of his views on the use of force.

Some thought he was opening the door to the possible use of military force in other Middle Eastern nations that are shooting protesters (e.g., Syria, Bahrain, Yemen); I thought just the opposite, that the president was closing the door unless there was horrific violence and a number of other exceptional circumstances.

To me, the speech laid out a vision of U.S. leadership that was much more limited, cautious and collaborative than we have had in recent presidents — certainly a far cry from the muscularity of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address that said we would pay any price, meet any burden in the defense of liberty….

Give the president credit: His speech has advanced an important dialogue not only about Libya but about American leadership in the world.

The President’s collaborative strategy has been exceptionally effective; He is not using the cowboy swagger of Republicans or even Democrats like JFK. And yet, he is no Kucinich pacifist either.

In order to understand his position, let’s examine his critics’ positions.

Republicans are opposed to any kind of collaboration with international collaboration with the UN or NATO because they believe it violates the sovereignty of the USA, whereas the far Left supports a pacifist approach and has been prone to seeing any kind of intervention as war. The Left’s mistrust is fairly colored by remnants of the 1960’s VietNam debacle as well as the WMD Iraq lie.

In Libya, Obama, refusing to call the intervention a war, provoked the far Left even though he had the support of allies, the UN Security Council and Arab League. Certainly the far Left has reason to be war-weary and intervention-hyper alert after Bush’s disastrous Iraq invasion, but while it’s easy to see current situations in light of the past, it isn’t always accurate. This is akin to judging your current partner based on what your last partner did to you (which most likely wasn’t good or they would be a current partner). As humans, we are all prone to this sort of pre-emptive fear, but in politics as in life, the current situation is not necessarily the same as the last.

In June of this year, Gergen was on CNN discussing his criticisms that the President was taking a back seat in Libya, letting others in the NATO alliance be on the front lines:

KING: You wrote this, this morning, I was among those who would have preferred stronger, more assertive American leadership, but if Gadhafi falls, Obama will have bragging rights that his way worked better than critics like me thought.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, John, I think there have been a lot of signs here in recent days that Gadhafi is coming toward his end….So I think he’s getting down to his, as I say, I think he’s going down to his final days. In terms of interpreting how this was done, if — Obama took a risk. If Gadhafi had been there for six months, I think he would have lost that gamble and he would have been seen as ineffectual. If he brings him down soon, I think it’s going the other way. John, you know, they got Bin Laden. If they get Gadhafi too, that’s a pretty good summer for President Obama.

….You have to say that if we get him, if he is toppled — and I do think he’s going to be toppled, either dead or alive, I think he’s going down and going down fairly soon. That with U.S. playing a secondary role, one which I have gone the other way, I would prefer the U.S. in a more muscular role, but if the Obama approach works, you have to give him credit for it.

Gergen’s conclusion that he would have liked to have seen Obama take a more “muscular” approach, but if Obama is successful then we have to give him credit, is one Gergen lived up to yesterday when he admitted he had been wrong by tweeting:

#Gadhafi seems finished! If so, #Obama/alliance approach vindicated. Critics (including me, Neo-cons,GOP, etc.) shd give credit.

Anyone but the most partisan of critics has to admit that President Obama’s foreign policy is effective. Of course, this means that we won’t hear a peep from those whose egos are too invested in their way or the highway (partisans on both sides of the aisle). Instead they will focus on their unhappiness with Obama’s approach as it differs from their ideology and regale us with how it should have been done, and the TV hosts will nod in conspiratorial assent that yes, Obama might have gotten Osama and now Gadhafi is falling, but he didn’t do it the RIGHT way. Who can forget John McCain promising the Americans that he knew how to get Osama Bin Laden (but for some reason wasn’t telling anyone – the notion being that if we elected him President, he would tell us then)?

Courtesy of Think Progress:

A rational person would find McCain’s me first approach egregious, but in the modern world of faux masculinity, fake swaggers are all the rage.

The quiet, but successful, approach of someone like Obama simply makes no sense to the Right. I’m sure they’re still scratching their heads over how he managed to keep the Osama mission a secret during the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, seeing as Republicans worldview demands gloating in response to even the notion of a win (“Mission Accomplished!”).

We have seen Democratic Presidents from FDR to Clinton implement similar strategy to the Obama Doctrine, but perhaps it is the way in which this President articulates his message that is so confounding. Obama is a measured speaker, one who tries to appeal to our minds on foreign policy. He lacks the comforting swagger of Big Daddy cowboys and he doesn’t play the Clinton Alpha Male BMOC role either.

When we look at the success rate of the brash cowboy, the mirage fades to reveal that the Oz behind the curtain is nothing but a little man with a megaphone, projecting a fake image of security. Obama never tells us we are the best and everything is going to be OK. He is calm, he is rational, and he refuses to pander. The Obama doctrine says that while there are instances and individuals who can be met only by force, the United States will be prepared to listen to and talk with our adversaries in order to advance our interests.

I find this incredibly soothing, but then, I also don’t buy into what I see as the phony concepts of hyper masculinity sold in our culture. I’m drawn to this President’s approach of collaboration backed by restrained strength and power. Perhaps that’s because I’ve come to believe that real power doesn’t need to be brash; it can afford to be discreet and collaborative because it is confident.

Being a war-as-last-resort kind of liberal, I find Obama’s strategy an effective, pragmatic limitation of loss of life in a world where the ideal of no-war seems an impossibility.

I’m not holding my breath that most of the President’s critics will have the integrity to admit they were wrong, because it takes a strong, secure and confident person to do that. It takes an even stronger person to examine their beliefs when they’re proven faulty, but as David Gergen shows us, intellectual honesty is still valued by some of those who really grasp the complexities of foreign relations. Anyone who is really thinking will have their thought process evolve over time as variables and events change. It’s only the demagogues and the ideologues on both sides who refuse to budge even when proven wrong, and that tells us that they aren’t thinking – they’re selling.

The Obama Doctrine is one of collaboration backed by quiet power. It’s indisputable that it’s been hugely effective, but the bombastic critics won’t abandon their sinking ships. After all, this isn’t about country to them – it’s pure ego and agenda.

And while this President has ego to spare, he finds a way to set it aside, because the Obama Doctrine requires it.

Image: “Fantastic 4”: President Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and U.S. Ambassador the U.N. Susan Rice.

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